Ten Mistakes People Make While Winter Driving

Are You Guilty of Any of These Driver Errors?

1. You don’t adjust your speed for the weather conditions. Speed limits are set for ideal road conditions—that is, dry asphalt and clear sightlines. The instant you add moisture and limited visibility to your drive, your speed should drop. Don’t be fooled by a seemingly clear road—we’ve all heard stories of drivers hitting patches of invisible black ice and skidding out of control. Slow down.

2. You don’t leave enough space. It takes four to ten times longer to brake in snowy or icy conditions, which means that you need to leave yourself a lot more space to stop and maneuver. Make sure you leave even room for trucks, and never pass them on the right—they take a lot more space to brake, and have a huge blind spot on their right side. Always give trucks a wide berth.

3. You’re looking in the wrong place. Don’t focus on the car right in front of you. Chances are, by the time they react to a problem on the road, it’s too late for you to get out of the way. Always look well ahead, and scan the road periodically to make sure you have an escape route into another lane. If you start to slide, look in the direction you want the car to go, not at what you’re about to crash into.

4. You let your four-wheel drive make you over-confident. It’s true—vehicles with four-wheel drive tend to perform better in icy or snowy conditions, because that extra torque can help you accelerate faster and get out of becoming stuck. However, four-wheel drive isn’t a license to drive quickly, because most of your traction in a skid comes from the interaction between your tires and the road—which has nothing to do with how much torque you’re able to put behind your tires. Better to slow down and, ideally, invest in winter tires.

5. You are too stressed out. Have you got your steering wheel in a death grip? Do you slam on the brakes the instant you start to slide? Do you find yourself over-correcting a skid? Skidding is scary, but panicking makes it much worse. Relax your grip, brake gently, and steadily, steer smoothly as you keep your eyes locked on where you want to go. “Be smooth” isn’t just good advice for dating—it’s perfect for winter driving, too. (Transport Canada has some great diagrams that show you how to get out of different types of skids.)

6. You try and get your car to multi-task. You wouldn’t multi-task behind the wheel, would you? (We hope not.) Don’t ask your car to do more than one thing at a time either. Brake (gently), then steer (smoothly), then accelerate (slowly) when you’re able to. Combining braking with steering is a recipe for sliding.

7. You drive on running lights only (or rely on your car to switch on your headlights). If you don’t have your headlights on, then your tail lights don’t light up, meaning you’re invisible to the people behind you. And automatic headlights are great—except when they don’t come on, which is more frequently than you think, especially in bad weather that happens during daylight hours. Make sure your complete headlight system is on when you’re driving in rough weather (though you should switch to low beams in heavy fog or snow). And if you have to stop suddenly, or visibility gets really bad, throw on your four-way flashers—the people driving behind you will be grateful.

8. You wear big honking boots and a bulky coat. Believe it or not, your car communicates with you—and not just through the “check engine” light. As a driver, you’re accustomed to telling when your car isn’t driving quite right. If you put on a big puffy coat and super-thick winter boots, you’re reducing the sensations you can feel in your steering wheel and through the pedals, which could cause you to over-correct. Invest in some heated seat covers and put your big coat and boots in the back seat—you’ll have a lot more control when you need it.

9. Your car could be mistaken for a snowblower. Aside from really, really irritating the drivers behind you, leaving a pile of snow on your car is a visibility hazard for you, too. Clear off your roof, your bumpers, your hood, and make sure to get snow away from your headlights and tail lights.

10. You aren’t prepared for something to happen. Hopefully you won’t end up in a ditch, but it happens to the best of us, so make sure you’re prepared. If you end up stuck, the safest place to be is in your car. Run the engine for about ten minutes every hour to stay warm (make sure to crack your window a little, or check your tailpipe to make sure it isn’t blocked and sending exhaust into the car). Pack an emergency kit with what you might need: extra warm clothes, a blanket, matches, a safety candle, snacks like energy bars, bottled water, a first aid kit, a collapsible shovel, kitty litter or sand for traction, paper towels, a tow chain, booster cables, and flares. And make sure to charge your phone before you leave.


Thank you to Cottage Life Magazine for these tips.

Plugging in: The Benefits of Oil Pan Heaters

Plugging in: The Benefits of Using an Oil Pan Heater

In many parts of Canada and the U.S., plugging in your vehicle at night is just a part of the end-of-day routine in the winter. Before bed, plug in the truck, set the coffee timer and lock the doors. But why do we plug in our vehicles, and how long does the pan heater really need to run?

Although cords dangle from the front hood of cars in a lot of northern cities, heaters and winter tires are a must in northern regions and the Prairies, where temperatures reach extremes.

Why? Winter can be hard on your vehicle, and a pad heater keeps your engine warm to protect several parts and components, and to make it easier for your vehicle to start.

 Reduce stress to your engine, battery, starter motor and more

Starting an engine when it’s severely cold stresses your engine. When it’s cold, your oil gets thick, resulting in a couple of negative side effects.

First, thicker oil increases the amount of work required by the starter to turn the crank engine. That creates longer starting times. Second, when oil is too thick, it can’t shoot through all the engine’s channels to lubricate critical components. The result is when your engine starts, those parts scrape against each other without any lubrication. Plus, if the engine’s running with cold parts that haven’t been able to warm and expand to the right size, they can get damaged.

Starting is harder for the engine and it really wears out your parts, and not just your engine, but your battery and your starter motor too.

Warm up your cabin more quickly

Those first few seconds inside a cold vehicle can be just as painful for you as they are for your vehicle. With engine coolant fluid that’s been warmed by the heater, your cabin can draw in warm air almost immediately after you start it in the morning.

So, how long should your vehicle be plugged in? And when should you plug it in?

While many drivers plug their vehicles in every night in the winter, you only need to use your heater once the temperature reaches – 15 C.

Your pad heater only needs about four hours to warm your engine before you start it. Timers can now be installed on your block heater so you can set it to turn on a few hours before you think you’ll leave the house. 

Order yours today, and you'll thank us tomorrow!

Winter Tires vs All Seasons

When I was a kid, I’d always noticed that my dad could make it up winter hills where others couldn’t, and that while others spun, crashed and slid into the ditch, we’d always kept going and made it home safe. How was that?

My father died 14 years ago, but his teachings were the beginning of a lifelong education. The key point: winter tires really work. Not using them is like driving a car without seatbelts – you’re passing on a critical safety feature. The value of winter tires has been driven home by my own testing, consultation with experts and by statistics: in Quebec, where they have been mandatory since 2008, winter collisions have fallen by 17 per cent, and crashes causing serious injury or death are down 36 per cent.

Exploring winter tire technology can be a boring quest, so we’re going to boil down a catalogue of knowledge into a primer that compresses the knowledge of countless people I’ve met over the years – engineers, mechanics, driving instructors, ice racers, tire designers, chemists who design rubber that can stick to ice and, of course, my long-departed dad – the guy who never crashed.

The collected wisdom

1. All-season tires are a bad compromise. On snow, ice or cold pavement, the stopping distance of a car with winter tires can be up to 30 to 40 per cent shorter than one with all-seasons. Since the force of a crash increases as the square of impact speed, this could be the difference between life and death.

2. Although it’s the treads that you notice, the most important part of a winter tire is actually its rubber compound, which is designed to stay soft in freezing temperatures. Like a gecko climbing a sheet of glass, a tire sticks to the road by conforming to minute imperfections. The soft rubber treads of a winter tire are able to splay and wrap themselves around minute protrusions on cold pavement, or even on what may appear to be perfectly smooth ice. Summer tires, which are designed to operate in warm temperatures, harden as the temperature falls. All-seasons, which must be designed for year-round use, cannot match winter tires in low temperatures.

3. Premium winter tires perform better than basic models. What you’re paying for is the latest in rubber technology and tread design. What you get is traction that may be up to 15 per cent better than economy-model winter tires. (If you want to see the difference between different grades of winter tires, go to an ice race. “The drivers with the premium tires are all out front,” says Ontario racer and winter driving instructor Ian Law. “There’s no comparison.”)

4. It’s about temperature, not snow. Winter tires should be installed when you expect temperatures to fall to 7 C or below. As the temperature falls, the rubber in summer and all-season tires becomes inflexible, killing traction. Watch the thermometer and use common sense, because no one will tell you exactly when to put on snow tires (unless you live in Quebec, where the law dictates that your car be equipped with winter tires between Dec. 15 and March 15).

5. Winter tires should be narrower than summer models. Experts recommend that you go down one or two sizes when installing winter tires – if you car came with 215-millimetre wide summer tires, for example, your winter tires should be 205 mm or 195 mm. Reducing the width of a tire increases the pressure it exerts on the surface beneath it – this helps the tire slice through snow and reduces hydroplaning.

6. Winter tires are designed to move water. When a tire presses down on snow or ice, it melts the top layer, creating a thin film of water (the same phenomenon that occurs as a skate glides across a rink). If the water isn’t moved away from the area in front of the tire, the car will hydroplane. This is why winter tires are covered with grooves (including tiny channels known as “sipes”) that move water away to the sides, allowing the tire to stay in contact with the surface.

7. All-wheel drive helps you accelerate, not stop. On slippery surfaces, vehicles with four driving wheels can accelerate better than those with two-wheel drive. But their cornering and braking capabilities are little different than a two-wheel-drive model. When you’re trying to stop or turn, the limits are determined by the traction capabilities of your tires, not the number of driven wheels.

8. Black ice is not a death sentence. Good winter tires can stick to glare ice, but only if they are within their traction limits. If your car begins to slide, look straight down the road to where you need to go, and maintain a light grip on the wheel. As the car decelerates, you will gradually regain control as the tire’s rubber begins gripping surface imperfections on the ice. Slow speed and gentle control inputs will maintain traction.

9. The performance of winter tires has been significantly improved over the past decade by advanced rubber compounds that allow designers to make tires softer without sacrificing other critical properties, including wear and heat buildup as temperatures climb. Major manufacturers spend a lot of money on R&D. Jaap Leendertse, winter tire platform manager for Pirelli in Milan, Italy, told me the company has developed more than 300 compounds in the ongoing quest for the ideal winter tire.

10. In the old days, winter tires came with deep, aggressive treads designed to paddle through deep snow. This made for a noisy ride and compromised stability, since the treads deflected under acceleration, braking and cornering loads. Current winter tire technology focuses on shallower treads with closely spaced grooves that carry away the water film created when the tire presses down on ice or snow.

11. Although testing makes it easy to see the performance advantages of a winter tire (you stop faster), the technology behind it is deceptively complex. Tire designers must consider a long list of factors, including tread stability and hysteresis (a process that generates heat as a tire repeatedly deforms and recovers as it rotates under the weight of a car).

12. Although they offer an advantage on glare ice, studded tires are far less effective than non-studded models on cold, bare pavement (where most drivers spend the majority of their time during the winter months).

13. Some manufacturers offer winter tires that use rubber mixed with hard materials (like crushed walnut shells and chopped nylon strands) to give increased bite. Although these can offer improved traction in some conditions, the most important factors in a winter tire’s all-round grip are the quality of its rubber compound and its tread design.

14. Although it’s not recommended for everyday driving, reducing the air pressure in your tires can help you gain in an emergency. Reducing tire pressure increases the tire’s contact patch, and may help you make it up an otherwise impassable icy grade, for example. Bear in mind that this is an emergency technique only, and will reduce overall control of your car by making the tire carcass less stable. Unless you’re stuck at the bottom of an icy hill with no other option, you should use the inflation pressures recommended by your car manufacturer. If you do lower tire pressures to make it out of an emergency situation, drive slowly and reinflate the tires to the recommended pressure as soon as possible.

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