Winter Wheels

From the October 2019 print edition

Colourful leaves, pumpkins on porches and frosty temperatures can only mean that winter is close. For fleets, preparing for winter driving starts in the autumn. Kaitlynn Furse, manager of public relations at the Canadian Automobile Association, offers tips for before winter hits.

Batteries: Drivers often forget about their vehicles’ batteries, but Furse stresses keeping them top-of-mind as colder weather approaches. Even fully charged batteries can stop working when it gets cold. It pays to test batteries in the autumn. “We’ve seen battery calls at the CAA in the Southcentral Ontario region increase about 25 per cent over the last two years alone,” Furse says. “We’re seeing a lot more batteries dying, largely because of extreme weather swings. But also because of the increase in entertainment systems and things that draw on the battery in more modern cars.”

Breaks: Clearly an important safety feature, Furse advises to check breaks and have them regularly serviced. Listen for squealing or grinding noises when applying breaks.

Tires: Install four matching winter tires, preferably before November 15 if your insurance company provides a discount. Otherwise, pay attention to the weather and change tires when the temperature gets around 7 degrees Celsius or lower for a week or two. “People might think, well it’s not snowing yet, but it’s really more of a temperature thing that you want to think about,” Furse says.

Air pressure: While changing to winter tires is routine for many, it’s easy to neglect the air pressure of those tires. Check the pressure every month, Furse advises. Tire pressure goes down as the temperature drops which can be a problem since decreased tire pressure can affect steering.

Visibility: Check that windshield wipers are functioning properly and ready for the winter. Also ensure that windshield wiper fluid is topped up.

Drive to conditions: Trips may take longer in inclement weather, so preventative planning can go a long way, Furse says. Completely remove snow from your car before driving. It’s important for your own visibility as well as so that other motorists’ visibility isn’t limited by snow flying from your vehicle. Also, make sure to warm up your vehicle before driving.

Plan your route: Stay on main roads as much as possible to help get you to your destination as quickly and as safely as possible, Furse notes. Main roads tend to be better ploughed and sticking to them helps to keep motorists out of unexpected situations.

Electronics: Keep a phone charger in your car. Having a fully functioning mobile device makes it easy to call for help if necessary. When on the road don’t use overdrive or cruise control. “It’s really a matter of keeping complete control of the vehicle, driving according to those weather conditions and making sure you’re focused on the task at hand,” Furse notes.

Exercise caution: Drive slowly in the colder months and stay well back of both snow ploughs. As well, slow down and move over for emergency vehicles.

In the vehicle: Review your vehicle emergency kit and ensure it’s fully stocked, Furse advises. In the winter, travel with a shovel (collapsible, if possible), scraper, snow brush, flashlight as well as extra clothing like hats, mittens, scarves and a blanket. Have a basic first aid kit, along with food that won’t spoil and some extra water bottles. While water can freeze in the winter, it’s still a good idea to be prepared for any situation, Furse says. Also try to ensure that there’s some sort of light, flare or something else to help make the car and its occupants more visible if there’s a need to pull over.

Roadside: If you pull your vehicle to the side of the road and don’t feel it’s safe to get out, stay inside with your seatbelt on until help arrives, Furse advises. If you do have to get out of the vehicle, exit on the side away from traffic. “If you’re looking under the hood, try not to stand directly in front or behind the vehicle because it’s a bit of a blind spot,” Furse says. “It’s actually much harder for people to see you. Stay as visible as possible.”

Be prepared: Keep an eye on local weather and news stations before a trip, Furse says, and check maps and routes in advance. Not only does this help you avoid collisions, bad weather and other delays but can also help to save gas—always a consideration for fleet drivers.

Winter and cold-weather driving means special considerations for Canadian motorists. But with some planning and knowledge, fleet drivers can keep themselves safe and warm on the roads as the temperature drops.

For more information from CAA on winter driving, visit