As the cold weather sets in and the wonderful colours of fall take hold of our beautiful landscape. Our minds fill with images of hot chocolate by the fire place and spending time with our families. It is also the time to get our vehicles prepared for the up comming onslaught of harsh winter driving conditions and abuse we are about to unleash on them and ourselves.

Your Vehicle's Exterior

Use your snowbrush and/or ice scraper to clear your car of snow and ice, especially the entire windshield, side and rear windows, your side mirrors, front and back lights, air intake grill and your roof.

Have someone help you check that all vehicle lights are working, including taillights, brake lights, headlights, turn signals and emergency flashers.

Your Battery

At 0° Celsius a fully charged battery loses 35% of its power. A weak battery simply won't make it through the winter. Even though most cars today are equipped with maintenance-free batteries, they still require periodical attention. Checking the state of charge and keeping terminal connectors secure and free of corrosion will ensure quick winter starts. The cause of inadequate battery charge may be as simple as a loose or worn alternator drive belt. A charging system check will confirm that the battery is receiving a charge.

A battery that is four or more years old should be considered close the end of its life. An AVR test or Load Test will confirm its readiness for winter.

Your Tires and Brake Systems

The performance of your vehicle's tires is directly related to the temperature outside. As the temperature drops, even the best summer tires will fail to respond road conditions. All-season tires, while designed for all types of weather, will not perform as well in ice and cold.

As a rule, whenever the average outdoor temperature falls below or climbs above -7°Celsius (19.4° F), your tires will be affected. As the temperature drops, non-winter tires loose elasticity and the grip they have on the road. That's why the best tires to have when the temperature drops are winter tires. Conversely, winter tires will deteriorate faster in hotter temperatures.

A good set of tires plays an extremely important role in winter driving but it is often overlooked when preparing for winter. On front-wheel-drive cars, it is very important to have four identical tires at all four corners because these cars are more prone to rear-wheel skidding. However, even if your car is 4-wheel-drive or rear-wheel-drive, it will perform better with four identical tires, particularly on slippery roads.

Check all tires for proper inflation pressure including the spare tire on a monthly basis. Tires lose pressure every month due to normal leakage. Tire pressure information can usually be found on the inside of the driver's door.

Under slick winter driving conditions, drivers will often attribute a lack of stopping power to ice on the roads rather than considering the possibility that a brake repair may be necessary. Small problems that are present during summer driving may begin to manifest themselves as winter hits, making a car far more difficult to control.

Drivers will often notice that their brake pedal requires more force to create a result, that the wheels squeal as they stop, or that the car pulls to the left or right when braking. These are all signs that a brake service is needed.

To avoid winter driving complications, drivers should have their brakes serviced and a brake repair done, if necessary, before winter hits. Experienced technicians can check the fluid levels in the brake system, the brake lines and hoses, as well as the brake pads themselves to ensure even wearing and proper tension distribution.

In many winter driving situations, the effectiveness of your brakes can be the difference between stopping just short of an accident and placing a call to your insurance company. For better stopping and handling control, have all brakes and suspension components inspected at least once a year or every 20,000 km. Have any defective or worn out components replaced promptly.

Your Winshield and Windows

Regardless of which windshield wiper you choose, it's best to change your wipers after 6 months. Very few wipers can go 12 months without signs of deterioration, with most not making it past 9 months. The most common signs of wear showed up as streaks on the windshield, which lowers your visibility as you drive and makes driving hazardous.

Weather also plays a critical role in your windshield wiper blades' deterioration. Freezing temperatures make the rubber in your wiper blades hard and brittle, which increases their tendency to crack or tear.

Use an ice scraper as much as possible when deicing vehicles. Allow plenty of time to warm up the vehicle with the defroster on "high" to loosen as much ice and snow as possible. Do not use windshield wipers as ice scrapers. By doing these you are less likely to break or tear blades or worse...damage the wiper motor or wiper transmission.

Your Engine/Cooling System

In addition to helping protect your car's engine from high temperatures; your car's cooling system also actually helps to avoid damage to your car's engine block during extremely cold weather. In order to keep your vehicle's cooling system running at peak efficiency, consider the following areas.

Fluid Level - Although checking all your fluid levels is important, you may want to consider making it a habit to check the coolant level in your vehicle's radiator and reserve tank or overflow tank on regular basis. It's not a bad idea to check the fluid level in your cooling system at least once a month and make sure that they are at their proper levels. If you need to add some, a 50/50 mix of water and coolant is generally suitable for our climate and can help maintain protection to about -35°C. Also be mindful of the colour and type of coolant used in your vehicle. Its generally not a good idea to mix different types as some do not mix well and can cause other issues like clogging radiator tubes or cause other components to fail.

Windshield washer, powersteering, transmission, engine oil and Brake fluids are also very critical. All should be kept at their proper levels, check regularly amd changed as necessary. It is important to remember that these fluids are put through the harshest extremes during the winter months and regular maintainance could the deciding factor of how well you vehicle gets though the winter.

Hoses,Belts and Rad Caps - Its good to keep in mind that your coolant hoses, belts and rad cap go through the same hot and cold cycles your tires do, but in a much more extreme sense. Underhood temperatures in the winter very dramatically and change rapidly which can cause these components to fail. It is a good idea to have a look at them or have them inspected before the cold set in. The cold can cause the rubber of these components to become hard and brittle causing leaks,overheat or loss of power, leaving you stuck waiting for a tow or worse.

For more tips on vehicle and winter preperation you can visit The Ontario Ministry of Transportion for other great info on things of this nature and a whole host of other great winter preperation including things to have in a Winter Driving Survival Kit and Winter Driving: Handling Your Vehicle.