October is Car Safety Month

Did you know that it’s car safety month? Each October the auto industry encourages Canadian drivers to take the initiative before the weather turns cold and ensure their car is ready for the winter ahead.

Acumen Insurance Group is all for this month-long safety initiative. Since our inception over 30 years ago, our insurance brokers have been committed to helping clients like you find great insurance coverage across Ontario. And it doesn’t stop there! Our brokers want you to maximize your policy’s security and your well-being by providing you with the education you need to stay safe and make informed decisions.

So, as part of car safety month and in preparation for the icy roads ahead, we’re sharing a few ways you can maintain your vehicle to ensure it’s ready for the upcoming winter season.

Install Winter Tires

Regardless of whether you operate a front-wheel, rear-wheel, all-wheel, or four-wheel vehicle, winter tires are a must. All-season tires are just not the same!

Winter tires are made for harsh winter conditions. They feature blocky treads that move water and push away slush. They’re also made using a softer rubber that maintains flexibility in cold temperatures.

Winter tires are so important, that some places in Canada require them by law. In fact, in the province of Quebec all residents must have winter tires installed on their vehicles from December 1 to March 15. Since implementing the provincial law, the number of collisions have dropped by almost 20 percent.

Test car battery

 Car batteries typically last around four years. So, if your vehicle is approaching the cut-off you might want to have the battery tested before winter arrives.

Common signs your battery may be on its way out include slower than normal start-ups, dimming headlights as you start your car, or even a rotten egg smell coming from the battery location.

If any of the above sound familiar, you should have it looked at by a trusted mechanic. Doing so is not only quick and often free, but it could save you from having your battery die at 3:00am on a Sunday morning when it’s -20°C outside.

Clean and protect battery terminals

In addition to checking the health of your car’s battery, you should also ensure that its battery posts and terminals are clean and well-maintained.

Corrosion buildup on battery posts and terminals can lead to difficult start-ups in the cold weather and prevent the battery from recharging.

By using a battery cleaning tool or wire brush, you can have your terminals and battery looking good as new! To reduce future corrosion, you can cover your battery terminal with a protectant spray. 

Check fluids 

Your vehicle contains all sorts of fluids that are essential to its function and longevity. Thus, it’s important that they are all topped off, checked, or replaced before the cold weather arrives.

First take a look at your car’s windshield wiper fluid. Make sure it’s topped off with a solution that can withstand cold conditions, ideally down to -40°C. Don’t forget to keep some in your trunk for a quick refill.

Next on the list is engine oil. During the winter this oil takes quite a hit thanks to fuel contamination from cold starts and water contamination from engine block condensation. Start the season off right with a fresh oil change, making sure to use an oil with the recommended viscosity range for winter.

Now that we can cross engine oil off the list, let’s move on to your car’s coolant. The engine coolant is responsible for protecting the vehicle’s engine from freezing and cracking. It also contains anti-corrosive additives and water-pump lubricants to help keep the entire cooling system in tip-top shape.

To check your vehicle’s antifreeze, wait until your car is cool. If you notice the levels are below the “cold” line it may be the result of a leak. In that case it’s best to bring it to a mechanic as soon as possible.

In addition to the fluids mentioned above, the brake, transmission and power steering fluid levels should also be checked.

Keep gas tank half full 

The great debate of always keeping your gas tank half full in the winter... Is this a baffling myth or a tried-and-true fact?

It’s true! Allow us to explain why.

Similar to the fog that appears on the inside of a vehicle’s windshield after a frosty morning, condensation can also form inside the walls of a gas tank.

Condensation inside the gas tank can corrode pieces of the engine and even cause fuel lines to freeze, preventing gas from reaching the engine, leaving you with a vehicle that stalls or refuses to start. And although most vehicles nowadays have sealed fuel injection systems, which prevent this, it’s better to play it safe and keep your gas tank at least half full.

Keeping your tank half full in the winter is not only beneficial for the vehicle but also for your personal safety. If you happen to get stuck in winter traffic, a full tank of gas can help you stay warm should it take you longer to reach your destination. 

Check brakes 

Winter creates a series of road conditions that are hazardous for drivers. Ice, snow, and the danger of sleet can cause a driver to lose control of their vehicle and cause serious injury to themselves or others. In the event that this does happen, it’s imperative that your brakes are in great shape.

Brakes endure wear and tear throughout the year, so checking them or having them replaced before winter is crucial. Doing so not only enhances the performance of your vehicle but improves its overall safety and stopping distance.

Examine tire pressure

Proper tire pressure is an important safety component, helps prevent premature tire replacement, and can improve fuel efficiency by 3.3 percent.

Before the frosty weather arrives, check the pressure of all your tires (including your spare). Make a habit of checking the pressure at least once a month in the winter. 

Inspect exhaust

Inspecting your vehicle’s exhaust before winter is incredibly important.

If you hear hissing, rattling, vibrating metal, or roaring, it may mean that your exhaust is leaking and is in need of attention. Make an appointment as soon as possible with your service provider. 

Examine shock absorbers 

Shocks are essential to ensuring your vehicle can safely handle potholes and the snow-filled roads that winter brings.

Shocks influence the overall comfort, safety, handling, and durability of a vehicle. Properly working shocks improve control and handling by helping maintain wheel alignment and reduce abrupt shifts in vehicle weight over all four tires to improve control during turns, braking and acceleration.

Here are a few things to look out for when inspecting your shock absorbers:

  • Take note of how it feels when you’re driving your vehicle. Does it feel rougher than a few months ago? The decline of shocks is gradual, so it can be easy to overlook subtle changes.
  • Is it difficult to maintain control of the vehicle at highway speeds during windy conditions or when it’s loaded?
  • Have you recently hit a pothole or debris?
  • Does the vehicle bounce or float excessively?
  • Does it feel like the vehicle rolls or sways rapidly when you’re steering?

If any of the above sound familiar, have your shocks inspected by a service professional to ensure your vehicle delivers the appropriate steering, stopping and stability you’ll need to survive this winter. 

Check and if needed replace wipers

Visibility is extremely important when you’re on the road and nothing keeps your windshield clear of precipitation and obstructions better than a reliable pair of windshield wipers.

Typically, windshield wipers are replaced every 18 to 24 months. If you’re unsure of whether it’s time to upgrade to a new pair, check for wear and tear or keep an eye out for streaks that appear on the windshield when they’re in use.

Once the temperature begins to drop, consider switching out your wipers for a set of winter wipers for top performance. Often built with heavy-duty frames that are designed to resist twisting and cracking in cold temperatures, you can count on a pair of winter windshield wipers even during the most severe storms.

Don’t forget headlights and safety markers 

Snow and ice aren’t the only well-known attributes of winter. The season’s also known for being quite dark, which means it’s extremely important that you ensure your vehicle’s exterior lights are working properly.

Having functioning lights not only helps you see better but it makes you more visible to other motorists and pedestrians.

Lubricate locks, latches, and doors

There’s nothing worse than trying to open your car door only to find that it’s frozen shut. Prevent frozen locks, latches, and doors this winter by making sure they’re lubricated.

Lubricant works by displacing the already existing moisture while preventing any additional moisture from entering and freezing. You can use a silicone spray for light lubrication and non-metal parts, or a graphite lubricant for locks. 

Update or put together an emergency kit 

Even after completing the required maintenance on your vehicle, emergencies can still happen. Be prepared by creating an emergency kit.

Below you’ll find a few examples of items you should include in your emergency kit:

  • First aid supplies
  • Flashlight
  • Booster cables
  • Thick blanket
  • Matches/lighter
  • Warm clothes
  • Few light snacks like granola bars

In addition to your kit, you should always have a full container of washer fluid, a light-weight snow shovel, a good quality ice-scraper/snow brush combo, a phone charger, and a set of emergency reflectors. 

Be mindful of driving habits 

Did you know that nearly 30 percent of all collisions reported to the National Collision Database occurred on wet, snowy or icy roads? That’s right. And one third of these collisions happened in January, February, and November.

While checking the above components of your vehicle is vital to your safety and the safety of others, it’s not the only thing you should be mindful of when driving this winter. You must also remember to drive with caution, attention, and concentration.

Here are some bad habits you should avoid for a safer winter season behind the wheel:

  • Following too close: allow more distance between yourself and the car in front of you so if the roads are icy, you can avoid a potential rear-end collision.
  • Braking too late: slippery roads require more careful and early braking than dry roads. Pay attention to traffic and lights ahead and remember to brake early to allow for slick surfaces.
  • Going too fast for road conditions: winter road conditions require slower speeds due to the snow and ice on the roads and reduced visibility.
  • Running red lights: this habit is bad any time of year, but it’s especially dangerous in the winter. Approach intersections with caution, brake early, and obey traffic signals especially when roads are icy and/or visibility is poor, as another driver may not see you or be able to stop in time.
  • Not keeping windows and lights clean and clear: clear all windows of snow and clean your lights regularly as well.
  • Distracted driving: drivers who drive distracted are 8 times more likely to be in a crash or near crash event compared with non-distracted drivers. Winter road conditions require even more attention and concentration than other seasons. Avoid using your cell phone, eating, and adjusting the radio when behind the wheel.

Remember, there is no shame in being overly cautious. If you ever feel uncomfortable continuing your drive in poor weather conditions, don’t be afraid to pull over and wait it out. 

Protect yourself and your insurance

Taking the steps to get your car winter-ready doesn’t just protect you and your family from accidents or your car from damage, it also protects your insurance premium from rising!

Talk to one of our insurance brokers today about getting a free insurance quote, or how winter tires can save you money on your insurance premium.