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It’s winter. And it’s cold outside. This time of year you either bundle up until you can barely move or you say screw it, and jump on a plane to somewhere where you can wear shorts and have no fear of your legs falling off from frostbite. Winter in Canada can be a doozy. But as much as we hate it as humans, your vehicles despise it just as much, if not more.

You’ve braved the cold and made it into the driver’s seat, so this is the worst time to have a problem occur. Unfortunately, actually starting your vehicle is usually the cold winter culprit. So let’s be nice to our cars, trucks, vans and SUVs and talk about some preventative measures to make those cold mornings a little more pleasant for everyone in involved.

Keep Your Vehicle Warm

Seems simple right. If it’s available to you, the easiest bet is to park in a garage, a heated garage would be preferable, an underground variety would be a close second, but any shelter will keep the vehicle’s temperature that much more bearable. This includes anything that may assist in hiding your vehicle from the wind or cold, such parking under a tree or next to a building. You’d be surprised how much of a difference several degrees of warmth can do for that vehicle of yours.

Next, don’t worry about the power bill, plug in your vehicle’s engine block heater to keep it warm overnight. How it works is it helps the oil and other fluids stay warm so they can continue to flow smoothly, especially for diesel vehicles.

Use the Right Oil

All owner’s manuals will continue detail of what type of oil should be used in all weather types, including cold conditions. Most synthetic oils have no issues in the cold as long as you use the correct type. For reference, that W in your oil type, such as 5W40 actually stands for winter, and is telling you how well your oil will flow in cold temperatures. The lower the number, the better the flow. So make sure you’re aware of what that local oil change place is putting in your car.

Monitor Your Fuel Gauge

This is thought to be a bit of an old wives’ tale but keeping your gas tank topped up or at least filled to half during the winter months is actually very important, even more so if your vehicle runs on diesel. First off, you never want to head out on the road with a chance to run out of gas and become stranded in the cold in winter time, so that’s just good practice. But more importantly, not being topped up can cause issues with water in your gas tank. Condensation builds up when cold water vapour gets in contact with a warm surface. Like water dripping down your cold windows as it meets a warmer surface, if there’s available space in you gas tank, this can happen in that area as well. As it slides down into the fuel itself, this is when issues occur. Water and gas do not mix, and when you add cold to the equation you’re looking at potential corrosion or the freezing of fuel lines that prevent gas from reaching your car’s engine. In the case of a diesel, the fuel can actually gel in the cold weather. This is what causes stalls or refusals to start in the first place.

Antifreeze was Built for a Reason

Antifreeze prevents coolant from freezing. When water or any liquid for that matter freezes, it builds up pressure which can cause cracks in your engine block and other areas of the internal workings of your vehicle. Smooth flowing coolant means happier, running cars. The antifreeze jug itself shows you it’s recommended use based on a temperature range to make sure you’re covered regardless. Typically vehicles use a 50/50 mix of antifreeze and water, which covers you to the -35 Celsius range. However, the colder it gets, the larger percentage of that mix you should be using, a 70/30 split isn’t a bad idea when Mother Nature really lays one on us.

Beware the Carburetor on Your Old Car

Used vehicles are sticking to the roads longer and longer thanks the quality of builds we’ve seen over the past number of years. If you have a definitive veteran unit, from the early 1980s or even before that, you may also run into an issue with your carburetor in the cold. These carburetors that mix fuel with air in the engine are very finicky in the cold as their jets get clogged up with ice when the fuel doesn’t evaporate as it normally should. Just another potential issue and likely a reason for an upgrade to your next ride.

Warming the Car Up

Lastly, if your car does start, with a growl back at you or not, the question is always how long you should let it idle before driving away. The answer from auto experts may surprise you, as they advise 30 seconds is more than enough. Your car actually will warm up faster while being driven. So don’t worry about shivering in that cold car until the temperature needle starts to inch up. Go get to your destination and warm up!

At the end of the day if you ran into one of these issues and your car doesn’t start, have no fear. Neighbours, tow trucks and dealerships themselves are always there to help you out. They’ll assist in troubleshooting the issue and you’ll be back on the road in no time. And if you need a vehicle upgrade, we’ve got a few great people we’d love for you to talk to at the FFUN Motor Group.