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Ottawa is a city that does winter in all its extremes. Much as we have incredible summers, you can be sure, a good dose of chilly weather is going to follow every one of them. 

Of course, Ottawa truly comes alive in the winter months. The Rideau Canal fills up with skaters, people are sipping hot chocolate everywhere, and snowshoeing in the trails seems like the new hot pastime all over again. 

So it still surprises us, every year, the number of people who don’t take the steps needed to ensure their car is ready to handle the season. While maintaining your vehicle is necessary for all weather, the challenges presented by Jack Frost mean an extra layer of preparation is required. The moment your car is doing pirouettes down the motorway is precisely the wrong time to be thinking about getting it ready for the season.

With that in mind, here is our list of handy recommendations to get your vehicle ready to thrive in the elements. 

Winter Tires

The first thing to get out of the way is that Ottawa has very distinct seasons. There are no All-season tires that are going to be able to keep you safe on the road the whole year through. If you live here, you need to change your tires before and after winter. A good set of winter tires will last you around 20,000 kilometres, or approximately three winters. However, they will also help you extend the life of your summer tires. 

With this in mind, the next thing we recommend is having a second set of wheels for your winter tires. Not only does it make the transition more straightforward, but it allows you to make a change in wheel size to better suit the season. These days a lot of vehicles come with large wheels and lower profile tires. They look great, however, for winter driving, it’s best to have the wheel-size as small as possible with a thicker tire, to prevent the unspun weight from pulling on the car. You will need to check the size of the brake callipers and ensure whatever size wheel you’re considering fits comfortably over them without too much extra space. Even with the smaller wheel size, you will want to ensure that the rolling diameter remains the same. If the diameter of the wheel and tire set changes, it can through off your speedometer, which is something you want to avoid. 

Another important difference when it comes to winter tires is the width. In warmer seasons, having a slightly wider tire gives you a little more grip for transferring power from the engine to the road. In the ice and snow, you want your tires to function more like skates then skis. A narrower tire allows the weight of the car to focus down on a smaller surface area. By keeping the pressure concentrated, it cuts through more easily to the road and provides greater control. 

A few other advantages of switching to winter tires, in general, are the rubber rating, the tread pattern, and the bite edges. 

The rubber in winter tires is rated to a lower temperature, which means it stays pliable despite the dropping mercury. Even well-rated All-season tires in an Ottawa winter will quickly become rigid and lose traction. The tread depth and pattern of winter tires are also quite different than All-season or summer tires. The deeper tread depths enhance traction in the slush and keep snow from building up. They additionally have distinctive tread patterns that help prevent hydroplaning by drawing water through the tread. Melted snow is then pushed out and away from the tire, assisting the rubber in making a solid connection with the ground. The tread on winter tires is enhanced even more with a series of crisscross patterns that act as a biting edge. These edges help the tire grip the road, no matter how much snow has piled up. 

If you’re having trouble selecting the right tires for your vehicle, our tire experts are always happy to provide you with a recommendation. 

Of course, for some people, winter tires present a space issue. If you don’t have the room to store your tires out of the elements, we offer some great deals on tire storage. If you keep your tires with us, we will preserve and protect them in their season off and ensure they are ready to go when the weather changes. It also means that all you ever need to do is drop your vehicle off, and we’ll take care of it from there. No loading or unloading of tires required. 

Remote Car Starter

We’ve already mentioned that Ottawa has some pretty extreme weather during the winter months, and ideally, you want to do everything you can to lessen the burden and the chill. 

A remote car starter is an excellent nice-to-have option for your car. As technology has advanced away from carburetors, we no longer have to wait quite so long for the car to warm up before driving away. Most experts say, in the cold, you really only need a couple of minutes before the vehicle is ready to go. However, that doesn’t help with clearing snow from the car or keeping you warm enough to operate the vehicle safely. With a remote car starter, you can give your car a five-minute headstart, warming up the cabin and clearing the windshield. This way, when you come out of the house, you can merely brush off the snow and go. Particularly when the temperature dips quite low, having to chip away ice build-up or drive away while your teeth are still chattering are not great options. 

Upgraded LED or HID Headlights

During the winter months, it can feel as if the night has somehow gotten darker. Quality headlights can make a considerable impact on your ability to safely navigate Ottawa’s wintery roads. And, the good news is there have been some significant, affordable, advancements in headlamp technology that can really help. In the past 20 years, halogen lights have become pretty much the stock option for automobile manufacturers. They’re inexpensive, and they do a reasonable job. However, there are now two better options available for vehicle lighting, and they are well worth checking out. Except for some ultra-luxury cars with complex lighting systems, the upgrade to either LED or HID is quite simple. And, both are going to provide you with a better look at the road on a dark winter night. 

Xenon high-intensity discharge lights (HID) are a popular alternative to standard halogen bulbs. Instead of halogen gas, HID headlights use a gas called xenon. By passing xenon over an electrical charge, HID bulbs can create a higher intensity light than most other headlights, including LED. The trouble is that HID lighting tends to be a little more temperamental than the alternatives and will usually require more regular replacement than even a standard halogen light. Of course, they are great for increasing driver visibility. 

The other popular selection for improved viability is LED or light-emitting diode. While not quite as bright as HID lights, they are long-lasting and still provide superior visibility compared to the standard halogen option. As a result of their solid-state (no gas involved) LEDs are probably the most durable option in automobile lighting available today, and they cast a warm white beam that brings the winter night into a better view.

Heated Car Seats

While it’s true, as we mentioned above, cars today do not need as much time to warm up as they did back in the days of carburetors, it doesn’t mean the driver has stopped shivering and is set to drive away. 

If your car didn’t come with heated seats, adding heated car seat covers are one of the most cost-effective ways to keep you comfortable on your winter commute. Short of replacing the entire seat, adding a heated cover will provide just the extra warmth you need. When paired with a remote car starter, you can have your windshield melted, your seat heated, and be ready to go in five minutes. An option that sure beats scrapping off the car only to slide into a freezer. 

WeatherTech Inserts

Winter can be a beautiful time of year, but it’s also very messy. Snow gets in everywhere, and it’s full of all sorts of particulate matter. The City of Ottawa uses dry salt, wet salt, sand salt mix, liquid brine, and abrasive materials on streets throughout the season. All of that, in some form, ends up inside your car and eating away at the interior. Not to mention what it’s doing to the bottom of your pant leg.

WeatherTech FloorLiners are laser measured to protect the front, back and even up the sides of your vehicle’s footwell. Which means they are not one-size-fits-all, but rather custom to your car. They’re made from high-density core materials and engineered with advanced surfacing that channels water and filth away from your shoes and clothing.

However, probably the number one reason we recommend installing WeatherTech FloorLinners in your vehicle has to do with the resale value. Not only do they protect the interior carpets, they still look sharp after years of winter use. Furthermore, they tell a future buyer just how well you’ve maintained the car.

And while we think the FloorLiners are a winter must-have in Ottawa, another great WeatherTech product is their Seat Protector. This is especially important if you have a dog who likes to go with you in the car. The WeatherTech Seat Protectors are made from a polycotton twill fabric that features a durable water-repellent finish and guaranteed to keep all the mess that fido brings in to the vehicle from ruining the seat. A Seat Protector is also an excellent option for kids in the backseat, but keep in mind that they cover the backbench entirely and do not accommodate a middle seatbelt. 

Of course, we think WeatherTech makes quite a few great products that can make the Ottawa winters a little bit easier on your vehicle. They make great hood protectors, window deflectors, and headlight covers. However, we want to give a special shout out to the CargoTech®. This innovative system fits into your car’s trunk and holds things in place. Throughout those slippery months, it’s great knowing you can put absolutely anything in your vehicle’s cargo space and have it stay put. 

General Service

We’ve listed above some of the great things you can do to get your car ready for Ottawa’s winter, but probably the most import thing is a seasonal inspection. Below are a few of the things that should be examined before the snow starts.

Tire Pressure

Cold air can cause the air pressure in your tires to drop quite substantially, which makes it harder for your tires to bite the ice. Be sure to keep an eye on the pressure gage throughout the winter.

Check, Change, or Top-up all Fluids

This includes engine coolant, oil, windshield washer fluid, and even gasoline. During the winter months, always ensure you have at least half a tank of gas. If you get stuck idling longer in traffic jams or wind up stuck in a ditch waiting for a tow truck, you’ll want to be able to stay warm by keeping the engine running intermittently. Maintaining a full tank also helps prevent condensation in your gas tank and fuel lines, which can cause additional problems in cold climates.

Inspect Your Wiper blades, Battery, Brakes and Belts

Your wiper blades should be changed twice a year, and you want to ensure you have wintertime blades on to clear-off everything the season is going to throw at you. Cold weather also makes things harder on your battery. Be sure you have the charge capacity checked so you don’t get stuck looking for a jump on a frigid night. Brakes and belts wear out at any time of year; however, the Ottawa winter does a number on these vital components, and you want to ensure yours are in top shape.

Have your AC and Exhaust Lines Inspected

Many people don’t realize that your car uses the airconditioning system to defrost and de-humidify the windows. And, because you may find yourself waiting inside the car, keeping warm, have the exhaust lines checked to ensure there are no leaks. A build-up of carbon monoxide inside the cabin can be hazardous or even deadly.

Ensure you have an Emergency Kit

While hopefully you never have to use it, keeping an emergency kit in your trunk is very important in our intense Ottawa winters. You will want to think of your emergency kit in two parts, first for your car and then for yourself. For your vehicle, you need to have the following:

  • Booster cables 
  • Extra oil 
  • Windshield washer fluid 
  • Lock de-icer
  • Ice scraper
  • Flares or safety triangles
  • Shovel
  • Bag of salt or gravel

When thinking about the emergency kit for yourself, you will want to have:

  • Water
  • Snacks (nuts or granola bars are great)
  • A blanket
  • Glove and boot warmers
  • Flashlight
  • Portable cellphone charger

Winter in Ottawa is truly a great time of year, but it does come with its own set of challenges. Making sure you and your car are prepared to deal with it is the first step in getting to enjoy the season.