Mechanically Speaking: Winter a crucial time for your vehicle’s performance

Winter driving demands the utmost in a vehicle. Safety, performance, reliability are paramount during the winter months.

We are well into winter. A much snowier one than the last few. How is your winter car performing for you?

I was reminded recently by an editorial in Car and Driver magazine that many automotive enthusiasts put very little thought and money into buying a vehicle for winter use. The writer proclaimed that the reliability and function of your winter car is far more important than that of your summer toy that you baby so tenderly. This is a statement I hardily agree with.

Winter driving demands the utmost in a vehicle. Safety, performance, reliability are paramount during the winter months.

A freezing cold wait for the tow truck is nowhere near as comfortable as a warm summer evening spent looking at the stars while you wait for that same result. The car that you drive in the winter should undoubtedly be the most reliable vehicle you have. It has to start in freezing weather. The heater has to work flawlessly. Everything has to work and it has to work at low temperatures. If I roll down a window in the summer and then it does not roll up, no big deal. Can’t say that about the winter.

For some a good enough winter vehicle has 4 wheel drive and a good set of snow tires. I would suggest that your winter beast should sport the latest in technology as well. At least the latest that you can afford.

If you have driven a late model vehicle equipped with a full functioning stability control system and all wheel drive you know what I mean. These vehicles will save your bacon. Especially highway driving in icy, slushy or snowing conditions. Many of us have a lot of winter driving under our belts and we may even enjoy a slippery ride home. A little four wheel drifting while maintaining full control can be a spiritually uplifting experience. I must say though when a surprise patch of black ice threatens to ruin my performance I am grateful for the engineer that figured out that grabbing my right front brake will prevent a pirouette into the ditch on the waterhole corner.

These systems are that good. When shopping for a winter car choose one so equipped. Many late model vehicles had these systems as optional equipment. They may increase the complexity of the vehicle but I have found them to be very reliable.

These stability control systems work optimally when the rest of the car’s basic systems are in tip top condition. Tires, suspension and brakes. No skimping.

Safety is staying on the road and out of trouble but in all likelihood winter driving is more likely to result in an accident of some kind. Seat belts and airbag systems save lives and injuries. Many late model vehicles have optional safety systems. Basic vehicles usually have both passenger and driver airbags but many have optional side and curtain airbag systems. Newer vehicle designs also feature more structural protection. The bodies are designed to crush progressively so to absorb the energy of an accident yet envelope the occupants in a stiff cocoon and prevent intrusion.

An old rusty winter beater is not the wisest approach to winter driving. That big old rusty four by four truck may get you out of your driveway without plowing the overnight snowfall but it is more likely to let you down on the way to work or be a handful trying to keep it out of the ditch after hitting some black ice.

Trail’s Ron Nutini is a licensed automotive technician and graduate of mechanical engineering from UBC. E-mail:

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