A frozen car won’t get you anywhere. Here are some tips to help your ride survive the cold

As a powerful winter storm is set to hit the province for the holiday weekend, automotive technicians say being prepared can save you a trip to the garage when you least want to go.

Colin Harris, an automotive service technician with Kentwood Ford in Edmonton, said the dealership’s shop has seen up to 80 cars each day this week, up from the typical average of 50 vehicles a day. 

“We are slammed. It’s incredible … the cold weather brings problems, unfortunately,” Harris said in an interview on Thursday. 

“A ton of vehicles with no starts. We’re seeing blown-out tires, lots of coolant leaks.”

In Edmonton, a high of –26 C is expected Thursday afternoon, plunging to –29 overnight. In Calgary, the daytime temperature is expected to hover around –24 with a low of –30 overnight.

After seeing an influx of people needing car repairs, Harris decided to take to TikTok to share his knowledge.

WATCH | Colin Harris shares tips for car owners during extreme cold temperatures:

“All those problems that you were overlooking in the summer, the cold weather, it makes those problems worse,” Harris said.

He recommends that when drivers want to heat up their interiors, they choose a lower fan setting and not rush the process.

“When you start your car at this cold temperature, when this cold air is flowing over your heater core, it’s cooling the coolant down so it needs time to heat up,” he said.

Coolant is also more prone to freezing in the winter, which can lead to a crack in the engine block and a costly repair. 

Winter tires a necessity

In Harris’s mind, winter tires are the only way to go in the winter months.

“There is no debate,” he said. “Winter tires or ice tires are the best. The rubber compound is just so much softer and it makes a huge difference.”

Martin Sims, an instructor with the Northern Alberta Institute of Technology’s automotive apprenticeship program, agrees. 

“Studded winter tires, especially in our cold climate, when it gets icy, are really going to help your vehicle hug the road,” Sims said. While studded winter tires are not permitted in some places around the country, they are allowed in Alberta year-round. 

LISTEN | Automotive experts answer listerner questions on CBC Radio program Alberta at Noon

Alberta at Noon52:42Cold Cars

Tell us about your cold car mishaps. Did you get stuck on the side of the road waiting for a boost? What happened? What questions do you have about making sure your car starts and goes in these crazy freezing temperatures?

Battery woes 

If your battery was weak before winter started, both Harris and Sims say it’s a miracle if it starts your vehicle this week. 

“We need to have a really good battery, we need to have a charge and they tend to have somewhat of a shorter lifespan in Edmonton, especially if you’re from another part of the country, like say out east where it tends to be warmer,” Sims said. 

“The batteries tend to fail a lot sooner here, so go get them tested.”

Harris said in these weather conditions any minor factor can contribute to draining battery life. He advises people to turn off accessories when they’re not being used — things like the radio, heated seats and the heater fan.

Block heaters are useful in starting your car quickly in the winter. 

“A lot of cars don’t come with them, but what it does is it … heats the coolant up and it just makes it easier to turn over for your starter so it’s not drawing as much from your battery,” Harris said. 

“You can get a cheap power bar and a little extension cord and you can plug them both in under the hood and just put one out and then you just plug it in, and then you’re good to go,” Sims said. 

Before an emergency happens, both Harris and Sims advise people to have essentials in their car like candles, blankets, flashlights and a first-aid kit.

As weather conditions are expcted to worsen, the Alberta Motor Association is asking for patience as the demand on their crews has multiplied in recent days. Customers can expect to wait up to 84 hours for a tow or up to 61 hours for a battery boost.

Harris said he and other automotive technicians, as well as service advisers and tow-truck drivers, are all trying their best under these conditions.

“It’s cold, everybody’s grumpy,” he said. “On the road, things are just going to take longer, so just have compassion for everybody.”


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