Sunday, January 18, 2009

Winter Driving

The season is officially only a few weeks old, but that isn’t stopping Old Man Winter from walloping us with what feels like an endless stream of snow storms and bad driving conditions. Despite the sub-zero temperatures outside, it’s hard to keep your cool when you’re stuck inside your car in heavy traffic.

The good news is that there are number of things you can do to reduce your fuel consumption and improve winter driving safety.

For starters, take public transit. Buses are bigger and safer than private automobiles. Use the time to catch up on your reading, have a snooze or do the daily crossword.

Try carpooling. Imagine everyone carpooled with just one other individual. Rush hour traffic would be cut in half, easing congestion and minimizing the risk of sliding into another vehicle when the roads are icy. As an added bonus, carpooling with co-workers gives you the chance to get to know individuals in your company that may work outside your department.

Work from home. Many employers have recognized that telecommuting can actually improve productivity and as a result are encouraging their employees to make creative arrangements that are mutually beneficial. If telecommuting isn’t an option, see if you can work flexible hours that will allow you avoid rush hour traffic. The four-day work week is another solution that is gaining popularity. It has also been proven to improve worker productivity, and it can reduce the need for employee parking spaces.

If you must drive your car, make sure that you and your vehicle are both prepared before heading out. Check that your windshield wipers are in good working order, top up your windshield washer fluid. Add a can of gas line anti-freeze to your tank during extremely cold weather.

Ensure that your tires are properly inflated. Driving on underinflated tires not only makes it more difficult to handle your vehicle in slippery or icy conditions, it can increase your fuel intake by 4 percent. Under inflated tires also wear out much faster than properly inflated tires.

Idling your car in the winter isn’t just bad for the environment; it can be very hard on your car’s engine. Incomplete combustion means that fuel residues can condense on cylinder walls, contaminate engine oil and clog spark plugs. The best way to warm your car up is to drive it. With computer controlled, fuel-injected engines, you need no more than 30 seconds of idling before driving away. Your car's wheel bearings, steering, suspension, transmission and tires only warm up when your car is moving.

Unnecessary car idling isn’t just about personal preference. Natural Resources Canada’s Office of Energy Efficiency (OEE) has identified idling as a significant contributor to global warming. In total, 4 percent of the fuel that we burn in our cars is consumed by idling. According to the OEE, if every driver of a light-duty vehicle reduced their idling by five minutes every day of the year, it would prevent two million tones of carbon dioxide from entering the atmosphere.

Ten seconds of idling can use more fuel than turning off your engine and re-starting it. If you’re going to be stopped for more than 10 seconds ~ except in traffic ~ turn off your car. This includes things like drive-thrus, car washes and waiting to pick someone up ~ especially children after school, where exhaust fumes can be particularly damaging to young lungs.

The key to safer winter driving is to slow down whenever conditions are not ideal. This reduces the risk of having an accident and can dramatically cut your fuel consumption. Cutting your speed from 112/km/h to 80 km/h can reduce your fuel consumption by 30 percent and cut harmful nitrogen oxide emissions.

Always take an extra minute to clear all of the snow and ice from your car and make sure that lights and turn signals are visible.

Be prepared for emergencies. Keep your trunk stocked with a heavy blanket, snow shovel, ice scraper and snow brush, flashlight, bag of sand, warning triangles and/or flares, a couple of protein or chocolate bars, a safety candle and matches. (If you get stranded in the snow, the heat from a single candle can mean the difference between life and freezing to death.) If you don’t usually wear winter boots, keep an old pair in the trunk along winter gloves and a hat.

Finally, never let your gas tank drop below the halfway mark.


During the winter months, check the weather before you head out at

Canada's Office of Energy Efficiency can be found at


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