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Moved to Canada from Texas - how to prepare my car

I was recently transferred from Texas to Ottawa, ON for work. I have a U.S. spec 2012 Subaru Impreza and am wondering what is and what is not necessary for winter preparation for my car. I’ve done a lot of reading, so I have some idea of what you can do to prepare your car for winter, but I’m not sure what I need to do given my current circumstances and I don’t want to go overboard and do a lot of things that make no sense given my circumstances.

So, here we go. I don’t have parking at work, so I almost always walk or take public transportation. If things are really bad, my job is such that it’s not a huge deal if I’m a couple hours late for work.

I don’t drive much here. I went seven weeks without putting gas in my car and it still had 1/3 tank. So, I’m not out and about a lot with the car, and most of what I do, like errands, can be postponed a couple of days if the streets are really bad. I can walk to a grocery store and a couple of restaurants if need be.

I park the car in a heated (70F) garage. Street parking is not an option due to 3 hour time limit on street parking near me.

I am only here for 2 years, so 2 winters. After that, I’ll be transferred somewhere else, and who knows what the climate there will be.

I’m not sure how long I’ll keep the car. Under normal circumstances, I’d keep cars a long time, but with this job and being transferred internationally every few years, I may not keep it as long due to import regulations not allowing cars over a certain age, with the steering wheel on the left, that are certain colors (yes that happens!), and so on. So, I might keep it for 3 years, I might keep it for 15, depending on where I’m posted, etc.

So, given those circumstances, what should I do to prepare the car?

Prepping for winter really isn’t necessary anymore. The coolant in the car works the same in TX and Canada.

Some tips: be sure you use windshield washer solutions that won’t freeze. Cheap versions are blue colored and higher quality versions are orange colored and not only don’t freeze in the hoses, but don’t freeze when the stuff hits the windshield.

There are “winter” wiper blades that also handle ice build up on the windshield better than standard wipers. On a busy expressway you want to remove the slush spray from trucks quickly as that stuff can make it hard to see. Iced up wipers don’t do the job well. Running the heater set to defrost helps, so on longer trips don’t wear your coat so the heat inside of the car keeps the windows clear.

Winter tires are much better than the tires on the car now in snow, slush, and icy conditions. Since you seem to drive infrequently you might not need winter tires. But if you can’t stay home when the weather is lousy you should put winter tires on the car. In some areas of Canada you will get a ticket for not having winter tires and you get stuck in a snow bank and need a tow. Check your local laws for any info regarding winter tires.

Final tip: Watch your speed in bad conditions. Overconfidence runs rampant with owners of AWD cars (like yours). Just because you have no problems getting started and accelerating does not mean you can turn and stop. It is very easy to drive “too fast for conditions” which means trouble. Practice driving in some big snow covered parking lots and be cautious until your experience driving in snow, and ice builds.

Good advice from Uncle Turbo. Only Quebec province has a law that requires winter tires. I gather you will live in Ottawa, not in Hull across the river in Quebec. In any case they will not ticket an out of province/country car without winter tires.

In addition to checking the coolant to be good for -40F, I would do a load test on the battery. The skiing is great in Quebec across the river, and you may need to park outside overnight at the lodge. A 5W30 oil or thinner is recommended, and a set of witer tires would be great; they have heavy snowfalls there. For the short time you are there, I would not bother with an engine block heater, since you park in a heated garage.

To keep the rust at bay, wash your car frequently, since they use salt on the roads with a vengeance. My brother lived there for a number of years and both his cars rusted out long before the engine wore out.

For what it’s worth, Ottawa is the second coldest national capital in the world, only exceeded by Ulan Bator, the capital of Mongolia. Moscow is warm compared to Ottawa. Don’t buy winter clothes in Texas; the local shops have a vast collection in all ranges of prices.

I’d get an extra set of winter tires on rims (I’ve used I moved from Dallas to Anchorage years ago, didn’t have to do anything special besides the tires/wheels.

Thanks everyone! I will indeed be living in Ottawa proper and not over in Quebec. I did get my car registered in ON since I’m living here, so it has ON plates on it now. Ontario doesn’t require snow tires, though I’m seriously considering them. It’d be a no-brainer if I was here indefinitely or had a job that required me to be in the office no matter what, but for two years when I don’t drive that much, have public transportation as an option, and could get to work a few hours later than 8:00am if necessary or telework, I’m not sure. It’s just me, so I’m not out chauffering kids around here and there.

That’s great info on the windshield wipers and fluid. I’ll definitely get those supplies. I do plan to be somewhat obsessive about washing the car to keep all of the gunk off of it and I know to find one that does undercarriage washes.

I definitely plan to take it slow while driving in snow. I’m a little terrified of it honestly, so I’ll probably be the “grandma” going 20 mph slower than everyone else. I’ll try not to leave my blinker on though. :wink:

I’ve gotten all of my winter clothes stuff from MEC, LL Bean, and Land’s End, so hopefully I’ve got what I need. We shall see.

Thanks again for all of the input. I’m open to other opinions, too.

If you don’t need to wear high priced clothing for work, I’d suggest that you consider Cabella’s. They have clothing that is very well constructed and fashionable, but at much more reasonable prices.

As for wintering your vehicle, your car comes with an 50:50 mix of antifreeze and water which is good to about -34°F. That maybe a little shy of your needs if you get caught in a situation where the vehicle is parked outside for some reason.

You could have a complete drain and refill with a more concentrated solution of antifreeze, up to a 2:1 antifreeze to water, and some places may even try to get you to agree with a complete cooling system flush. Both are completely unnecessary, but you should go to a Subaru dealer (for warrantee purposes) and ask them to drain down some of your coolant and replace it with pure antifreeze to increase the concentration.

They should drain down about 1 quart (or liter) and replace it with pure antifreeze, not premix. That will protect your engine down to over -50°F and should not cost too much, though they may charge you for a whole gallon of antifreeze, still cheaper than a flush. BTW any garage can do this as long as they use an antifreeze that meets Subaru specifications, which usually means Subaru brand antifreeze. Once the warrantee is up, you can use any brand you wish as long as you do a complete drain and refill (about every 4-5 years).

On your next scheduled oil change, I recommend that you use a synthetic oil instead of the regular oil. Mobil 1 or Castrol Syntec or Edge are two good possibilities.

Unless you plan on driving to outdoor sports venues, like skiing or skating, I suggest that you skip the winter tires. If you try outdoor sports, maybe a new friend could drive at first.

Glad you discovered MEC (Mountain Equipment Co-op). They have quality stuff at reasonable prices. Also visit Mark’s who originally sold quality work clothes but have since moved into casual and sports wear. There should be at least 3 Mark’s stores in Ottawa.

If you are going into ski country regularly, I would recommend a set of winter tires, Michelin X-ICE being a top rated tire for snow, slush and ice. You can always sell them at the end of your stay in Ottawa.

Two (long) winters would be enough for me to get a set of winter tires, that way I could drive around and see the sights. Lots to do in the winter, it’d be worth it to me.

I would also consider using a good synthetic oil. I am using a European spec 0W40 in all of my cars that specify 5W30. This is a Mobil 1 product and specifically mentions “European Car Formula” on the bottle. This will both protect better and clean better than a conventional oil or more traditional synthetic. The European makes such as VW, BMW, Mercedes-Benz, etc. have more stringent requirements for oil than in the U.S. This includes protection against sludge in the oil/engine. Your infrequent and likely short trips are bad for gumming up engines. This is the kind of oil you would like. Sure, it costs more but you might have it in the car for a year or more before it needs changing. You largest concern here is moisture formation in the oil. I suggest taking a drive once in a while to get the engine warmed up to operating temp and keep it there for a while. If you ever see “milk” on the dipstick when cold, this is a sign of moisture in the oil. If a long drive doesn’t evaporate it clear the oil, then you need to change the oil. Water is a poor lubricant and could lead to internal rusting of engine parts, especially with your car sitting as much as you indicate.

If this is what they specify for the Mercedes SL 65 AMG, it will work in your Impreza which is a pretty nice high performance little engine in itself. I am not saying the Mobil 1 product is the only option for you but is what I can get locally in a parts store as a live in a small town without exotic car dealers. Read the back of any bottle and make sure it meets Mercedes, VW/Audi, BMW, etc. specs. You won’t see this on normal synthetics.


Good point, @cwatkin - but I would look in the owners manual and see what oil weight Subaru recommends for cold weather use, then go get that exact weight synthetic oil. Oil is used in various parts of the engine, like variable cam timing mechanisms, and I would want to make sure the oil I use matches the recommendation.

What is specified for other makes/models really isn’t important for your Subaru.

The car will be fine…Use synthetic lubricants where possible…The BIG worry is preparing YOURSELF for Canadian winters…

It looks like almost everything has been covered for you. I’m in Wisconsin and do nothing special to prepare the car for winter. My cars with fuel injection since 1984 for me, have never failed to start in cold weather. Older cars with carburetors were sometimes problematic. If your area uses road salt and I completely anticipate that they do, you should be fine with whatever tires are on the car with rare exceptions when you might be driving before the salt trucks and snowplows do their job. If that happens, you can stay where you are for a while. Slippery road driving is a relearning experience every winter even for some who have lived here for years.

You might want to get a battery stress test done at a car parts store. It is not impossible that your car has a southern climate type battery that is made to withstand excessive heat rather than excessive cold. I don’t know if this will matter much but get the stress test done on a very cold day. If your battery is marginal, you might want a new one. Batteries are cheap if a 70 dollar battery lasts 7 years as they typically do for me.

The car wash that I use, for a dollar extra will spray the bottom of the car as it passes through the wash. Make sure that they use fresh, not recycled water. You don’t want to wash your undercarriage with salt water.

Everyone here is thinking “winterizing”, and that’s great, but also check with the governing regulatory agency. My sister, who lives in Canada, was unable to bring a US spec car into Canada for registration there because there was some issue with one of the safety systems. No mechanic here would modify it for Canadian spec because to do so would have meant he’d be making a US car noncompliant, and siabling a mandatory safety system in a vehicle is of questionable legality for a mechanic. .

I don;t recall the details, as this happened some years ago, but check this aspect out before making any decisions.

TSMB - good point, reminded me that some parts of Canada require 4 winter tires.

Here’s what I found, so while they’re not required for Ottawa, they are for Quebec, next door:

There are no requirements for snow tires.
Studded tires may only be used North of Parry Sound and Nipissing districts and only from October 1 to April 30.
Northern Ontario residents may use studded tires anywhere in the province during this time.
Southern Ontario residents may only use studded tires in Northern Ontario. They could face a $1,000 fine if caught using them in Southern Ontario.

Winter tires or studded tires must be used from December 15 to March 15.
LT & AT tires on light trucks and SUV’s are acceptable until 2014."

I seem to recall the problem as having something to do with DRLs or seatbelts, but I honestly cannot remember the details.

Welcome to Canada!

Buy auto related stuff (wiper blades, washer fluid, snow scraper, gas line anti-freeze, tires etc.) from Canadian Tire but whatever you do, avoid having any work done there (even installing tires). For what it’s worth if you have all wheel drive and good skins on the car already I wouldn’t worry about snow tires unless you’re going to be a regular at Mt. Tremblant.

Once the Rideau Canal freezes get some skates and get out on the ice. Winterlude in Febuary is a blast. Be sure to try the beaver tails.

Synthetic oil is a good consideration in any cold climate…anoter vote for UT’s winter tires too. If you aren’t an experienced winter driver, you will need all the help you can get. Awd will get you going much too fast for all season tires to cope with when you have handling and stopping to deal with too.

Thanks everyone! This is great info and I appreciate all the feedback. I will probably call the Subaru dealer here and/or one in upstate NY to get the info on oil, fluids, etc. recommended for winter use. I bought it in Texas, but since it’s new, presumably the oil, windshield wiper fluid, etc it came with are standard across the U.S. for new Subarus. However, I’m not sure exactly what those are so I’ll ask around.

TSMB - I already have my car imported and registered in Ontario, so we’re good to go with all of that.

I actually would rather look in the owners manual to figure out what oil to use, it’s sometimes surprising the misinformation you’ll get from a dealer.

Good luck!