Many new cars offer features to help cope with a Canadian winter. But few have everything we'd like in an ideal winter vehicle. Here are 13 things we'd include on our wish list.
The last thing you need on a minus-30 morning is a remote key fob that forces you to take off a glove to push the unlock button. Brrrr! With a smart key you can leave it in your pocket or purse and it will transmit an unlock signal when you get close to the door. At most you'll have to touch a button on the handle – with your gloves on. Ditto once you're inside. No key to insert – just push the start button.
Not only will a heated steering wheel heat up quickly on those ugly cold mornings, it will let you take your gloves or mitts off sooner. You can’t really drive with optimum safety when wearing heavy mitts or gloves so a heated wheel is the answer.
Applying heat directly to your butt and, in some cases, your back, helps achieve comfort long before it will happen with just the car's forced-air heater. A warm butt is a happy experience when everything you see and touch is cold. It's especially appreciated if what you're sitting on is leather – which otherwise won't feel warm until your body heat does the job.
Most heater systems do an adequate job of pumping hot air into the cabin, once they're warmed up. But that heat isn't always distributed in the right places for individual comfort. Plus, it is a known fact that no two people have the same comfort level, especially two people in a long term relationship. Being able to select different temperatures on each side is a good thing. Some vehicles also offer separate controls for the rear seat(s) and a few even allow individual modulation of such details as the relative amount of airflow through each outlet.
Some models feature a small electric grid in the windshield beneath the area where the wipers park to keep them from freezing up and becoming useless once the vehicle is in operation. Washer fluid heaters were tried but were unreliable and never really caught on. Plus, they didn't warm up immediately so didn't help at startup when typically they were needed most. Electrically heated outside mirrors that work with the rear defogger are useful additions, however.
It's hard enough to see anything close behind your vehicle at the best of times. Throw in frosted windows and the encumbrance of heavy winter clothing and the challenge multiplies. Backup cameras ease the task and most even provide guidelines to aid parking. The camera lenses tend to get covered with snow and road grime easily, however, so it's a good habit to wipe the lens with a finger before getting in the car. Sensors in the rear bumper that provide an audible signal when you're nearing an object don't convey as much information, but they aren't as affected by dirt either.
The “blind spot” is always a danger, even more so in winter when windows and mirrors may be clouded or partially blocked. A system that warns of vehicles in adjacent lanes may help prevent incidents – if you can see the warning light or if the warning is audible. In the systems we prefer, the warning light is located inside, at the base of the A-pillar, rather than outside on the mirror.
The winter crud we inevitably track into our vehicles not only plays havoc with the appearance of the carpets, it can lead to corrosion in the long trm. Heavy-duty floor mats with lips to contain slush go a long way to help protect your carpets and they're much easier to clean. Just be sure the mats are designed specifically for your exact model and that they lock into place. Otherwise, they can easily get in the way of the pedals, potentially contributing to 'unintended acceleration' or preventing full brake application. This is not the place to skimp!
Winter days are long and dark. The quality of headlight can make that period much easier to cope with – and safer. These same light systems also have precise beam cutoffs that help prevent glare from light gone astray. Automatic dimming systems ease the burden of constantly changing beams in traffic and adaptive headlights that swivel the beam into a corner help light up the edges of the road.
If they're real and not just ornamental fog lights can be hugely beneficial for driving in a heavy snowfall, as well as in fog. To check the effectiveness of your fog lights, drive your vehicle up close to a wall or garage door. Turn the fog lights off and then on. If you see a sharply defined horizontal line at about knee level, you have actual fog lights that will illuminate only close to the road, not up in the air where it will create dangerous glare. If you see a big splash of extra light, you don't have true fog lights, so leave them off.
The benefits of all-wheel-drive are obvious. The ability to distribute power to all four wheels, whether full-time or only when slippage is imminent, provides better traction than half that number. Keep in mind, however, that the extra traction only applies to driving force – that is, when accelerating. AWD doesn't provide any additional traction for stopping or turning.
It doesn't matter how many wheels are driving if they don't have traction. In winter, that means proper winter tires – the ones with the mountain-snowflake symbol on the sidewalls. The only contact point between the vehicle and road is those four small patches of rubber.
Just to reinforce the point - WINTER TIRES! You don't have to be driving on snow or ice to realize their benefit. Typically, they provide greater traction, even on bare pavement, at temperatures below about 7oC. This is the biggest single area where your purchase decision can help improve safety.
If stuck or otherwise unable to continue, the ability to summon help can literally be a life saver. And, depending on where you are or if it's charged, your cell phone can't always be relied on. In-car systems are often able to pickup cell signals even in areas where mobile phones don't work.
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