Winter can be tough on cars; our guide will help you prepare
Winter is on the way, and the colder temperatures and harsher weather can put additional demands on you and your car. That’s why it’s best to carry out a few checks to help you stay safe on the roads.
Delaying your car’s maintenance and servicing is never a great idea, but the consequences of deferred maintenance are often more serious in severe weather conditions.
Here we outline 10 checks you should carry out to ensure you don’t get stuck on the side of the road this winter.
Under the Bonnet:
Keeping your oil topped up is always important. If it drops too low, you will see a picture of a small oil can illuminate on your dashboard. Leave it for too long and you may cause serious damage to your engine.
Regular oil changes are also essential for your car to perform at its best. Consult your owners’ handbook to see what the oil service intervals are. Some cars have a digital service interval indicator which will alert you to when the next oil change is due.
Your car’s battery takes extra strain during winter. In fact, flat car batteries are one of the most common reasons for breakdowns during the winter months.
The cold temperatures affect a battery’s ability to produce and store an electrical charge, so it can go flat sooner than during the summer months. If you regularly do short trips or if the battery is already a few years old, it is worthwhile charging it once a week to reduce the likelihood of getting stranded by the side of the road.
If your car takes a while to start, the battery warning light is illuminated, or the interior lights are dimmer than usual you may need to get a replacement battery.
Your car’s cooling system uses a mix of water and antifreeze. It flows through the engine block and keeps it cool while you are driving and also stops it from freezing while it is sitting outside in sub-zero temperatures.
Topping up the radiator solely with water can dilute this mixture over time which may lead to the coolant freezing. Have the system flushed out every two years and make sure to keep it topped up with a 50/50 mix of water and antifreeze in-between each change.
Washer fluid is something few of us ever consider checking. Not every car has a low washer fluid level indicator, so it is important to check the reservoir under the bonnet to see if it needs topping up.
It’s best to use proper windscreen washer fluid as it won’t freeze as easily as water and does a better job of cleaning your windscreen, too.
Outside the car:
Your wipers can go unused for long periods, sometimes the first time you notice a problem is when they are juddering ineffectively across your windscreen during a torrential downpour.
Even if you hardly use them, the wiper rubbers will slowly perish over time from constant exposure to the elements. That’s why it’s a good rule of thumb to budget on replacing them once a year. Visually inspect them for any tears or splitting along the rubber strip.
The minimum legal tread depth is 1.6mm, however, it is advisable to have your tyres replaced once they have 2-3mm of remaining tread as your car’s braking and grip levels drop significantly below this point.
When you are driving over muddy or slushy roads, the more tread you have the better. Winter tyres aren’t mandatory in the UK, but they are advisable if you are venturing off the beaten path or are heading into a snowy area.
Summer tyres perform well in warm weather, but all-season tyres are a good compromise that can be used all year round and will give you that extra level of protection during harsh winter conditions. If your car has a spare, then make sure it is inflated and you have a jack and spanner packed in your car.
Getting your headlights check and aligned correctly is a good preventative measure, especially during the winter months where daylight hours are shorter. Knowing when to use your lights is also crucial for your and other road users’ safety.
Murky or milky headlight covers can detrimentally affect their efficacy. Restoring them with a headlight cleaner kit can help you see further down the road, which is always a good thing. If your car is equipped with a headlight washer system, then make sure that it is working correctly.
Check that your brake lights and indicators are also working properly. Carrying a spare set of bulbs with you is a good idea, too.
Winter Car Kit
Packing a winter car kit is good practice during winter, especially when you are planning on going on a long trip. These are some of the basics you should consider including:
- Washer Fluid
- Windscreen scraper
- Backup battery for mobile phone
- Hi-vis vest, torch and car warning triangle
- Space blanket
- Water and snacks
- Emergency flare
- Change of clothes
Winter Car Service
If you aren’t mechanically inclined, or simply don’t have the time to check over your car, then a winter car service is a great idea. Most garages will be happy to give your car the once over and they may also pick up other issues that you may not have noticed.
Some garages even offer a free winter check where they look at the:
- Oil and coolant levels
- Windscreen wipers
Getting stuck on the side of the road is no one’s idea of a good time. Especially when it’s in the depths of winter on a family road trip. Check whether your insurance policy covers you in the event of a breakdown. Some offer breakdown cover only as an option so it’s worth shopping around to get the best value.
Is there anything I shouldn’t do?
- Don’t set off without planning your journey in advance
- Don’t go out on the roads unless you really have to
- Don’t drive beyond your limits – the roads can be slippery and driving aggressively can cause you or other road users to have an accident
- Don’t leave home without your winter kit
- Don’t let your fuel or battery level become too low
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