Are you confident your car is fit for winter?
Seven checks you should make before driving during winter
Breaking down in cold and harsh winter weather is a situation every driver will be keen to avoid, so checking that your car is road ready for wet and icy conditions is essential.
With that in mind, expert mechanic Shaun Dillnut of Bristol Street Motors, gives us his top tips to ensure you set off on car journeys fully prepared and filled with confidence during the winter months.
1. Check your battery
You use your wipers, lights and heater more than you would in summer, so there’s more of a constant drain on power from the battery. Batteries don’t work as well when they're cold and take longer to re-charge, giving you less power output.
Many people leave their cars unused over the Christmas break and only realise they have a flat battery when it’s time to go back to work.
Most batteries will last around five to seven years before needing to be replaced. Any garage will be able to do this for you, and you may even be able to do it yourself.
Car batteries aren’t designed to run all the way down, and this can often cause permanent damage to them. Even small interior lights or the radio at a low volume could be enough to completely drain your battery when the weather’s cold.
2. Make sure your tyres are up to the job
There are a few regular checks you should carry out to ensure your tyres are in good shape for the winter:
- Tread depth - The legal minimum for this is 1.6mm across the central 3/4 of the tread all the way around the tyre. A simple way to check this is to compare your tyres' tread depth to the edge of a 20p coin; if you can see the raised rim of the coin on the edge facing the wheel when it's inserted into the tread, your tyres need replacing.
- Tyre pressures - You should check these at least once a month, or before a long journey. You can find the recommended pressures in your user manual or inside the opening of the driver's door. It's best to check the pressure when the tyres are cold, to give you the most accurate reading.
Whenever you check the pressure and tread, also look for any visible clues about the condition of your tyres, like small cracks, cuts or bulges in the rubber, and remove any objects that have got stuck in your tread.
As well as making the road surface more slippery, winter weather also affects the performance of your tyres by making the rubber harder and reducing the amount of grip it has with the road. Winter tyres are available that contain more natural rubber, as well as other compounds that reduce this effect, so you may consider investing in a pair of these to use between October and March, especially if you are going to be driving in snow or on icy roads.
It’s a good idea to have a repair kit or a spare wheel in your car to get you home if you have a puncture. You can read more tips about how to keep your car in great shape here.
3. Ensure your wipers are in good condition
Poor visibility is one of the biggest reasons for accidents on the road, so it's vital that you have working wipers that keep your windscreen clear whatever the conditions.
Unfortunately, wiper blades wear out quickly. This is no surprise when you know that a typical wiper blade can easily cover the equivalent area of over 40 football pitches during its lifespan, all while bearing the brunt of tough winter roads.
It’s also important to keep your screen wash topped up. Your owner’s manual will tell you where you can find this under the bonnet.
Most wipers should be changed at least once a year or when they begin to show signs of not working properly, such as squeaking or leaving streaks on the glass. You can get new blades at any good auto parts supplier and they should also be happy to fit them for you if you’re not confident in doing it yourself.
4. Top up with anti-freeze
Your engine needs water running through it constantly when it's switched on, to stop it overheating, but the pipes that carry it around are prone to freezing, which can lead to expensive repairs.
To stop this happening, the water in the system is mixed with anti-freeze, which allows it to drop well below zero without posing a risk to your engine.
Your car's handbook will tell you what kind of anti-freeze to use in your car - most modern cars use a long-life product. The handbook will also show you how to check the level of water you have in the system - there will be a dip stick with minimum and maximum level markers, and the level should be between these. If it’s running low, top it up with a half-and-half mixture of water and anti-freeze until it's close to the maximum fill level.
5. Check your lights
During the dark winter months, it's more important than ever that your car can clearly be seen by other road users.
It's illegal to drive a car that doesn’t have a full set of working lights, and your car will also fail its MOT, so make sure you check all your lights regularly and get any bulbs that have gone replaced as soon as possible.
As well as checking that they're working, make sure they're clean; dirty lights can be much harder to see. Simply washing your car regularly will stop this becoming a problem.”
6. Clear any debris under your windscreen
The plastic trough under your windscreen (technically known as a cowl) is designed to channel away water and prevent it collecting anywhere it could cause problems. But if dirt and debris collect in the drainage holes the trough can fill with water, leading to overflows where they shouldn’t be.
If left too long, water may even start to enter the passenger compartment where it can rust parts of the car that aren’t designed to be exposed to the weather. This can end in a costly repair bill.
Lift the bonnet and use a brush to clear out any muck that’s built up under the windscreen. If the drain hole or holes have already become blocked, you may be able to clean them out with a flexible piece of wire and some warm water. If this doesn't work and the water’s still not draining properly take your car to a garage.
7. Don’t let your fuel run low!
This may sound like an obvious point, but every year hundreds of thousands of drivers break down on the roads simply because they have run out of fuel.
Be sure to plan your journey so you either have enough fuel for the whole route at the start or you know where you will stop to fill up. This is especially important when it comes to longer trips that will involve long stretches between the nearest petrol or diesel pumps.
When you do fill up, is it worth buying premium fuel? Find out in Five Questions You Were Afraid To Ask About Your Car Answered.
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