Seven things you shouldn’t do to your car

With the help of our expert mechanic, Shaun Dillnutt of Bristol Street Motors, we’ve put together a number of great tips on some of the things you absolutely shouldn’t do to your car this winter. By following these simple pointers you could save yourself a lot of time, as well as prevent damage to your car, not to mention your bank balance!

Shaun says: “If you’ve ever been told to force open a frozen car window or pour boiling water over an icy windscreen, you’ll be well aware that there are a number of myths about how you should look after your car during the winter months. As the colder weather begins to set in, it’s even more important than usual to make sure your car is in good shape for driving in winter - but it’s very easy to get it wrong by following incorrect advice.”

Frozen lock car key

1. Don’t breathe on frozen locks

“Breathing on a frozen lock to help melt or loosen up ice is actually not a great idea - despite what you may have read. If you breathe on a lock that’s frozen over, the moisture from your breath could condense and actually make things worse!

There are specific lock de-icers available that are worth buying when the cold weather starts setting in. There are also products available that can prevent locks becoming frozen in the first place but these can often attract dirt and grime over time, which may make your lock stiff or even become completely stuck.”

Kettle on hob

2. Don’t pour boiling water on a frozen windscreen

“We’ve all been there. You’re running late for work, you go out to your car and the windscreen is frozen. Whatever you do, do NOT pour boiling water on your windscreen. The shift in extreme temperatures (from really cold to really hot) could easily crack the glass. Your best bet is to use a recognised de-icer spray. As an alternative, use a salt and water mixture to clear away the ice - table salt will do. 

Salt water freezes at a lower temperature than normal water and so it will melt the ice away - a little bit like the way road salt is used to melt ice on the roads. Don’t use too much of this solution, though. Also, if you know there’s cold weather on the way it’s a good idea to cover your windscreen during the night - an old blanket will do.” 

Windscreen scraper

3. Don’t use anything other than a proper scraper

“If you want to scrape ice from your frozen windscreen my advice is to only use an actual ice scraper designed for the job at hand. Using anything else could result in damage to the glass. I’ve seen people try to use all sorts of things to scrape ice from their windscreen. Trust me, it’s a bad idea.

Using things like a credit card, a CD cover or anything with a metal edge can result in scratches on the glass. I’ve even seen people use a hairdryer to melt away the ice. Please don’t do this - you could electrocute yourself.” 

Tyres in snow

4. Don’t reduce tyre pressure to increase grip when driving

“You might have been told that reducing your tyre pressure will result in better grip on the road in icy or snowy conditions. This is not true and, in fact, can make driving in harsh conditions worse, because you’ll lose some stability.

Ensure that your tyre pressure is checked and kept at a safe level throughout the winter because it can drop in cold weather.

I also sometimes get asked whether or not it’s worth investing in winter tyres that are specifically designed to give a better traction and braking performance in snow, ice and wet conditions. I think this is a personal choice because these tyres can be expensive and tend to make more sense only if you live in a really remote area, and if you’re regularly driving in really harsh or cold weather conditions. If you can afford them though, get them.” 

Frozen car door

5. If your doors or windows are frozen don’t force them open

“Aside from a frozen windscreen, another thing you’re likely to experience at some stage during the winter months are frozen doors and windows. If your car door is frozen, try pouring warm water (not boiling!) over the handle and seal of the door. This should melt the ice and allow you to open it.

If you have electric windows and they freeze, one of the worst things you can do is just keep pressing the button to roll the windows down – this could potentially burn out the motor. Most likely, the window is frozen to the weather strip on the outside of the car so, ideally, the best thing to do is wait until the inside of your car warms up." 

Car steam bonnet

6. A squealing noise from your engine on cold mornings? Stop driving

“A continuous squealing noise as soon as the engine is started during cold weather is a sign your water pump is frozen. Unfortunately the best thing to do is stop the engine immediately and allow it to thaw out naturally. Depending on the weather, this may take several days unless the car can be moved to a heated garage.

If the car begins to overheat it's likely that the radiator has frozen, which is preventing coolant from circulating. Stop straight away to avoid serious damage and allow the radiator to thaw.

During cold weather it’s important that you keep an eye on your engine coolant (a mixture of water and anti-freeze) levels to prevent your radiator freezing. Refer to your user’s manual where you’ll find all the relevant information on how best to do this for your car model. It’s something that a lot of people forget about and it can be a costly and inconvenient problem.” 

Snowy car

7. Don’t leave snow on top of your car

“Clearing the ice from windows is important, but remember to also clear snow from the top of the vehicle too. Leaving it on can be seen as a violation of the highway code and the snow can also fall onto your front window if you have to brake sharply.

If your car is left outside after it’s been snowing the first thing people tend to do is clear their windows, but forget about the snow on their roof. If you don’t clear it there’s always the chance it will fall onto your windscreen while driving or even blow off into the path of another driver’s car while on the road. It can be a real hazard.”

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