Every part of your car, from the tyres to the engine, can be affected by dropping temperatures and inclement weather conditions of winter. As such, it’s important to prepare your vehicle for when the big chill sets in, or you’ll run the risk of getting stuck and having to pay out above the odds for repairs. To make it easier for you, we’ve listed a few essentials for you to consider when assessing your car.
Ensure your windscreen is clear
During winter, your driving visibility may be impaired due to icy and snowy conditions, so it’s vital to keep your windshield as clear as possible. Failing to do this could make it lead to accidents because drivers will be unable to see any potential hazards. When leaving work in the morning, give yourself an extra ten minutes to sort out your frosty windscreen, as well as the other windows in your car. Keep de-icer and a scraper handy, but avoid using hot water from the kettle. Although this may seem like a quick way to melt ice, the thermal shock this places on the glass could lead to your windows cracking or shattering.
You should also check your windscreen wipers for splits and cracks, or for signs perished rubber in the blades. Any of these issues will prevent your windscreen wipers from being flexible enough to wipe away dirt. Frozen wipers can also prevent them from moving properly, so apply enough concentrated screenwash to your windshield to guarantee that they can clear your view sufficiently.
Maintain your tyres
Tyres should be properly inflated and have plenty of tread. Be sure to check your tyre pressure every two weeks — this can be found listed either on the fuel cap, in the vehicle handbook or near the driver’s door. If it is too low, you will face longer braking distances, lowered grip, increased fuel consumption, poor steerability and decreased durability. For winter, in particular, having the correct pressure in your tyres will ensure the best grip possible, which is critical for driving safely in wet, slippery conditions.
Having worn tyres reduces their grip on the road, making them more susceptible to punctures, which can be incredibly dangerous. British law states that the minimum tyre tread for guaranteed safety is 1.6mm. To check your car’s tyre tread, a simple 20p tread depth test will suffice. A tread of less than 3mm is not considered suitable for winter, as it will need to be nearly twice as deep to accommodate for snow and slush. You can even opt for specific winter tyres, designed to withstand cold temperatures and stay flexible. Chunkier than summer tyres, they are made from different rubber compounds and have more curved tread patterns.
Check your lights are working
Thanks to the wet winter weather, your car is more likely to get quite dirty during the colder months. How clean you wish to keep your vehicle is, of course, at your own discretion. However, your headlights, brake lights and fog lights should remain free from dirt at all times. Before leaving your driveway, make sure that every light is clear and functioning properly, as the colder weather also makes fog more likely, to say nothing of how much earlier it will get dark.
Inadequate lighting also means that your car may be hard for other drivers to see, which can lead to accidents. With reduced levels of sunlight, you will be using your front and rear lights more frequently, so to keep them in tip-top condition, check for cracks or blown bulbs often. And remember it’s illegal to drive with broken lights, or without your lights on at night.
Make sure your coolant system fluids are sufficient
As you drive, your car’s engine will reach extremely high temperatures, which could lead to overheating. This is why maintaining its cooling system is essential. Car engines rely on liquids to keep it cool as it runs, and requires the right type and amount of coolant, which is comprised of distilled water mixed with antifreeze. The appropriate amount is often set by your vehicle’s manufacturer, and most garages will check your levels for free, and offer to drain, flush and replace it when necessary.
If you’re skilled at car maintenance, you can do this yourself. All you need to do is park at ground level, ensure the handbrake is on, and open the bonnet. Here you’ll find the expansion tank (a plastic chamber) which will be marked with a minimum and maximum point — the right level of coolant sits in between these two points. During winter you may want to use a different coolant-to-antifreeze ratio for better performance. You should also check for any leaks, which can be identified by a yellow or green liquid, as well as any issues with the component elements of the cooling system, namely the belts, seals and hoses. Maintaining the coolant system includes flushing the liquid every two to three years, checking the radiator pressure and replacing the water pump and thermostat as needed.
Pack basic supplies
Even if you’ve prepared appropriately for all eventualities, you should still keep some basic emergency supplies in your car. Especially during winter, you’ll need extra warm clothing and blankets because you have no idea how long you might be waiting for roadside assistance. Your winter breakdown kit should also include extra food and drink, a torch, first aid kit, a jump start cable and a shovel for snow. It’s ideal to keep a phone charger in your car too — you don’t want to be stuck with a dead battery.
General safety tips
- Ensure your fuel is topped up, as it’s likely your car will use more during winter
- Plan journeys in advance and take bad weather into account, finding alternative routes if necessary
- Check weather forecasts before travelling
- Stick to the main roads when weather is bad, as they will be more clearly lit
- Drive slowly in dangerous conditions
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