The nights are drawing in, the big warm coats are out, and if you own a car, you’re probably wondering when you’ll leave your home to find that ice has taken it over. Winter driving is a totally different and often more stressful experience compared to the balmy driving days of the warmer summer months, with higher levels of breakdowns and over 2,500 injuries per year caused by driving in snow and ice. It’s not all bad news though, as there are plenty of things you can do to ensure that you and your car are ready for the cold weather.
The basics of winter car maintenance
First off, make sure you always have fuel. Breaking down in winter, miles from the nearest petrol station is something that no-one wants to experience, so make sure you keep an eye on your fuel gauge, and fill up before things start flashing. It’s also important to check your oil – not just in winter, but generally speaking. A well-oiled engine is a happy one, which means less chance of overheating, damage and dirt, all of which can lower the lifespan of your car and cause day to day driving problems too. Checking your oil is easy and will be explained in your vehicle handbook, which will also tell you whether it’s better to check your own specific make and model when the oil is either hot or cold.
Power up your performance
Car batteries don’t like the cold, so it’s important to test them regularly. Faulty or flat batteries are the number one cause of vehicle breakdowns in winter, according to the RAC – and likelihood that your battery will fail is greatly increased when the weather is wet, cold and icy. If you notice that your car sounds like it’s sputtering when you go to start it up, or you see your dashboard warning light start to flicker while you’re driving, this could be a sign that it’s time to invest in a new battery for your car. If, like many people, you’re not sure what all the warning lights on your dashboard mean, it’s worth looking at your manual and familiarising yourself with all the different symbols.
Be safe and be seen
Breakdowns aren’t the only peril of winter driving. With more of the day in darkness, being able to see and be seen is important too, so make sure you’ve cleaned your lights and all the bulbs are working. Don’t forget to give your number plate a swipe with the cleaning cloth too – police can pull you over and fine you if your plate is unreadable. Tyres in tip-top condition are also important to help you stay safe on the road, with a minimum tread depth of 3mm recommended by industry experts to allow safe stopping distances to be maintained in wet, snowy or icy conditions.
Antifreeze and windscreen wash
Your windows aren’t the only things that will end up covered in ice if you haven’t checked your windscreen wash and antifreeze levels. Aside from the fact that it’s illegal not to have a working screen wash system, driving in winter often leads to increased use of the windscreen wiper button, with wet roads, mud, salt and grit all making windows more grimy, more often. Antifreeze is very important too, as it prevents rust, corrosion, and – as the name suggests – freezing, all things which can lead to a leaky radiator, and ultimately, engine failure.
Spending just a little bit of time to make sure your car is healthy and happy now can help you avoid spending a lot of time sitting sadly at the side of the road in a few months’ time. Whip out your manual, grab your dipstick, and get going with a bit of basic maintenance to avoid getting stopped in your tracks when the winter weather hits.