Top tips for maintaining your car in the winter

15 Dec 2023
Last Modified:
15 Dec 2023

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Driving this winter?

Cold weather can impact vehicles, and challenging driving conditions may catch you off guard. However, with some careful planning, you can prepare your car for winter weather. Here, we present a list of crucial maintenance tips.

Verify your oil levels and avoid risking low fuel

Ensure your oil level falls between the minimum and maximum marks on the car’s dipstick. One in three vehicles attended by our patrols has dangerously low oil levels, posing the risk of breakdown or engine damage. Check the oil level when your car is fully warmed up, as a cold vehicle may appear low on oil. Remember that too much oil can be as detrimental as too little.

Additionally, confirm that your fuel tank has an ample supply. Refrain from trying to squeeze out the last few miles when your fuel light illuminates. Despite the warmth inside your car, it’s preferable to face the cold at a petrol station rather than risk getting stranded on the roadside.

Maintain the cleanliness of your lights

Winter weather can cause significant dirt buildup on cars, especially with the presence of road salt. Therefore, it becomes crucial to keep your lights clean. If your car lacks headlamp washers, a simple wipe with a cloth can suffice.

According to the road safety charity IAM RoadSmart, driving approximately 20 miles on a damp, gritted motorway can result in an estimated 40% loss of luminosity. Additionally, ensure your number plate is wiped down to avoid potential fines for driving with an unreadable registration plate. Finally, have someone inspect all lights from outside the car to ensure proper functionality.

Test your vehicle’s battery

A flat or faulty battery is the leading cause of vehicle breakdowns, with a higher risk of failure in cold, wet, and icy conditions.

Ideally, consider changing your car’s battery every three years or earlier if it poses issues in colder weather. Warning signs of battery failure, such as the engine turning over more slowly than usual during startup. Additionally, be alert to the red battery light in the instrument display flickering while driving or taking longer than usual to extinguish after starting the engine.

Take note of dashboard warning lights

A significant number of individuals may be unfamiliar with the meanings of the warning lights on their dashboard, as demonstrated in a recent street survey. With winter approaching, it is opportune to familiarise yourself with the meanings of these lights. If a warning light appears on your dashboard, it is advisable to have it promptly inspected.

Evaluate the condition of your tires

Worn tires pose a danger at all times, but this risk escalates, particularly as stopping distances increase in icy, snowy, or wet conditions. While the law mandates a minimum tread depth of 1.6mm, experts advise changing tires at 3mm to uphold safe stopping distances. Additionally, ensure you have a roadworthy spare tire. For those who frequently drive on rural or uneven roads, it may be worthwhile to invest in snow chains/socks or winter tires.

Inspect wiper blades and replenish windscreen wash

Ensure your wiper blades are in optimal condition, free from tears or holes, and capable of effectively cleaning your windscreen. Periodically, wipe them with a clean cloth. However, heed the warning from Auto Windscreens: avoid pulling the wiper blades off the frozen glass or activating them if the screen is iced over, as it may cause the rubber to tear.

Keep an ample supply of washer fluid as well. Winter conditions, with wet, muddy, or salty roads, often necessitate frequent refills due to increased spray on the windscreen. Not only is it unsafe to operate a vehicle without fluid in the screen washer bottle, but it is also illegal.

Refill antifreeze

Ensure that the antifreeze in your engine’s cooling system is adequately topped up. The coolant should undergo replacement every 2 to 5 years, a timeframe that varies based on the car and the specific type of coolant needed.

Check if your car needs servicing

This is a crucial consideration throughout the year, but the winter season adds a sense of urgency. Typically, a service is advised every 12,000 miles or annually, whichever occurs first. However, it’s essential to consult your owner’s handbook for the manufacturer’s specific service schedule, as it varies for each car. Given that some garages may require a few weeks to schedule a service, plan ahead and ensure you secure a booking well in advance.

Inspect your brakes

It’s crucial to ensure your brakes are in excellent condition, particularly during winter. If you notice squealing, unusual noises, or unusual sensations when using the brakes, have them examined promptly. When driving your car after it has been left unused in the cold for a few days, start off gently to account for the possibility of the discs, callipers, or handbrake freezing up.

Equip your vehicle with essential items

Make certain that you have the following items in your car, as a precaution:

  • Ice scraper and de-icer
  • Warning triangle
  • Warm clothing and a blanket, rug, or sleeping bag
  • Practical footwear, such as wellies
  • Torch and batteries
  • Mobile phone and charger
  • Shovel (in snowy conditions)

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