Temperatures are falling, the wind is picking up, the clocks have gone back and you’re switching on your headlights every time you get in the car. It can only mean one thing – winter is coming. But are you and your car ready for it?
We all know that keeping a car well maintained is not only good sense from a safety point of view, but it’s financial logic too. At The Car Expert, we’re often telling you how a little care and attention to your car can go a long way towards bringing you many happy years of service from your vehicle.
And good maintenance is never more important than during the winter months. In the run-up to winter and then during the coldest part of the season, your car must be in good condition for the tough job it has ahead of it.
Modern cars are stronger, safer and better designed than ever, but even the newest, most up-to-date models will still suffer during the harsh winter months if they are not cared for.
Bitter cold, driving rain, snow, ice and slush can all take their toll on a car’s components. As temperatures fall, car parts can shrink, crack, perish, seize up or fail. Road recovery experts say that batteries are more likely to go flat, tyres are more likely to deflate or puncture and important fluids are more liable to freeze over when winter comes.
And that means the chances of being marooned at the side of the road can increase – at exactly the time of year when that prospect is the least attractive.
Some planning and checking on your car now, before the clocks go back and the temperature gauge begins heading south, could pay handsomely for you in the long run. Here’s our simple guide to getting your vehicle ready for winter.
There’s never a good time to run out of fuel, but coming to a halt on a dark, snowy night is not only highly inconvenient, it’s dangerous too.
During the winter months especially, never let your fuel gauge go below a quarter and you should certainly not wait for the ‘low fuel’ warning light to come on. Make sure you always have plenty of petrol or diesel in your tank.
Cars don’t like operating without oil but it’s amazing the number of motorists who never check the level in their engine. Manufacturers ensure that the dipstick is easy to find, and it only takes a few minutes to check it.
There’s an upper and lower limit on the dipstick: ensure yours is reading towards the higher end and, if necessary, top up. But don’t overfill – that can also do damage to the engine.
Batteries have to work hard during the winter with more strain on them to fire up a freezing engine in the morning while other components vie for power to help them work. So it’s no wonder that they stutter and fail at this time of year.
They are only designed to last four to five years anyway so, if yours is getting old, think about investing in a new one, especially if the engine is struggling to turn, your headlights appear dimmer than usual, or the battery warning light comes on.
Not so important in the summer, antifreeze certainly comes into its own as the colder months arrive. Antifreeze stops the water in your car’s cooling system from freezing up when the engine is not running (or in extreme cases, even when it is running).
If coolant isn’t circulating through the engine, it can cause serious damage. Make sure to top up coolant regularly in any season and, if it’s more than three years old, it should be drained and replaced.
Wet or icy roads, dark conditions and poor weather all require brakes that are in excellent condition. Anything less and you could be putting yourself and others in danger.
If your brakes are squeaking, grinding or making other noises, or if the car is pulling to one side or not stopping as well as you would expect, have it checked by an expert. Has your car been left idle for a few days in harsh weather? Drive off slowly at first, in case the braking system or brake discs have seized up.
It’s not just foolish to drive around with worn or damaged tyres, it’s illegal too, and the police take a dim view of anyone choosing this option.
In winter, it’s even more important to have good quality rubber with plenty of grip: the legal limit is 1.6mm but safety experts recommend 3mm. When you check your tyres for tread depth, have a look also for cuts or bulges in the sidewall – on the inside where you can’t see easily, as well as the outside.
You’ll be using your lights a lot more during the winter months, compared with the summer, so it’s vital to have all of them working properly.
Switch everything on and walk around the vehicle checking that it’s all illuminated. Wipe all your lights and indicators over regularly as dirt and grime can stick to them, reducing their effectiveness. While you’re there, give the number plates a quick wipe too – along with their lighting.
You have to see out of your car to be able to operate it properly, so don’t rely on damaged or torn wiper blades to keep the windscreen clear.
Damaged blades can make the screen worse to see out of, not better. Replace any that you find damaged and check and wipe them regularly to remove dirt that could scratch your windscreen glass.
Don’t switch your wipers on if the screen looks frozen; check that you can lift them off the screen before you drive off. You could do lasting damage to the blades or even the wiper mechanism if you try to activate the wiper motor while the wiper blades are stuck to the glass.