Preparing your car for winter

car in snow

A recent Nissan study has revealed that more than one third (37%) of UK motorists have admitted they do not feel prepared for winter driving this year.

A separate study by Admiral revealed that road traffic accidents occurring in winter are more severe due to drivers not being prepared for winter driving leading to the highest amount of claims being made during the winter months.

The same study further revealed that almost one quarter (23%) of UK drivers have had a car accident whilst driving in severe wintry conditions.

These kinds of statistics are exactly the reason why you should read this winter car care guide.

Doing so will help ensure you and your car are prepared and equipped for the most dangerous of driving conditions such as snow, black ice, freezing fog and storms.

We also include, towards the end of this blog, a definitive list of 10 things to keep in your car should the worst happen and your car breaks down or you have a collision on a cold, winter’s night.

Winter car checklist:

  1. Winter car service
  2. Winter car check
  3. Brakes and lights check
  4. Antifreeze check
  5. Windscreen and wiper blades check
  6. Battery health check
  7. Windscreen check
  8. Tyres check
  9. Oil level check
  10. 10 essential items for your winter car kit UK

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Winter car service

According to a former ‘AA Patrolman of the year’, regular car servicing and maintenance checks can mean you’re up to 50% less likely to encounter car problems when temperatures plummet.

So if it’s almost 6 months or you’ve driven 6,000 miles since your last car service, you should book an interim winter car service or, if it’s nearly 12 months or 12,000 miles since your last full service, get a full service.

You might be interested in: Petrol prices set to reach all-time high by Christmas

Winter car check

If you’re not due a service, winter car checks are available at most garages and are cheap as chips or are completely free with some big chains such as:

  • KwikFit
  • Protyre
  • Formula One Autocentres
  • Halfords
  • Eurofit Autocentres

To find local garages in your area that are offering free winter health checks, you can use a search tool on bookmygarage.com.

Bear in mind that free checks may not be as comprehensive as paid for health checks so check exactly what’s included before deciding.

You might like: How to make your car more fuel-efficient

Brakes and lights check

A professional winter maintenance check by a garage will typically include your brakes and headlights.

Brakes

Signs that your brakes need looking at are:

  • They’re not working like they used to
  • Strange noises
  • Leaks on inner wheels
  • Car pulling to one side when braking
  • Vibrations
  • Brake warning light

If, after checking and/or topping up your brake fluid levels, you think your brakes are still not working properly, you should take your car to a garage for a professional check.

Lights

Here’s what checks you should make in relation to your lights:

  • Make sure all lights, indicators and reflectors work including full-beam and fog lights
  • Check for cracked lenses or blown bulbs
  • Regularly clean your lights (and number plate) - you could be breaking the law if you don’t and will struggle to see the road in dark, wintery conditions.

Read: DVLA warns drivers of 3 new driving laws coming into force this month

Antifreeze check

A professional garage will check that you have enough antifreeze in your engine’s cooling system to stop it from freezing on sub-zero days.

However, you can buy a tester to do this yourself for about £5 or by using a digital multimeter if you have one.

Windscreen and wiper blades check

A winter car check by a garage will include checking your wiper blades but this is something you can also easily do yourself by simply running your finger down the blade to check for nicks and splits.

You should also, as a matter of course, thoroughly clean your windscreen and wipers.

Important: Make sure you use a proper screen wash that doesn’t easily freeze; don’t just fill up your windscreen washer bottle with water and hope for the best. The writer of this blog stupidly failed to do so and her screenwash jets completely froze during an icy, blizzardy, dark and very scary long drive back from wee bonnie Scotland!

Battery health check

A professional check at a garage will typically include checking your battery.

If your battery is very old or your car struggles to start, you should get your battery checked out pronto as cold and damp weather puts extra stress on your battery and might finish it off.

Windscreen check

Again, something that’s usually included in winter health checks but is of course something you can easily check and remedy yourself.

After thoroughly cleaning your windscreen, check for any chips as they could expand during a cold spell. 

If you do find a chip, you can try to remedy this yourself - there are many reasonably priced repair kits available online. Alternatively, you can pay for a professional to do it for you for approximately £50 plus VAT.

Tyres check

A professional should check your tyre depth and pressure (and top up if necessary) during a car health check.

Regardless of the time of year, you need to make sure your tyres have enough depth - not only for safety reasons but for legal ones too!

The legal minimum tread depth is 1.6mm across the central three quarters.

You can use a tread depth gauge tool or the ridge of a 20 pence piece to measure the depth of your tyres.

You should also ensure your tyres are the correct pressure (check your car’s manual) and consider investing in some winter tyres.

Read more: 8 Tips for getting the most out of your tyres

Oil level check

If you’ve had a recent car service with an oil change or a check up by a mechanic, your oil levels should be fine but similar to a tyre’s depth and pressure, you should semi-regularly check your oil levels as a matter of course, all year round.

To check your oil level:

  • Make sure your engine is cool and you’re parked on level ground
  • Open your bonnet, remove the dipstick, wipe it clean and re-insert
  • Check the oil level shown on your dipstick is comfortably between the minimum and maximum mark - if you top up, be careful not to overfill.

Note: During the colder months your car engine’s oil becomes thicker, so if it’s overdue a change and your car is using old oil, it could negatively impact your car’s performance.

Car insurance deals

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10 essential items for your winter car kit UK

Despite conducting all the comprehensive checks and car maintenance in the world, there may come a time when lady luck just isn’t your friend and your car breaks down during an arctic blast, in the dark.

Here’s what you should keep in your Bear-Grylls-style ‘winter car kit’ to ensure you’re well equipped to deal with this dire situation...

Item 1: Mobile phone and charger

You’ll want to ring a breakdown recovery service and a loved one when you break down so making sure you have a charged mobile phone is essential.

We’d suggest carrying a backup power bank in your car too, just in case your car has no power and your phone is about to die or already has when you break down.

Item 2: Hazard warning triangle

Check if your car contains a hazard warning triangle (these are very often on the inside of a car boot lid in most modern cars).

If your car doesn’t have one, you should buy one as not having one for a vehicle registered from 1 July 2006 onwards means you are breaking the law.

Item 3: Reflective hi-vis bib

For your own safety, wearing a high visibility vest is essential if you’re outside a broken down vehicle in the dark (say, repairing a punctured tyre) so other road users can easily see you.

Item 4: Warm clothing

If your car battery is flat, you can’t rely on heat from your car while you wait to be rescued.

Item 5: First aid kit

Always handy to have immediate care in the event you injure yourself.

Item 6: De-icer and scraper

Key essential car kit items in the winter - never use boiling water as it can make your screen crack or strip paint off your car!

Item 7: Shovel

If you get stuck in heavy mud or snow, clever use of a shovel could help you get moving.

Item 8: Tow rope

If you don’t have breakdown cover and can’t afford to pay a professional, you may have a lovely friend or family member come to your rescue so having a tow rope can be a godsend.

Item 9: Torch

If your car has no power and it’s dark, you’ll want a torch - using your phone torch will rapidly deplete your phone battery.

Item 10: Water and snacks

You don’t know how long you might have to wait so having some sustenance to keep your spirits up is recommended.

If the recent spike in fuel costs and this blog are making you think you might be better off leasing a modern, more reliable car that’s still under a manufacturer’s warranty, head over to complete-leasing.co.uk for some amazing car lease deals.

Car insurance deals

Get a free quote and save money on car insurance this winter with Bobatoo

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