Prepare your car for the winter
Winter Car Maintenance: Tips to prepare for the cold weather
Wintry weather can take its toll on cars and difficult driving conditions can catch you by surprise. But with a bit of planning, you can ensure your car is ready for the winter weather. Below we provide a run-down of essential winter car maintenance tips to help keep you and your passengers safe during the winter months.
Check your oil levels and don’t gamble with your fuel light
Check your oil level is between the minimum and maximum mark on your car’s dipstick. Car recovery organisations say one in three vehicles its patrols attend are dangerously low on oil, which can lead to a breakdown or engine damage. You should check the oil level once your car is fully warmed up. A cold car will look low on oil. Remember, too much oil can be as bad as too little.
You should check you have plenty of fuel in your tank, too. Don’t try and eek out the last few miles if your fuel light comes on. It might be nice and warm in your car, but it’s better to go out into the cold at a petrol station rather than end up stranded on the side of the road.
Keep your lights clean
Cars get extremely dirty in winter months, not least because of all the salt on the roads. So, it’s particularly important to keep your lights clean – you can just wipe them over with a cloth if your car doesn’t have headlamp washers.
You can lose an estimated 40% of luminosity in about 20 miles on a damp, gritted motorway. Wipe down your number plate too. You could face a fine if you drive around with an unreadable registration plate. Also, have someone stand outside the car and check all the lights work properly.
Test your battery
Again, car recovery organisations state that a flat or faulty battery is the number one cause of vehicle breakdowns, and the risk of battery failure is greater in cold, wet and icy weather.
Aim to change your car’s battery every three years if possible, or sooner if it’s causing you problems in the cold weather.
Warning signs of battery failure include the engine turning over more slowly than usual when you start it. Also, the red battery light in the instrument display may flicker when you’re driving or take longer than usual to go out after you’ve started the engine.
Pay attention to dashboard warning lights
Do you know what the warning lights on their dashboard mean? With winter closing in, now would be a good time to get to know what all of these lights mean. And if one appears on your dashboard, get it checked out as soon as possible.
Assess your tyres
Worn tyres are dangerous at any time, but especially as stopping distances increase in icy, snowy or wet conditions.
Tyres need a minimum tread depth of 1.6mm by law, but some experts recommend you change tyres at 3mm to maintain safe stopping distances. Don’t forget to check you have a roadworthy spare too. If you drive on rural or uneven roads, consider investing in some snow chains/socks or winter tyres.
In the event of a claim, a high net worth policy will provide peace of mind that you will be provided with a courtesy car similar to your own insured vehicle. This means that you would not have to squeeze your family into a much smaller vehicle than your own. Most high net worth motor policies also provide European and UK breakdown cover as standard.
Check wiper blades and top up on windscreen wash
Check your wipers are in good condition, with no tears or holes, and can clean your windscreen properly. You can give them a wipe with a clean cloth every now and then. Don’t be tempted to pull wiper blades off frozen glass or turn them on if the screen is iced over, as the rubber may tear.
You’ll need plenty of washer fluid too – it’s surprising how often you need to do this in the winter when wet, muddy or salty roads increase the amount of spray hitting your windscreen. Not only is it dangerous to not have fluid in a vehicle’s screen washer bottle, it’s illegal too.
Top up antifreeze
Antifreeze stops the water in the engine’s cooling system from freezing, so make sure yours is topped up.
Coolant should be changed every 2 – 5 years, depending on the car and the type of coolant required.
Check if your car is due a service
Like many of the tips above, this is important all year-round, but winter just makes it that bit more urgent.
A service is usually recommended every 12,000 miles or every 12 months, whichever comes sooner. But every car is different, so check your owner’s handbook for the manufacturer’s recommended service schedule. In some areas, it can take a couple of weeks for the garage to fit you in for a service, plan ahead and make sure you’re booked in in good time.
Check your brakes
Your brakes need to be in tip-top condition, especially in winter.
If they squeal, make other noises, or generate unusual sensations, get them checked. If you’re taking your car out after a few days left unused in the cold, set off gently in case the discs, callipers or handbrake have frozen up.
Carry the right gear
If you can, have the items below in your car, just in case:
- Ice scraper and de-icer
- Warning triangle
- Warm clothing and a blanket or rug
- Practical footwear like wellies
- Torch and batteries
- Mobile phone and charger
- Shovel (in snowy conditions)
If you have an electric car – here are some winter car maintenance pointers for you:-
Cold weather does have a negative impact on battery life. Batteries will operate less efficiently, and so you’ll get fewer miles out of them in cold weather – a drop of anything between 10 per cent and 20 per cent in total range for some models. lithium-ion batteries work when the lithium ions move from the anode to the cathode in the battery (generating electricity in the process). Cold slows this movement down, and so reduces electricity production and battery performance.
Drive in an efficient manner, avoid sudden acceleration and braking and if possible, minimise the use of radio, heaters and fold-in mirrors. If your car has an eco-mode – use it. The warmer you can keep the cars battery, the better, so use your garage or even under a cover. Again, depending on the model if you have a preconditioning feature – use it. This will allow you to set the car up to warm before you get in and while it’s still plugged in. This way you are not draining the car’s battery. Some electric cars have regenerative braking – use it. For this system to work efficiently the car need to be warm so it can best capture that additional energy. It’s also worth remembering that as a general rule recharging the battery will take longer when it’s cold. Don’t forget that this could also lead to queues at charging stations – so if you need to access one on a longer journey – don’t leave it until the last minute.
Electric cars are built differently to petrol and diesel models. In most, the heavy battery is located underneath the car – which gives the car a lower centre of gravity. This can give electric cars better traction, so they’re better equipped to crawl through snow. Plenty of electric cars also include features like stability control and anti-lock braking, which can further support handling and traction by monitoring your speed, reducing wheel-spin and activating your brakes for you. Some may also have a specific ‘winter’ mode to help in slippery conditions. So, while every car is different, you might be better equipped to drive through snow in an electric car.
Electric cars are generally heavier than petrol or diesels, so it’s even more important to drive slowly and carefully in icy conditions, as any slides may be harder to bring back under control.
Information provided by Harrison Law, Cert CII, Head of Commercial & Private Clients, Cox Mahon Ltd.