How to prepare your vehicle for winter

Act now for winter precautions

It's coming to that time of year again as the weather deteriorates so it must mean it's time for motorists to prepare for harsh winter driving conditions in the months ahead.

By preparing their vehicle now for bad weather it will help avoid any potential expensive repairs.

This guide is essentially the most effective way to 'winter proof' a vehicle and ensure it remains on the road.

It's important to remember that you don't need prompting by TV weather forecasters to be prepared for bad weather and taking simple steps now will pay dividends.

Top up the antifreeze

This might sound like an obvious tip but many motorists do not check their antifreeze level and few maintain it to the correct level. If the antifreeze level is low and temperatures reach subzero then the weather will cause damage to the engine.

It's important to ensure that the correct type of antifreeze is used for the car so check the manual first.

Important: as with all fluids in a car, whether it's the antifreeze, oil or wiper fluid wait until it cools down first before topping up.

This Motor Codes guides explains how easy and crucial it is to prepare a vehicle for harsh winter weather.
This Motor Codes guides explains how easy and crucial it is to prepare a vehicle for harsh winter weather.

Ensure the windscreen - or windshield! - is clear

A dirty windscreen means the vehicle’s safety is compromised and with so much grit, slush and spray on our roads means that this is a likely possibility. Topping up the washer fluid regularly and ensuring the windscreen wipers are working is essential; the wipers should not be leaving streaks and should work smoothly.

Remember too that other road users need to see you so ensure your headlights are kept clean and this will include fog lights too.

Tip: some people keep a ready supply of windscreen washing fluid in their car boot - opt for a brand that will work in subzero temperatures.

Charge your battery!

In winter, a car battery is working much harder than it does at any other time of the year. We all run our heating on full blast and headlights are being used for longer.

In addition, when the temperature drops it affects a battery's capacity so you should appreciate its health. Do not run more battery draining items than you need to and be prepared should the battery not start the car.

Checking tyres – or tires! - is crucial

We have already explained that with road surfaces having slush and other potential hazards on them then it's crucial that tyres have the legally required minimum tread depth. In the UK a tyre must have 1.6 mm of tread though we would recommend between 2mm and 3mm.

This is also a time of year when some motorists in rural or hilly areas will switch to using winter tyres. This is not necessary for most of us but others may find the expense worthwhile.

Check your brakes

Again, because the road surfaces become more hazardous it is crucial that your brakes will work when needed. In winter, roads are slippery and wet so it's a good idea to visit a garage, many offer free brake checks, to have an expert look at the brake discs and pads as well as the pipes.

Newer cars will have a sensor that will detect when brakes should be replaced and if this warning light comes on then respond to it.

Protect the bodywork

The winter weather is not kind to car bodies and it's not just the poor conditions; with salt and grit being used to melt ice on the roads means that the underbody is liable to corrosion. It might be a good idea to wax and wash a car before bad weather sets in and buying a quality car cover for very cold weather might be worth the investment.

Check hoses and belts

The drop in temperature may have an adverse effect on a vehicle's hoses and belts and this could be crucial should something snap during a cold night time journey.

Most of these hoses and belts will be checked during a regular service but it is also a good idea to have an expert or a mechanic check them before winter arrives. They will recognise where the potential weak points are and highlight any potential problems.

Fill your fuel tank

Another important issue when driving in winter is to have the fuel tank full, or at least more than half full. This could be crucial on long journeys and you become stranded in traffic because of bad weather.

However, it's more important when temperatures reach subzero and freeze the fuel line so the car will not start. Keeping the fuel tank more than half full will help ensure this does not happen.

Have an emergency kit

In the last tip we highlighted the potential of becoming stranded in bad weather and traffic congestion which means that should you be stuck you will need an emergency kit. This will also be crucial should you break down in a remote area and have to wait for help.

The emergency kit should have things like blankets, a torch with spare batteries, a first aid kit, warm boots as well as a shovel and jump leads. Some people may also add de-icer and a road atlas (sat navs may not highlight the best route around traffic congestion).

Get your car serviced regularly

Possibly the most effective way of dealing with most of these tips to winter proof a car is to visit a local garage and have a service carried out. Most garages now offer winter checks which will ensure that the relevant mechanical parts are properly lubricated and all the fluids are topped up. They will also check that the tyres are in good condition.

The image alongside this guide comes from the government approved consumer watchdog Motor Codes and their managing director, Bill Fennell, said: “Motorists should ensure that brakes and tyres are working well, the antifreeze is topped up and their windscreen is clear.

“Drivers do not need to wait for the official Met Office warning and by following these winter driving tips, their car will be ready for winter to make their journey safe for themselves, their passengers as well as other road users.”

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