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How to look after your car in winter

calendar Published on: Wednesday, 23rd January 2019 | male icon Author: Kevin Thorpe

Conditions in winter can take their toll on your car and make driving more of a challenge too. To help you keep moving this chilly season, here’s a brief guide to looking after your vehicle and staying safe on the roads when temperatures tumble.

Book a service

If your car is due a check over, one of the most important things you can do is to book a service before the worst of the winter weather hits. According to AA patrolman Keith Miller, up to half of the problems that cars experience during cold snaps could be preventing by regular servicing and maintenance checks. So, making space in your schedule to get your vehicle looked over by a professional could save you a lot of time, money and stress further down the line. It will also give you greater peace of mind when you’re in the driving seat.

Make sure your tyres are up to scratch

As the only parts of your car that come into contact with the road surface, your tyres are an essential safety system. It’s more important than ever that they’re in good condition in the winter when the highways are often wet or icy. One of the first things to check is the depth of your tyre tread. The legal minimum is 1.6mm, but safety experts recommend having at least 3mm of tread. Tests conducted by engineering and development consultancy MIRA found that in wet conditions, the braking distance of tyres with 1.6mm of tread can be 44 per cent greater than tyres with 3mm of tread.

Make sure your tyre pressures are correct too. Under or overinflated tyres can reduce handling capability and increase the risk of blowouts, which can be particularly dangerous in poor weather. It’s also wise to take a look at the general condition of your tyres. Check them for any bulges, splits or scuffs. If you see signs of damage, arrange to get them assessed by an expert. They may need to be repaired or replaced with new tyres.

Check your engine coolant

The engine coolant in your car needs to have the right proportions of water and antifreeze. If you have topped up water levels in the past without also topping up antifreeze, there may be a risk that the fluid will freeze during very cold spells. In turn, this could result in your engine overheating - and mean you’re left with a big repair bill. So, it pays to check your coolant levels. Make sure you do this when your engine is cold and look in your handbook to see the correct coolant and mix to use if you need to top it up.

Give your windscreen wipers a once-over

Your windscreen wipers may be working overtime throughout the winter, so it’s important that they’re in good condition. Check them for any tears or nicks by simply running your fingers along the blades. If you notice signs of damage, get them replaced.

Keep an eye on your screen wash levels too, and when you’re topping them up, make sure you use a pre-mix or an additive that is effective down to temperatures of at least -15°C. This will help ensure your screen wash doesn’t freeze in low temperatures.

Take a look at your lights

With the long nights, risk of freezing fog and generally poor road conditions, it’s vital that your lights are working properly over the winter months. So, take the time to check that each bulb is functioning properly, and get into the habit of regularly cleaning your lights to ensure they’re free of grime and snow. It’s surprising how quickly they can get dirty when you’re travelling on winter roads.

Check the battery

It’s well known that cold weather can have an adverse effect on car batteries. In fact, the RAC deals with more than 400,000 battery-related faults each winter. This is because of a combination of low temperatures (which reduce battery output) and the increased use of car lights, blowers and heaters (which put batteries under added strain).

If you struggle to start your car or it sounds like it’s labouring when you turn the key, it’s time to get the battery checked out. These pieces of kit tend to have an effective life of around five years and as they age, they start to become less reliable.

Carry a breakdown kit just in case- and drive with care!

Even if you follow the advice above, there is always a risk that you will experience a breakdown. In case this happens, it pays to have an emergency kit with you in your car containing useful items such as a shovel, hi-vis vest, blanket, torch, ice scraper and de-icer, food and drink and a charged mobile phone. It’s also worth having a pair of waterproof boots or wellies with you in case you need to walk for help in wet or snowy conditions.

More generally, make sure you drive according to the weather and road conditions. For example, check the weather forecast and travel news before you set off on journeys and find the safest route to get to your destination. Where possible, stick to main roads that are well lit and regularly gritted. Also, give yourself extra time to get where you need to go so that you don’t have to rush. Another safety tip is to always make sure your windows are clear of any snow or ice before you set off on a journey.

Looking after your car and staying safe on the roads is always harder in winter when driving conditions are worse. However, as long as you’re sensible and bear tips like these in mind, you can minimise the risk of experiencing difficulties when temperatures drop.