Winter 2018/2019 is expected to be the coldest in 10 years (according to the latest predictions from weather forecasters) and snow weather warnings are already in place across much of the UK. Here are some winter car checks that you can make to get your car ready for winter and reduce your chances of breaking down in the cold.
1. Book your car in for a service
We strongly recommend that you get your car serviced before the winter. The cold can cause underlying problems with your vehicle to escalate and a service will help to prevent this. During a service, the mechanic will check the key components of your car for any issues – this is the industry approved service schedule is used on every service booked through BookMyGarage.
2. Top up fluids
Ensure that all the fluids in your vehicle are topped up. These will be done by a mechanic during a service, but you can do it yourself if required:
- Engine oil – Many vehicles run dangerously low on engine oil and this is a common cause of breakdowns. When your oil level is low, if you don’t have your oil topped up or changed, you also risk engine damage which is extremely costly to resolve. You can check it yourself by pulling out the dipstick and wiping away the oil with a paper towel or cloth. Put the dipstick back in fully, and then take it back out again. The level of the oil should be between the min and max markers. If it’s below, be sure to top it up using the oil which is recommended in your car manual.
- Coolant/antifreeze – This fluid keeps your engine from overheating, while also preventing it from freezing in cold weather. Like the engine oil, you need to make sure that the fluid is between the min and max marker. In the winter, the ideal ratio of water to antifreeze is usually 40% tap water and 60% antifreeze (or 30/70 in extremely cold weather).
- Brake fluid – To check the level of the brake fluid, locate the reservoir (this will depend on your car, check your owner manual if you’re not sure where the reservoir is) and look on the side of it. The level should be between the min and max marker. Before you change the brake fluid, be sure to clean the top of the cap carefully. The brakes can be affected if even a tiny amount of dirt falls into the reservoir. If your car has an anti-lock braking system, check the instructions in your owner’s manual before checking your brake fluid.
- Windscreen wash – With winter often comes more rain and dirt from the road hitting your windscreen. It’s important to keep your windscreen wash topped up so that your visibility isn’t restricted, to prevent nasty accidents. In most vehicles, you won’t be able to have a look at the windscreen wash fluid level, but you’ll be able to tell when it’s running low as nothing will come out of the sprays. To top up the liquid, you can buy windscreen wash from a supermarket. Make sure you read the label to get the correct concentration of screen wash to water – too much water and it can freeze. Do not fill it up with dishwashing liquid, or engine antifreeze as this can damage your paintwork!
3. Check the condition of your tyres
As the temperature drops, the roads can often turn icy so it’s even more important now to check that your tyres are in good condition. Your tyres need plenty of tread to drive through water, ice and snow. Aim for a tread depth of 3mm, which is the recommended minimum for the winter. The legal limit is 1.6mm so your tyres should definitely never fall below that.
We also recommend investing in some winter tyres, which are specially designed for snowy and icy road conditions. Winter tyres are made from rubber which contains high levels of silica content. They’ve also got a tread depth pattern which is designed to be flexible in low temperatures. This will give a better performance while driving on snow and ice, while optimizing the safety of your journey.
Top tip: It’s worthwhile checking your tyre pressure for many reasons. Tyres that are under pressure wear more quickly and cause your car to consume more fuel. They can also fail unexpectedly. All services booked through BookMyGarage will include tyre depth checks & tyre pressure adjustments.
4. Check & Clean your lights
Problems with lights and signalling are the main reasons cars fail their MOT. Around one in five flunk the annual test because their lights either don’t work or are pointing in the wrong direction. Walk round the car and check that all the lights, including fog lights, are working. If they’re not, check your user manual to see if you can change the bulb yourself. If you can’t, some garages will change bulbs for free, providing you supply the bulbs. Again, check what sort you need in the user manual.
While you’re at it, check that all of your car lights are clean. Look for any cracked lenses or blown bulbs. Don’t forget to check your car’s rear lights, indicators and fog lights as well as your headlights. If you spot a problem, be sure to fix it as soon as possible. The days are shorter in the winter, so you’ll probably be driving in the dark – ensure that you can see the road ahead and that other drivers can easily see you to avoid an accident.
Top tip: If it’s raining or snowing, always use dipped headlights.
5. Windscreen and wipers
The condition and cleanliness of your windscreen can have a huge impact on your visibility. In the winter, the sun can be quite low and if your windscreen is dirty, it can cause glare and poor vision. Clean the outside of the screen with a good glass cleaner. Spray as much or as little as needed, and wipe the glass clean with a clean microfibre cloth. For better results, buff the windshield to reduce streaks. For the interior, it’s best to spray the glass cleaner directly onto your cloth. Repeat the steps mentioned above and buff out any streaks for a squeaky-clean finish. As for your wipers, they’re just as important to maintain. You can clean your wipers with hot soapy water, or if you have some, windscreen wiper cleaner.
6. Check your battery
Your car won’t go anywhere if the battery isn’t up to the job. New research by Mopar suggests that every year around a fifth of the UK’s car batteries are replaced. Car batteries usually last between five and seven years and winter really puts them to the test because it requires more current to start a cold engine and, in the winter, we use more electrical equipment such as lights, wipers and heating.
Top tip: The best way to see how well your battery is performing is to have it checked by a professional. Many garages will conduct a battery test for free.
7. Be prepared
Before you set off for a journey this winter, make sure that you’ve got everything you need. Be sure to have a winter car breakdown kit in your boot so you’re prepared for any situation which may occur. This kit should include the necessary items such as a blanket, reflective jacket, torches, food and drink supplies, de-icer and scraper as well as a portable phone charger. It’s important to check the weather forecast and traffic before you leave and plan your route beforehand. Be sure to leave plenty of time to get to your destination.
8. Don’t ignore the warnings
Many people, when they see a dashboard warning light appear, will ignore it or forget about it. Don’t! The cold can have a bad effect on all parts of your vehicle, so it’s important to act as soon as possible. If you’re unsure about what the dashboard light means, have a look at our warning light guide, or check your vehicle’s handbook.
What to do if your car breaks down this winter
If you get stuck, the best thing to do is to stay calm, and assess the situation. If you’re not in a safe place, move your vehicle off the road if possible. Pull over as far to the left as possible, keeping your wheels pointed to the left. Put your hazard lights on to make other drivers aware. If you have one, wear a reflective jacket. Call a breakdown cover company, or if you have no phone/it’s run out of battery, be sure to find an emergency phone.
We have put together some winter driving tips to keep you safe on the roads and, in preparation just in case you do breakdown, a list of things to add to an emergency winter car kit.
If you would like to add our infographic to your website please use the code below:
James is an award-winning motoring journalist with more than 20 years’ experience on national publications. He writes a popular consumer column for the Daily Telegraph Motoring section and contributes features to MSN Cars. James was motoring editor for the News of the World for seven years and has held senior editorial staff roles on Auto Express, Autosport and AutoClassic magazines.