No one wants unexpected car failures in the winter, so by doing some simple checks and taking preventive measures when driving in adverse weather conditions, you can save yourself the stress of being stuck on the roadside in freezing conditions.
Tips for getting your car winter-ready
It is wise to have some essential safety resources in the car at all times. Here are a few items that would be ideal:
- Torch and batteries
- Warm blanket
- Warm outer clothing
- Outdoor boots and warm socks
- Water and snacks
- Window scraper
- Snow shovel
- Phone charger or charger pack that does not need the use of a car battery.
Checking your car battery
Few of us check our car batteries, and it often comes as a surprise when they fail. They don’t last forever. If you have not checked your battery for a while, then it is a good idea to do this before the end of Autumn. Most batteries die in the winter, especially if you only use the car for short journeys. In the winter, we immediately put on our lights, wipers, and heaters. This, combined with short trips will drain your battery. If you do this too often without giving the car a good long run from time to time, you may find that one morning it just won’t want to start.
Checking antifreeze and coolant levels
If your car is serviced regularly, you will probably never have to check your antifreeze and coolant levels, as they will be checked during major services. Still, a winter vehicle health check will be advisable if you expect to drive quite a lot during the winter. Many service stations will do these for free, but you will pay for any oils or fluids that need topping up. A winter VHC will also indicate how your tyres and brakes are.
Due to the probability of limited visibility in the rain, snow, or fog, it is vital that you can see and be seen by other road users. Misted and dirty headlights can limit the forward beam; rear lights that are dirty can make you less visible to vehicles behind you.
Wiper blades can be quite costly, so it is important to ensure you don’t ruin them unnecessarily by trying to clear ice or snow from a windscreen. Always scrape and defrost before attempting to use your wipers. Along with destroying the rubber, you could also risk burning out the wiper motor if the blades stick to ice. Make sure the water in your washer bottle is topped up with screenwash, and do not try to use your wipers on a dry screen. Wipers will perish over time, so if it has been three years or more since you replaced them, it may be wise to do it before winter sets in. Perished wipers are an MOT fail.
Tyres are always at the forefront of car safety, so you must have them checked regularly, and not just for tread wear; you should be checking your tyres are properly inflated and do not have any cuts on the outer walls. The legal limit for tyre tread is 1.6mm, which is checked over the entire tyre surface. If you have been over or under-inflating your tyres or overinflating them, you could find that the tread is lower than 1.6mm in places. If your tyres look low, 3mm or less, it is best to replace them before the winter, especially if you expect to take long trips.
Winter Tyres and Tyre Chains
Winter tyres have been a regular part of the season for many northern Europeans, and there is even a law in some parts that means that winter tyres or snow chains are compulsory during the winter months. In the UK, most of us do not really come across situations where we will need them, especially when living in a busy urban area. However, those who live more rurally will use winter tyres or tyre chains as a matter of course. You can now buy fabric snow socks that are easily fitted and can really help in snow. Specialist winter tyres will wear quicker than standard fit tyres, so once again, it’s important not to use them in normal conditions.
Check road conditions for your journey
The UK has a great weather station network, and most smartphones have a weather app installed as standard. If it looks like a challenging weather system is approaching your area, then it’s wise to ensure that you are prepared for any eventuality. Winter not only brings ice, snow, and rain, but it can also bring windy conditions sometimes close to small hurricane levels – rural roads can be completely cut off by a fallen tree. Rural roads also bring the problems of surface floods, more so than urban areas. It is also wise to always let others know of your journey before you set off, but if you can, avoid it entirely in bad weather, if not absolutely vital.
Always ensure you know exactly where you are going if you plan a trip in adverse weather. A sat nav or smartphone app will be ideal, as even those familiar with some journeys can easily get lost in a whiteout or heavy fog.
If you have a pending journey, it is wise to fill with plenty of fuel before setting off. If weather conditions worsen while you are out, you may not make it to the next service station and have to use fuel to keep warm before help comes. Don’t just put the minimum in.
Advanced driver winter courses
If you live in an area that you find particularly challenging in the winter, or if you drive for work purposes and run into bad weather more often than not, then an advanced driving winter course may help to give you the confidence to drive safely throughout the winter months. Many companies will do this for their fleet drivers, and it may be worth asking if your company will provide these. Read more about our winter driving course.