With vehicle-recovery agencies reporting that emergency call-outs increase by up to a quarter during winter months, what can you do to prepare yourself and your car for winter conditions?
A squealing noise when braking is an obvious cause for concern but you also need to physically examine the brakes for rust, grooves or heavy wear and tear.
In addition, brake-fluid levels need checking. These are all things you can do at home but if you have any doubts then take the car to a reliable mechanic.
The other winter essential is a decent set of tyres. Your tyres have a lot to cope with in winter, with snow, rain, mud and ice on a daily basis. While by law your tyres must maintain a tread level of 1.6mm over the majority surface area, this is just a legal minimum.
This is one area where economy doesn’t pay. When winter comes you should aim for a tread depth of at least 2mm, although the AA recommends 3mm. If your tyres don’t meet these criteria, consider replacing them for your safety and that of those around you.
Defective lights are not only illegal they’re also dangerous. If your main headlights, brake lights, sidelights, indicators, reverse lights and fog lights aren’t working, then other people can’t see you.
Don’t forget your number-plate lights too. Furthermore, while it should be obvious, lights covered in snow or ice aren’t fully visible, so clear your light covers at the same time that you de-ice your windows.
Battery and Electrics
The extra use of your lights, windscreen wipers and heaters, as well as the cold weather, all force your battery to work harder than it’s used to. Don’t wait until you’re outside your house on a cold morning, unable to get to work because your battery is flat. Battery testers are not expensive and if you find your battery is not charging properly, replace it now – before you break down.
If your car does struggle to start, try not to drain the battery by using heaters or the radio on short journeys. When starting up, try the ignition for five seconds only, with 30-second intervals between attempts, rather than trying to force a start by holding the key in the last position.
Oil levels should be checked and topped up on a regular basis, as should wiper fluid, but in winter you also need to think about anti-freeze. Make sure you buy the right anti-freeze for your model of car and use a one-part anti-freeze to one-part water ratio. Without this, your engine could freeze and develop some very expensive problems.
Hints and Tips
Never pour hot or even warm water on to your windscreen to de-ice it as you could cause cracks. Use de-icer and a scraper designed for the job.
Your windscreen wipers also need to be in good condition to cope with the severe weather. If they don’t appear to be clearing the screen properly or you can see that they are damaged, a new pair of wiper blades is inexpensive and easy to replace yourself.
You can prepare your car to the nth degree, but if you don’t modify your driving style to suit the conditions you are likely to encounter trouble and you won’t want to be claiming on your car insurance this winter. Common-sense advice includes sticking to a sensible speed, leaving plenty of distance from the car in front and braking early. Furthermore, make sure you are wearing sensible shoes with some grip, as wet feet slip from the pedals easily.
When conditions are slippery, pull away in a higher gear, second or even third using clutch control and slow down using engine braking rather than constantly hitting the brake pedal.