You may have started to prepare your home for the colder months, but is your vehicle winter ready too? Many of us take our cars, vans and motorhomes for granted but they can be just as susceptible to the cold, rain, ice and snow.
To minimise the chances of claiming on your motor insurance, here’s a practical ten-point winter checklist to help keep your car (van or motorhome) in top condition.
1. Check your battery
Cold winter weather and increased use of heaters, lights, and windscreen wipers puts extra strain on the battery so it’s a good idea to have this checked.
If you’re confident enough to do it yourself, you can buy battery testers which check the voltage. The vehicle’s manual should also have instructions on how to do this. However, the position of batteries in many newer cars could make this hard to do yourself so if in doubt ask a professional to check for you.
If your vehicle is due a service try to arrange this before winter really sets in.
If you have a motorhome or campervan, you need to make sure that you’re leisure battery also remains charged throughout winter. You can do this by running a trickle charger.
2. Have brakes professionally checked
Unless you’re a mechanic this winter check is best left to experts.
Early warning signs of brake problems include squeaking or grinding noises as you brake. If your vehicle pulls to one side or if the brakes don’t feel as responsive then it’s sensible to have your vehicle checked as soon as possible.
3. Top up coolant and anti-freeze
You should top up coolant regularly but come winter it’s important to check anti-freeze levels. Too little and you risk water in the cooling system freezing which can lead to expensive repair costs.
Ideally, the ratio of coolant to anti-freeze should be 50/50 (unless you live somewhere with long periods below 0°). If you’ve been topping up with water and don’t know how much anti-freeze is in there, you can ask a garage to check the strength and you can then top-up accordingly.
4. Review oil levels
It’s always recommended to check your oil levels, but to help prevent a breakdown during the winter months now is a good time to double check. Your vehicle’s manual should set out how you check this. If you’re due a service, this should be part of their checks but if not your local garage should be able to take a look for you.
5. Assess tyres and tyre pressure
Tyres can take a battering in the winter from potholes, fluctuating temperatures and wet road surfaces, so it’s vital to check the pressure and tread.
Your manual should set out the correct tyre pressure and if they need inflating you can usually top-up at petrol stations if you don’t have your own tyre inflator.
When it comes to tyre tread, the legal minimum is 1.6mm which you can easily check yourself with a 20p piece. The outer band of the 20p coin should be hidden when you place it in one of the main grooves that wrap round the whole tyre. This same rule applies to motorhomes and campers, although it is recommended to have a minimum of 3mm tread in the winter, or swap to winter tyres. It is also advisable to carry a spare, useable, tyre just in case.
If you can see the band your tyres could be below the legal limit which puts you at risk of skidding and increases the chances of an accident.
6. Fill up screen-wash
This should be filled regularly with a good quality mix of screen-wash. Although you can technically make your own, homemade mixes (for example made with washing up liquid) could damage the paintwork and wipers after prolonged use. With that in mind it’s best to use a mix that has been properly formulated.
7. Check windscreen wipers
When you’ve topped up your screen-wash the next items to check are your windscreen wipers.
If they don’t move easily or make a squeaking sound it could be worth having them replaced. Specialist motoring shops can usually fit these for you for a small cost.
8. Clean and check lights
As it starts to get dark earlier it’s imperative that your headlights, brake lights and indicators are in proper working order. You can check this easily yourself and if you notice any problems a garage should be able to resolve them.
It’s also wise to make sure your lights are clean to ensure your vehicle is as visible as it can be.
9. Put together a winter essentials pack
This might seem over the top but it’s good to be prepared. As a bare minimum you should keep water and warm clothes or blankets in the vehicle, but a well-prepared winter driving kit should also include:
- Torch (and batteries)
- First aid kit
- Ice scraper and de-icer
- Wellies or winter boots
- Snow shovel
- In-car phone charger
- Screen wash
- High-visibility jacket or vest
- Map or sat nav (in case you can’t use your smartphone)
- Non-perishable snacks
10. Check breakdown cover
If you have breakdown cover as part of your insurance policy check what it includes. For example, roadside recovery, transport for onward journeys, and home start.
It’s also worth making sure you know what number you need to call if you do need help. Keep details of your policy including breakdown cover in your glove box.
Motor insurance you can rely on whatever the season
Winter checks are important but maintaining your vehicle all year round should be a matter of course.
Not only is maintenance essential for keeping you and other drivers safe, you’ll face severe penalties if you’re caught driving a vehicle ‘in a dangerous condition’. Currently, you can be fined £2,500 and be given three penalty points; in some cases you could even face a driving ban.
As well as risking your safety, poor car maintenance jeopardises your insurance as insurers expect owners to properly maintain their vehicles. If an insurer believes an accident was because of negligence they could refuse to pay out, which means you face covering repair costs yourself. An MOT is generally your proof of roadworthiness, but if something dramatic happens between tests (e.g. a wheel is badly damaged) you ought to have it fixed to avoid problems.
Nevertheless, no matter how well you prepare accidents do happen – which is where we can help.
At Alan Boswell Group, we provide tailored car and motorhome insurance that suits your needs, including optional extras such as key care, legal expenses, and breakdown cover. For more information speak to a member of the team directly on 01603 649650.