Getting into your car, starting it up, and driving off usually goes without a hitch, but it’s important to take precautions ahead of cold weather.
Cars, vans, and motorhomes can be just as susceptible to the cold, rain, ice, and snow as our homes are. But there are some simple steps you can take to help ensure your vehicle remains in tip-top shape in even the wintriest weather.
There are also a few simple things you can do when driving in snow and on ice that will help keep you safe and minimise the chances of having to claim on your car insurance.
- How do you prepare a car for winter?
- How to drive on ice
- What else you should know?
- Motor insurance you can rely on whatever the season
1.Check your battery
Cold weather and increased use of heaters, lights, and windscreen wipers put extra strain on the battery, so it’s a good idea to have this checked.
In general, a car battery lasts for about five years, and if it’s coming to the end of its life, a cold spell can finish it off.
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 it 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 your leisure battery remains charged throughout winter. You can do this by running a trickle charger, which will keep batteries topped up at the same rate as they lose their power, keeping them going.
2.Have the 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 the brakes don’t feel as responsive as they did, it’s sensible to have your vehicle checked as soon as possible.
3.Top up coolant and anti-freeze
You should top up the coolant regularly. Under the bonnet, find the coolant reservoir, which is often white. There’ll be marks on its outside, which should show you whether or not you need to put more in.
Come winter, it’s also important to make sure there is the right amount of anti-freeze in it. Too little and you risk water in the cooling system freezing, which can lead to expensive repair costs.
Ideally, the ratio of water to anti-freeze should be 50/50 (unless you live somewhere with long periods below 0C). 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, it’s good to double check them before a cold snap.
This is usually straightforward and is done with the dipstick. Remove from its tube, wipe it clean and then put it back in. Pull it out again, and the guide on the dipstick will show you if you need more oil.
If you’re due a service, this should be part of their checks. If not, your local garage should be able to take a look for you.
5.Assess the 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 around 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, which offer better grip in snow, ice, and slush.
6.Fill up the screen wash
This should be filled regularly with a mix of good quality screen wash. Although you can make your own, homemade mixes (made with washing-up liquid, for example) can damage the paintwork and wipers after prolonged use. With that in mind, it’s best to buy a mix that has been properly formulated, as this will also include additives to stop it from freezing in winter.
7.Check windscreen and windscreen wipers
Clean your windscreen both inside and out, and check for any chips. These can get bigger in cold weather or if you drive over a large pothole, for example.
Then check your windscreen wipers. If they make a squeaking sound or don’t move easily, it could be worth having them replaced. It’s also worth looking for any tears in the blades.
If you need to replace them, motoring shops and garages can fit them relatively cheaply.
8.Clean and check the lights
Legally, your lights should be in good order all year round, so check them regularly.
As it starts to get dark earlier, you’re likely to use your lights more, so you should increase how often you check your headlights, brake lights, and indicators. With headlights, don’t forget to check them at both full beam and dipped.
You can do this easily yourself. If you notice any problems, a garage should be able to resolve them.
It’s also important 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 your car and take a fully-charged mobile phone with you.
A well-prepared winter driving kit should also include:
- A torch and batteries
- A first-aid kit
- An ice scraper and de-icer
- Wellies or winter boots
- A snow shovel
- An in-car phone charger
- A blanket
- A high-vis jacket or vest
- A map or sat nav (in case you can’t use your phone)
- Non-perishable snacks
10.Check breakdown cover
Having breakdown cover in place is sensible whatever the weather, but it becomes even more sensible to have it if you’re driving in wintry conditions.
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 glovebox.
As well as putting yourself, your passengers, and other motorists at risk, if you have an accident and your insurer decides it was because you were driving dangerously or inappropriately, you might have trouble claiming on your policy.
Before you set out, clean your windows and allow plenty of time for your journey. It’s also sensible to plan your journey in advance and check the weather forecast.
But once you’re on the road, it’s crucial that you take care when the weather is poor and you know how to drive if it’s icy.
Stick to main roads when you can
If alternative routes are available, choose a main road. This is more likely to be gritted, and if you do have a problem, you are more likely to get assistance from other drivers than if you get stranded down a remote country lane.
Pull away in second gear
You should use as high a gear as possible when driving on ice, including when you pull away. This is best done in second gear, taking your foot off the clutch slowly.
Keep your speed down
The stopping distance can be up to 10 times longer on ice, so keep your speed down and maintain your distance from the vehicle in front.
Accelerate, brake, and steer with care
You risk skidding if you steer, accelerate, or brake too quickly. Try to do everything a bit more slowly than you would in normal driving conditions. And keep both hands on the steering wheel at all times.
Steer out of a skid
If you do find yourself in a skid, keep both hands on the wheel and gently steer out of it. Don’t brake during a skid, as this can make it worse.
Do cars struggle to start in winter?
Cars can struggle to start in cold weather because of the effects of low temperatures on batteries, engine oil, fuel systems, and starter motors.
If you can keep your car inside during the winter, that will help to prevent problems with starting it.
Should I take the battery out of my car for winter storage?
This might be an option with some vehicles if you don’t intend to use them at all during the winter, although removing the battery from others might not be possible.
But be very careful if this is something you intend to do – and don’t attempt it if you don’t have full confidence in what you’re doing. Batteries are dangerous – they are full of electrical charge, and mucking about with them can result in fires.
And as well as the danger to yourself and other people, your insurer might not cover a claim if it has been caused by you tinkering with the battery.
Is it OK to leave your car outside in winter?
In cold weather, a car left outside is more likely to be affected by plummeting temperatures than if it were inside. But if that’s not an option for you, consider using a waterproof cover (not a plastic tarpaulin), and tie it tight to stop it from blowing away in a storm.
How often should you start a car that is stored for the winter?
Even if you aren’t using your car during poor weather, try to start it at least once every couple of weeks to help stop the battery from going flat.
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. You can be fined £2,500 and be given three penalty points, and you can 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 (for example, a wheel is badly damaged), you should have it fixed to avoid problems.
Nevertheless, no matter how well you prepare, accidents do happen – which is where we can help.
For more information, speak to a member of the team directly on 01603 649650.