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How to prepare your car for winter

Female motorist with a broken-down car in the snowWith winter approaching, driving conditions are set to become increasingly difficult - and dangerous. But a few minutes maintenance could see your motor through the worst winter has to offer.

Plummeting temperatures and heavy snowfalls mean the number of breakdowns can more than double at this time of year.

Indeed, while the AA’s daily average for breakdowns is around 9,500, callouts exceeded 25,000 on some days last winter.

So before the worst winter weather takes hold, here are our top tips for basic motor maintenance that will see you through to spring. 

Regular servicing

If your car is due a service, get it done before the winter.

“While the cold can cause lots of problems for cars, up to half of them could have been prevented by regular servicing and maintenance checks,” says Keith Miller, AA Patrolman of the year.

"Also take advantage of the free or discounted ‘winter car checks’ offered by some garages.”

Battery

The battery should be the first priority as during the winter months it suffers from a double whammy of cold temperatures reducing the output, and the increased use of lights, heater and blower placing it under additional strain.

“Batteries have an effective life of around five years,” says Miller.

“If your car is having problems starting get the battery checked out and replaced if necessary.”

Engine coolant

Engine coolant should be a 50/50 mix of water and antifreeze.

“You will need to top it up with antifreeze as it becomes diluted over time,” says Miller.

“People make the mistake of topping up with water during the year, so the antifreeze gets over-diluted and freezes during very cold weather.

"This can lead to the engine over-heating and a very large repair bill.”

Tyres

As a car’s tyres are key to both steering and braking, it is essential they are in good condition.

“Check tyres for pressure and tread depth,” says Miller.

“We recommend a minimum of 3mm depth during the winter, compared to the legal minimum of 1.6mm, as this gives better grip.”

You could also look at changing from summer to winter tyres, as these also offer increased group in snow slush or ice.

Lights

Check that all lights, indicators and rear reflectors are clean.

“Make sure there are no cracked lenses or blown bulbs,” says Miller.

“And don’t forget to check full beam headlights, fog lights and indicators.”

Windscreen and wipers

Give your windscreen a thorough clean inside and out and top up your screen washer fluid with antifreeze.

“Run your finger down the wiper blades to check for nicks and tears,” says Miller.

“Check for any chips in the windscreen, as these can grow in the cold weather.

"Also touch up any chips in the bodywork as the salt deposits on the road will attack these.”

Prepare for longer journeys

Before setting off on a longer journey, check the weather forecast, travel news and safest routes.

Also, Allow extra journey time to avoid having to rush.

Clear all windows of snow and ice using a scraper and de-icer, and ensure you have antifreeze in your car.

Read our guide to driving safely in the dark.

Check your cover

Comprehensive breakdown cover is crucial at this time of year and will give you the peace of mind of knowing you won’t end up stranded in the cold.

So check your policy and remember to take a contact phone number with you on all journeys.

Carry a winter car breakdown kit

This should include a shovel, torch, blanket, hi-visibility vest, screenwash, food and drink supplies, scraper and de-icer, and snow grips for your shoes in case you need to walk to safety.

And don't forget a fully charged mobile phone.

“Drive according to the road and weather conditions,” says Mike Pickard from insurer Esure.

“Common sense needs to prevail to reduce the number of accidents, so slow down, stay alert, and stay in control.”

Other important areas

Also, keep at least a quarter of a tank of fuel in case of unexpected delay and check the oil.

If you have a bit of motor know-how, check your brake pads, brake discs and brake fluid to ensure the brakes are fast and responsive.

Ensure the fan belt and alternator drive belts are tight and not worn and that plugs and other leads are in good condition and secure.

If you don't feel confident making these checks, any garage should be able to help.

Basic car maintenance: A video guide

  




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Esther Shaw

Esther Shaw

Esther Shaw is a regular contributor to Confused.com and is the former deputy money editor at The Independent and Independent on Sunday. Before that, she worked as a money and City reporter on The Daily Express and Sunday Express.
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