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Winter car checklist: 10 steps to prepare your car

A few minutes' maintenance could see your motor through the worst the weather has to offer. A drop in temperature and poor weather means you're more likely to see breakdowns during the winter months.

So before the worst weather takes hold, here are our top tips for winter car checks. This should help prepare your car for the harsh weather and see you through to spring.

View of a driver's car dashboard driving through the snow 

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1. Get a winter car service

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 can be prevented by regular servicing and maintenance checks," says Keith Miller, former AA Patrolman of the year.

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

A winter car check typically involves a mechanic looking at your tyres, battery, coolant and antifreeze, windscreen wipers, lights and oil.


2. Check the battery

Checking your battery is the first thing you should do. A battery has an effective working life of about 5 years.

If it’s on its way out, you could find yourself stuck in freezing temperatures.

“The battery should be the priority," says Miller.

"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, which place it under additional strain.

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

If your car won't start because of a flat battery, you can try giving it a jump start.


3. Top up your engine coolant with antifreeze

This is essential for when temperatures plummet below freezing, but make sure you get the mix right.

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

"You’ll 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 overheating and a very large repair bill."

Check prices for antifreeze and coolants on Amazon

4. Check your tyres

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

This is always the case regardless of the weather, but it’s of particular importance when it’s wet and icy.

"Check tyres for pressure and tread depth," says Miller.

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

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


5. Clean your lights

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

Regular maintenance of your lights is crucial for driving safely, and it’s also the law, so it’s something else you should keep an eye on all-year round.

But, as with your tyres, it’s even more important to check them regularly in bad weather.

"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."


6. Wash your windscreen and wipers

Give your windscreen a thorough clean inside and out and top up your screenwash 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."


7. Prepare for longer journeys

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

Allow extra journey time to avoid having to rush. And if things are looking bad and you don’t have to travel, don’t.

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

Check prices for ice-scrapers on Amazon

8. Carry a winter car kit

Your winter car essentials should include:

  • A shovel
  • A torch
  • Spare batteries
  • A blanket
  • A hi-visibility vest
  • Screenwash
  • Food and drink supplies
  • A scraper and de-icer
  • An atlas or map
  • Snow grips for your shoes in case you need to walk to safety

And don't forget a fully charged mobile phone and a phone charger, too.

"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."

Check prices for winter breakdown car kit on Amazon

9. Check your breakdown cover

Comprehensive breakdown cover is crucial at this time of year and should 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.


10. Other important areas

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

And don’t ignore dashboard warning lights – they’re there for a reason!

If you have a bit of motor know-how, check your brake pads, discs and 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.

Finally, make sure you drive to the condition of the road.

If you don’t, then you might be a danger to yourself and other road users. If you have an accident while you aren’t driving safely, you might have trouble claiming on your car insurance.

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Driving your car in the winter tips

  • Make sure you've got plenty of fuel. Your car uses up more fuel during the winter. So keep the fuel tank at a good level so you don't end up being stranded in the cold.
  • Plan your journey in advance. Check the weather forecasts and consider the route you're going to take.
  • Stick to the main roads when driving. They're more likely to be kept clear and should be safer to drive through.
  • Accelerate, brake and steer gently. If you do any of these things too quickly, you could run the risk of skidding out of control.
  • If your car is skidding, take your foot completely off the accelerator. Keep both hands on the steering wheel and gently steer into the skid.

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