Wintry conditions can catch you by surprise and create extra dangers on the roads. But with a bit of planning, you can make sure your car is ready for winter.
Use our winter car maintenance checklist to keep yourself safe in ice and snow.
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Make sure you always have enough screen wash in your car, as not only is it dangerous to have an empty screen washer bottle, it’s illegal too.
AT A GLANCE
1. Prepare your car before winter hits
2. Get to know your car’s warning lights
3. If your car isn’t ready for wintry conditions, make alternative travel plans
1. Test your car battery
Top of our winter car maintenance checklist is your battery. A flat or faulty battery is the number one cause of vehicle breakdowns, according to both the RAC and Green Flag. The risk of battery failure is greater in cold, wet and icy weather.
Warning signs of battery failure include:
- the engine turning over more slowly than usual when you start
- the red battery light on your dashboard flickers when you’re driving
- the red battery light takes longer than usual to go out after you’ve started the engine
As a rule of thumb, try to change your car battery every three years, or sooner if it’s causing you problems in the cold weather.
2. Don’t ignore dashboard warning lights
A surprising number of people don't know what the warning lights on their dashboard mean.
So before winter closes in, take some time to understand what your car’s warning lights mean. You can find this info in your vehicle’s manual. And, if an alert appears on your dashboard, get it checked out as soon as possible.
How well do you know the warning lights in your vehicle? Test your knowledge with our warning light quiz.
3. Check your oil and fuel levels
Your vehicle oil level should be between the minimum and maximum mark on the dipstick, or you risk engine damage and breakdown. In fact, RAC patrols report that 1 in 3 vehicles they attend are running dangerously low on oil.
Get your car ready for winter by checking the oil level when your car is fully warmed up as a cold car will look low on oil. But remember, too much oil can be dangerous too.
4. Keep your lights and number plate clean
Cars can get dirty in the winter months, not least because of all the salt on the icy roads. You can lose an estimated 40% of luminosity in about 20 miles on a damp, gritted motorway, according to road safety charity IAM RoadSmart.
A good clean is an important part of your winter car maintenance. If your car doesn’t have headlamp washers, you can wipe them over with a cloth. And while you’re wiping, don’t forget your number plate. You could face a fine if your vehicle reg is unreadable.
Check this out: How to stay safe driving on icy roads
5. Check your brakes
Another essential for your winter car maintenance, is your brakes.
Your brakes need to be in tip-top condition, especially in winter. Get them checked if they squeal, make other noises or generate unusual sensations.
If you’re taking your car out after a few days left unused in the cold, set off gently in case the discs, callipers or handbrake have frozen up.
6. Assess your tyres
Worn tyres are dangerous at any time, but especially when driving in winter as safe stopping distances significantly increase in icy, snowy or wet conditions.
By law, tyres need a minimum tread depth of 1.6mm, but experts recommend you change your tyres at 3mm to maintain safe stopping distances. Don’t forget to check you have a roadworthy spare in your vehicle too.
7. Check wiper blades and windscreen wash
Before driving in winter, check your wipers are in good condition, with no tears or holes, and that they can clean your windscreen properly.
You can give them a wipe with a clean cloth now and then. However, don’t pull the wiper blades off frozen glass or turn them on if your windscreen is iced over, as the rubber may tear.
You may need to wash your windscreen more often in the winter as wet, muddy or salty roads increase the amount of spray hitting your windscreen.
8. Top up your antifreeze
Another important step to get your car ready for winter – the antifreeze.
Antifreeze stops the water in the engine's cooling system from freezing, so make sure yours is topped up. Coolant should be changed every 2-5 years, depending on the car and the type of coolant required.
9. Keep up with your servicing
Like many of these tips, vehicle servicing is important all year round, but winter conditional makes it that bit more important.
A service is usually recommended every 12,000 miles or every 12 months, whichever comes sooner. But every car is different, so check your owner’s handbook for the recommended service schedule. In some areas, it can take a couple of weeks for the garage to fit you in, so plan ahead and make sure you book in good time to get your car winter ready.
10. Carry the right gear for winter
No one likes breaking down, but keeping a few essentials in your car in winter can make sure you’re as comfortable and prepared as possible should bad luck strike:
- Ice scraper and de-icer
- Warning triangle
- Warm clothing and a blanket, rug or sleeping bag
- Practical footwear like wellies
- Torch and batteries
- Mobile phone and charger
- Shovel (in snowy conditions)
Original article written 29th October 2021, updated 14th December 2023
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