Winter car checks: Simple maintenance steps to prepare your car for cold weather, from tyres to batteries
From winter tyres to lights and batteries, these are the things to consider to keep you safe and moving during winter
As we creep towards winter, conditions on the roads are getting trickier for drivers.
Shorter daylight hours, ice, wind rain, snow and potholes all make driving more challenging, so it’s important that your car is properly prepared for whatever the weather might throw at you.
It’s not a bad idea to have your car checked over by a professional to make sure all the key mechanical areas are ready for a harsh winter but there are also some quick and easy steps you can take at home.
Make sure you can see and be seen
Shorter days mean reduced visibility for a lot of us and rain, snow and fog can make this even worse so it’s important to do all you can to make sure you can see clearly. First, check your lights. You’ll rely on them a lot more during winter and as well as helping you see ahead, they also ensure other drivers can see you. Check all your bulbs, including fog lights, and replace any that aren’t working. As well as being important for your safety, it’s also a legal requirement for an MOT. At the same time make sure the lenses are clean, unclouded and free from damage.
Next, make sure your windscreen is clean and can be kept that way. A dirty screen and low winter sun can seriously hamper your view out of the car. Wipers in bad condition can cause streaks that make it even harder to see and can even damage the glass, so check the rubber blades and replace them if they are worn or damaged. Check your wiper fluid. With temperatures dropping and all sorts of muck being thrown up from the road, it’s important to keep your washer reservoir topped up with a good quality, winter temperature screenwash. Most screenwash bottles will indicate their temperature range and whether they are pre-mixed or need to be diluted.
Check your tyres
It’s important to keep on top of your tyres’ condition at any time of the year but winter brings slippier conditions, making it vital that your tyres are up to the job. Use a proper tyre gauge to check the tread depth across the width and around the circumference of the tyre. The minimum legal tread depth is 1.6mm across the central three-quarters of the tyre but most experts recommend that you have at least 3mm of depth in winter. While you’re checking the tread, look out for any splits, cracks or bulges in the tyre’s surface. Such damage can lead to a sudden and dangerous loss of pressure, which can be even more dangerous if the roads are slippery.
Refer to your owner’s manual for the correct tyre pressure and check every two weeks that your pressures are correct. Under or over-inflated tyres can affect your car’s grip in slippery conditions.
Consider winter or all-weather tyres. These tyres are specially designed to cope with the lower temperatures and wetter road conditions of winter. The rubber is formulated to remain softer below seven degrees Celsius, which helps with grip, and the tread pattern is designed to disperse more water and give better traction in snow. Winter tyres are designed specifically for the coldest months, while all-weather or all-season tyres make some compromises on cold weather performance so they can be used all year round.
While you’re under the bonnet topping up the washer fluid, it’s a good idea to check the levels of your car’s other vital fluids. Make sure the oil, brake and steering fluid, and antifreeze are all at the correct levels. You can also use a cheap tool to check the concentration of your antifreeze, to make sure it can cope with the lower temperatures.
How good is your battery?
Winter puts additional strain on a car battery as you have you lights, wipers and heater on more of the time, so it’s best to make sure you battery is up to the task. If you’ve got a multimeter you can check the condition of your car’s battery. With the engine off, a healthy battery should show 12.6V, anything lower than this indicates it needs charged or could be hiding a problem.
Even if you don’t have the right tools, you car often gives you hints that the battery is on the way out. Struggling to start is the most obvious, or a slower crank as the car starts, but lights dimming and other electrical components not working can also be signs that your battery is on the way out.