If you’re feeling the cold, the chances are your car is too or at least, it will be soon.
The cold, dreary, winter weather can be problematic for a car. The last thing you want or need with the run up to Christmas is a car that has a flat tyre or worse still, gives up on you. Giving your car a little TLC with a winter check is not only a way to save yourself some money in the long run but it’s just as much about safety as anything else.
So what does a winter car check involve and what benefit does it give? We talk to Vince Crane, AA patrol officer of the year from Plymouth on what we should be checking and why.
From downpours to black ice, the winter weather can drastically effect how our car copes- the tyres is what deals with the brunt of it so it’s important to make sure they’re in tip top shape.
Tyres, year round should have a minimum tread of 1.6mm but in the winter, Vince advises increasing that minimum to 3mm so that they can better deal with these dicey weather conditions.
When giving your tyres the once over, determine how the tyres are wearing. This will also give an indication if something isn’t quite right. Tyres should show even wear; if one side is showing more wear than the other, even if slightly, it is worth having it looked at to see if you can’t straighten that up- uneven wear will lead to premature replacement. But, more importantly, in winter, this could cause be the detrimental factor in causing an accident if they’re unable to deal with the temperamental weather.
With the dark nights settling in early, visibility is essential; not just for you but for other motorists as well. Even if you think you can see clearly and only doing a short journey it is going to be of very little consequence in your journey time to turn them on.
Make sure that all lights- side, headlight, full beam, number plate, fog lights and braking lights are all operational. You can do this in a number of ways; either have someone check the lights for you whilst you remain in the vehicle, manoeuvring the switches to test each one individually. OR, if you’re on your own, you can check the lights by either facing a shop window, garage door or wall and testing them (though careful not to blind anyone); check the rear brake lights by reversing close to the wall and checking for the reflection in your rear view and side mirrors. When parked at traffic lights it is also an ideal time to check your headlights in the bumper of the car in front- though make sure your car is in neutral when doing so.
Another good reason to check your lights- it’s illegal to have any of them out and could lead to a fine and points on your license.
To keep your car healthy and happy you need to make sure the coolant levels (water tank) is topped up. Although often referred to as water levels, water is actually corrosive to the engine. As antifreeze/coolant requires quite specific water/coolant ratios, it is worth buying a ready-made product; you’ll simply then need to top it up to the maximum level.
The antifreeze helps the car to tolerate the colder weather and helps protect some vital components of the engine such as the radiator. Without it, freezing weather could lead to a costly job to get a car back that’s operational.
Your car has to work overtime in the winter season; the cold weather is a strain alone to get it started but as it needs to keep the car at an even temperature inside and within the engine and work lights more frequently, the stereo etc. the brunt of this is felt on the battery. So an essential part of your winter check is getting your battery power checked.
Car batteries only have an expected life of 5 years. So the chances are, at some point in the cars life in your keep, it will need to be replaced. You can help prolong its life by getting it checked out and if required giving it a chance to fully charge outside of the vehicle- particularly important for the winter season so it can cope with the extra demand. If it needs replacing, it’s better to do it sooner rather than later as when a battery has had enough there’s no bringing it back to life and could lead to a costly roadside replacement.
During the winter months there seems to be increasing levels of dirt; with frost, the grit on the roads or snow, our cars get coated. Team this with the low winter sun and it can be next to impossible to see out the windscreen.
Always make sure your screen levels are topped up with an appropriate product. Vince advises not to use washing up liquid because it foams or just water alone as this can freeze the washer nozzles and cause damage. Instead keep in the car the correct concentration of screen wash so you can top this up frequently; and you will need to. Using appropriate screen wash will make it easier to clear frost in the mornings as it’ll help to prevent the washers from freezing and you’ll be able to clear your windscreen more easily when visibility is compromised when on the road.
When checking your screen wash levels it is worth checking the windscreen for any chips or cracks. The dramatic changes in temperatures can cause a seemingly small crack to split across the windscreen. Spotting this sooner rather than later can mean a free repair on your car insurance; when it splits it’ll cost a minimum of £75 to get a replacement.
They have to work overtime in the winter months so every now and then give them a good clean to help prolong their life and check for any tears. If they’re squeaking, skipping or smearing they probably need replacing. They usually require replacing every 6-12 months so worth keeping that in mind.
Although not an essential winter check, it isn’t a bad idea to make sure that your oil levels are sufficient and if they’re not topping them up. The oil helps the car to run smoothly and cope with the brunt of heat; at a time of fluctuating temperatures we don’t want to put the car under any additional strain.
The brakes also feel the brunt of the cold in winter. On particularly cold days it can take a little while for them to warm up and perform efficiently and the dangerous weather conditions in winter means that are braking distances are reduced. Give yourself peace of mind and make sure your brakes are in tip top shape by checking the brake pads, disks etc. Some garages include this as standard in a winter check but you can always ask them to give them the once over.
In case of breakdown or extreme temperatures Vince advises either keeping or taking with you extra warm clothing and drinks and snacks and always make sure you have a half a tank of fuel. It is also worth keeping in the car at all times a shovel, pair of wellingtons and some old bits of carpet to help you dig yourself out if you get stuck.
Misting is a real problem in the changing temperatures so Vince advises not to keep damp clothing or boots in the car and use the air conditioning on the heat setting to help clear mist from the windows quickly.
Vince also advises to wash the car frequently, when there is no risk of frost and spraying water dispersant (i.e. WD-40) into the door locks, lubricating the bonnet lock and applying a thin layer of petroleum jelly to rubber seals of the doors so they don’t freeze or corrode.
If you don’t feel confident in carrying out these checks, most garages offer free winter car checks. Call up your local garage and check to see what this review will cover- if you don’t feel it is extensive enough, most offer a broader, mini service, appropriate to winter at a reduced cost that is well worth booking your car in for.