Of all the seasons, winter requires the most care and preparation if you’re to stay safe and avoid a breakdown.
Breakdowns are more common at this time of year and road conditions can be really challenging, particularly when snow and ice strike.
Here’s our general advice for safe and trouble-free driving through the cold, dark months.
Battery and electrics
Lights, heaters and wipers put high demands on the car battery. If your driving is mainly dark, rush-hour trips, the battery will give out eventually. Batteries rarely last longer than five years. Replacing one near the end of its life can save a lot of time and inconvenience at the side of the road.
Avoid running electrical systems any longer than necessary – turn the heater fan down and switch the heated rear window off once windows are clear.
If the car stands idle most of the weekend, a regular overnight trickle charge is a good idea to give the battery a chance to revive.
Turn off non-essential electrical loads like lights, rear-screen heater and wipers before trying to start the engine.
Use the starter in short five-second bursts if the engine doesn’t start quickly, leaving 30 seconds between attempts to allow the battery to recover.
A continuous squealing noise as soon as the engine is started is a sign the water pump is frozen – it’s the fan belt slipping on the pulley. The cylinder block could be frozen too. Stop the engine immediately and allow it to thaw out. This may take several days unless the car can be moved to a heated garage.
If the car begins to overheat a few miles from home, it’s likely that the radiator has frozen, preventing coolant from circulating. Stop straight away to avoid serious damage and allow the radiator to thaw.
Antifreeze costs only a few pounds, but a frozen and cracked engine block will cost hundreds of pounds to repair.
Most modern cars use long-life antifreeze – it’s important to use the right type and avoid mixing different types. Check the handbook or ask a dealer for advice.
Some types of antifreeze may need to be changed after only two years. Check the manufacturer’s service schedule. You need a 50-50 mix of antifreeze and water in the cooling system for winter. This gives maximum protection down to -34° centigrade, and without it, severe engine damage costing hundreds of pounds can occur.
Keep the windscreen and other windows clear – if your vision is obscured through dirt, snow or even sticker-infested car windows, you could face a hefty fine.
Drivers ignoring or forgetting to change their car’s wiper blades are putting their own and others’ lives at risk.
Wiper blades in good condition are essential in winter weather when there is more rain and dirt on the windscreen. Keeping the windscreen clear and clean allows the driver to see properly and spot hazards earlier to deal with them safely.
Paul Tomlinson, from Halfords, said: “Poor visibility doesn’t just make driving in the rain unpleasant and more tiring, but failing to see a hazard quickly slows your reaction time. This can add several car lengths to your stopping distance and make the difference between avoiding a collision and not.
“As soon as a wiper begins to smear rather than clear your windscreen, it is past its best and should be changed. Modern flat wiper blades don’t screech on the windscreen, so drivers listening for this audible warning are likely to miss the signs that their blades aren’t cutting it anymore.”
Make sure that wipers are switched off in the park position when leaving the car, when there’s risk of freezing. If you don’t and the blades freeze to the screen, you could damage the blades or wiper motor when you turn the ignition on.
Top up windscreen-washer fluid and treat with a suitable additive to reduce the chance of freezing. Don’t use ordinary engine antifreeze as it will damage paintwork.
Clear snow from the roof as well as from windows as this can fall onto the windscreen, obscuring your view. It can be a hazard to other road users as well.
Dazzle from a low winter sun can be a particular problem. Improve vision by making sure that the windscreen is clean both inside and out.