How to Prepare Your Car for Winter: Essential Maintenance Tips

Winter is the most difficult time of the year for motorists with snow, ice, fog and storms all posing challenges. It’s essential that your car is up to dealing with the weather and that will be helped if it is in the best possible condition.

It’s always best to ensure that your car is serviced at the stated intervals whatever the season. But there are also certain things you can do as winter approaches to ensure your trips are as safe and comfortable as possible. Don’t take the risk of being stranded in harsh conditions due to your car letting you down.

Book a Service or a Winter Check

If your car is due for a service during the winter period, it may be worth considering bringing the date forward so that you get it done before the bad weather kicks in. If, however, the service isn’t due for several months, you can book your car in for a winter check instead.

Many garages offer winter car checks and some of them do these for free or at discounted prices. They will check and inspect the major components of your car — the tyres, lights, battery, fluid levels and windscreen wipers — to ensure that they’re in good order. You will of course have to pay for any necessary replacements, but it will be worth the expense if your car is better able to deal with the harsh conditions of winter.

Fully Fuelled

Before setting out on a journey, always ensure you have enough fuel to complete the trip plus a fair bit more in reserve. You are more likely to experience delays in winter and slow journeys in heavy traffic, with plenty of stops and starts, will use more fuel than normal.

The last thing you want to do is run out of fuel so ensure your tank is reasonably full or, for an electric car, make sure your battery is fully charged. As well as keeping moving, you want to be able to keep the heater on so you don’t freeze and to be able to recharge your phone. Besides fuel in your car, be sure to always have enough charge in your phone in case you need to make an emergency call.

See and be Seen

Visibility tends to be at its worst in winter with fog, snow and heavy rain causing problems. So be sure your windscreen and surrounding windows are clear before you set out and that your windscreen washer bottle is topped up. This needs to have a sufficiently concentrated screen wash fluid that won’t freeze or make your windscreen worse in icy conditions.

The windscreen can become very dirty quickly due to the effects of spray and road salt. So make sure your wiper blades are in a good enough condition to clear it. Check the wiper blades for splits and other signs of wear. If they are too worn, they won’t clear your screen effectively so, if you have any doubt, fit new ones before the start of winter.

Check that all the lights and indicators are working properly so you can see in gloomy conditions and other motorists can see you and know what you’re doing. If any are defective, replace bulbs or fuses so they all work properly.

Try to keep your car as clean as possible so it stands out better rather than blending in with the general gloom. This will also reduce road salt and grime that can corrode your car’s bodywork. Even if the weather is too bad for a full wash, make sure all your lights are clean for the greatest effectiveness and that both number plates are clean and clearly visible. It is illegal to have obscured number plates, so you risk a fine if they are covered in mud.

Battery Power

The biggest cause of breakdowns in winter is a flat battery. That’s because the cold and wet weather puts an increased strain on batteries due to the increased use of lights and the heater, plus the fact that cars may not be used as often during bad weather.

Car batteries generally need to be replaced every few years so it’s worth having the condition of your battery checked before the start of winter. Fit a new one if your current battery is in poor condition since this will be much more reliable during the cold winter months. Even then, it’s probably worth carrying a set of jump leads in case you do get stuck with a flat battery.

If you often leave your car unused for long periods, the battery will lose power. In this case, it’s worth getting a battery conditioner or maintainer that you can connect when the car’s not in use. This will charge the battery until full, then check and trickle-charge to keep it topped up.

Stopping Safely

It’s always important your brakes are in good condition particularly in winter when roads can be slippery. A winter check should verify the condition of your brakes but, failing this, you can check them yourself.

The brake discs should be visible through your wheels although you may need to remove wheel trims to see them. If there are signs of corrosion or wear, have them looked at by a professional and replace if necessary.

Rubber on the Road

The condition of your tyres is crucial in winter when roads may be wet or icy and afford less grip. So always make sure they’re inflated to the pressure recommended in your car’s handbook. Some cars have sensors that warn when pressures are low but it’s worth checking frequently to avoid problems. Also check for obvious defects, such as cracks, cuts or nails, and have any problem rectified.

The legal minimum for tyres is 1.6mm all the way around across the central 75% of the tyre. You can check this with a tyre gauge or by inserting a 20 pence coin into the ruts. If you can see the outer band of the coin, they’re not legal.

Tyres should be checked every two weeks and ideally replaced before reaching the legal limit. In winter, due to the conditions, it’s best to replace at 2.5-3mm for safety.

Fluid Levels

Check the oil level using the dipstick and, if too low, top up as necessary. Always use the oil recommended in the handbook and be sure to replace the oil cap properly after filling to the correct level.

Also check the coolant (water and antifreeze) is between the minimum and maximum marks shown on the tank. If below, ensure the engine is cool to avoid scalding and top up as required.

Your car should display warning lights if the levels are too low. However, damage may have occurred by this time so it’s best to check regularly and take action before the warning lights come on.

Be Prepared

Winter is a particularly bad time to break down so it’s best to have an emergency kit if you get stuck. This should contain an ice scraper and de-icer, shovel, blanket, torch, jump leads, reflective warning triangles, hi-vis vest and an in-car phone charger.

If you prepare as best you can, you’ll be ready for the worst that winter can deliver.