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Prepare your car for Winter Driving

The catchword for driving in winter is preparation, as with most tasks, the more you prepare, the more successful the outcome.

Over the past decade winters in the United Kingdom have brought a variety of weather conditions from warm sunny days to freezing fog, snow, gales and floods. It has left most drivers in a pickle with what they should wear, never mind whether winter tyres are appropriate.

Although in 2009 we experienced the worst winter conditions for 30 years usually our weather patterns are very unpredictable. A scatter-gun approach is best, in other words be prepared for all weathers. Follow our advice and you should get through the winter without too much trouble.

Winter car maintenance

At the beginning of October you need to think about preparing your car for winter. Either you or your garage should give your car a winter service to include:-

Inside the Engine compartment

  1. Check the radiator for any damage or leaks. Flush through with clean water and replace summer coolant with winter antifreeze. Note! Severe danger of scalding, ensure radiator has cooled down for at least twenty minutes before inspection.
  2. If fitted, check the condition and efficiency of the coolant thermostat. Note! Before undoing the thermostat housing, ensure the coolant has cooled down for at least 20mins and make sure you have a replacement thermostat gasket before you attempt a replacement.
  3. Check around the water pump area for any leaks.
  4. Check battery condition. If your battery is not a sealed unit, top up with iodized water if necessary.
  5. Check battery terminals for corrosion and tightness. Spread some vaseline on the terminals to ward off corrosion and protect from dampness.
  6. Check spark plugs for wear, clean or change if necessary.
  7. On older cars. Check Ignition leads, coil and distributer.
  8. On modern cars. Check condition of electrical wiring leading to the engine management and ignition systems. Note! There is very little a DIY mechanic can do on these systems. If you find a problem you will have to take the car to a specialist garage.
  9. Check the condition of rubber alternator belts, timing belts, water pump belts and if fitted fan belts for wear.
  10. Check engine oil and oil filter and change both if necessary.
  11. Check air and fuel filters and change if necessary.
  12. Check brake fluid and top up if necessary.
  13. Check automatic transmission fluid and top up if necessary.
  14. Check power steering fluid and top up if necessary.
  15. Top up windscreen wash if necessary.
  16. Check engine area for any signs of oil or water leaks.
  17. If the engine compartment contains a fuse box. Check to see that it is watertight and contains spare fuses.
  18. Check bonnet catch and grease if necessary.

Outside Car checks

  • Check tyres for signs of wear or damage, don't forget the spare. The legal requirement is 1.6mm but RoadDriver recommends the tyre tread should be at least 2.5mm for winter driving. If in doubt, get your tyres checked at a tyre centre.
  • Check your cars head and tail light glass for any cracks or damage and make sure they are all working properly. Pay particular attention to your brake lights plus front and rear fog lamps as these are often neglected. Make sure you carry spare bulbs in the glove compartment.
  • Check under the car for any oil leaks. Don't forget to check behind the wheels for brake fluid leakage.
  • Check for chips or cracks in your windscreen and seek professional help if needed.
  • Check the condition and effectiveness of your front and rear windscreen wipers and make sure the windscreen water jets are angled correctly and are working properly.

Inside Car checks

  1. Test the smoothness and effectiveness of the handbrake.
  2. Press your foot brake and check for any feeling of softness or sponginess. If in doubt get it checked by a garage.
  3. Turn the heater knob to hot, turn on the blower and check for effectiveness. If inadequate heat is coming out of the vents, get your garage to check it out.
  4. Check under front car mats for any signs of dampness or water. If you find dampness or water, this could suggest a leak in the heater matrix system. Get it checked out at a garage.
  5. If fitted, check the rear screen demister is working.
  6. Check the cigar lighter is working (needed for mobile phone charger)
  7. Check the dashboard lights are working properly and there is no warning lights illuminated.
  8. Check the interior lights are working properly. (If you brake down in the dark you will need them)

What you should keep in the car for winter driving

  • Car safety kit. (see Tips and Advice Article No 31)
  • Mobile phone and charger.
  • Breakdown recovery details.
  • High visibility jacket.
  • Map, spare paper.
  • Spare change. (out of sight in glove compartment)
  • Gloves, warm clothes, spare shoes.
  • Small shovel, cat litter, (If you get stuck, spread cat litter under wheels for grip)
  • De-icer, scraper and snow brush.
  • Spare windscreen wash.
  • Jump leads and tow rope.
  • Rags or kitchen roll.
  • High-energy bars
  • Bottled drinking water.

Prepare your car for Winter Driving

Tips and Advice Article No 60 RoadDriver 2010

For more information and a printable version to pass on to friends and family, click the link below.

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