Winter can be a tough season for buildings and wildlife – and it can also wreak havoc on your vehicle. Icy temperatures and stormy weather can be a huge problem for motorists – and in fact breakdowns double over the winter months. It’s never more important to check your tyres and battery at this time of year, especially if you have a long journey ahead or snow and ice is forecast. Nevertheless, with a few basic checks and ongoing winter maintenance, car problems can be avoided. Here are the essential winter car checks every motorist should carry out regularly.

Winter is approaching fast, and the cold dark nights are becoming more noticeable now the clocks have gone back. With the drop in temperature, most machines find it more difficult to function – especially vehicles. You’re more at risk of a breakdown during winter, and adverse weather conditions can also make an accident more likely.

Motor maintenance is essential at this time of year, to keep your engine healthy and your car safe. Be prepared this season by following our winter car maintenance tips.

Get a winter service

The cold can cause many problems for vehicles, but the majority can be avoided with a winter service. This will get all of the essentials checked for you – by a professional. It also includes other important checks such as the brake pads. It may seem like additional effort, but booking a winter service could save you cash in the future if you suffer a breakdown.

It’s important to top up the anti-freeze too, make sure the coolant is between the minimum and maximum markers. The vehicle’s engine coolant should be a 50/50 mix of water and anti-freeze. However, over time the anti-freeze can get diluted if people take a shortcut of topping it up with water. It’s essential that the car has enough anti-freeze for a cold snap, or you could face a nasty bill for an over-heated engine. A frozen engine isn’t just an inconvenience – it can be expensive to fix.

Depending on where you live, you might make the decision to put on winter tyres for the cold season, especially if you live in an area which is exposed to extreme wintry conditions. If not, you still need to make sure your current tyres are suitable for the freezing weather. Look for any surface damage such as splits or bulges. The tread depth should be no lower than 3mm for good grip, and you should also check the tyre pressure is correct. Your tyres and brakes are your best defence in a road accident.

Being seen is essential in the dark winter days and nights. Ask somebody to check all your bulbs are working as you test them in the driver’s seat. Don’t forget to check the fog lights, which you might need. You should also check over the exterior of the lights to make sure there are no cracks or heavy stains on the lenses.

Check breakdown cover

The last thing you need during a cold spell is for something to go wrong with your car on a journey, and to get stranded in bad weather. Take the time to double check your breakdown cover, and update it if needed if you have any long journeys coming up.

Look after the windscreen

It’s important to make sure the windscreen is clean and you should regularly check for chips which can expand in the cold weather. Wipers are used more frequently in winter, so make sure they are doing the job or get them replaced if not. You should also check the windscreen wash is topped up, and put some antifreeze in there.

Your screenwash also has to be able to withstand freezing conditions or your washer pump could freeze over. Choose a screenwash which protects down to at least -10C or -20C if you live in an area which tends to get extreme wintry weather.

Look after the battery

A car battery is placed under increased pressure in winter, due to lights and heaters being used more often. Cold temperatures can also intensify the problem, so if you think your battery is having trouble starting the car, get it checked out as soon as possible. There’s nothing worse than a flat battery when you need to be somewhere.

The battery is put under a lot of pressure in cold weather, and also has to carry the burden of an increased use of lights and heaters. Batteries can discharge and fall flat much easier, so make sure you check the battery on a regular basis. RAC recommends charging your battery once a week throughout the winter months.

Get your battery checked out at a local garage if it’s not starting the engine straight away. Again, you may wish to check if your breakdown covers home starts, as many don’t and you could be stranded asking passers-by to jump start you.

Here are some more tips to prevent battery failure:

  • Turn off all applications before turning your engine off – heating, lights, wipers, unplug phone chargers and sat navs. This can put extra demands on the battery when starting up.
  • Ensure no interior lights are left on.
  • Park your car in a garage if possible.

The winter is a challenging time for any vehicle, so it’s vital to make some maintenance checks to prevent expensive repair bills. If you want professional advice, speak to your local garage.

How to Prepare your Car for Winter