How to prepare your car for winter

As the days get colder and the nights draw in, we dig out our woolly hats, crank up the heating and fill the log basket. But have you remembered to prepare your car for the winter season?

Cars struggle in cold, frosty conditions, and the the AA have revealed that breakdown callouts almost double during the winter months. The harsh weather also makes roads more dangerous to drive on; DfT data shows there were 1,124 incidents on icy or snowy roads in 2014, of which 123 were serious and 14 were fatal.

It's really important to give your car some extra TLC during winter, as regular maintenance and upkeep will help to prevent breakdowns and ensure your safety on the road. So read our winter driving guide for some handy tips and advice…

Stock up on the essentials

Don't wait until you're out of antifreeze or de-icer before you head to the shops — the shelves might be empty when you get there. Stock up in advance so you know you've got what you need, when you need it.

Pack an emergency kit

Prepare for worst case scenario by packing an emergency kit in the boot. The kit should include:

  • A blanket
  • Warm clothes
  • Food and water
  • Shovel
  • Torch
  • De-icer
  • Window scraper
  • High-vis vest
  • Warning triangle.

Essential winter car checks

We recommend you check the following on your car to make sure it's ready for the season ahead.

Battery

Car batteries are put under strain during winter, with lights, wipers and heaters consuming a lot of power. And if you park your car outdoors during the day or overnight, the battery also has sub-zero temperatures to contend with.

The best thing to do is have your battery and charger tested by a professional, many of whom will do it free of charge. There are a number of things you can do to make your battery last longer, such as:

  • Using a trickle charger during the week when the car's not in use
  • Turning down the heating when the car's warmed up
  • Waiting until you start the engine before switching on lights, wipers and heater.

Antifreeze

Antifreeze prevents the water in your engine's cooling system from freezing and should be replaced every couple of years. If you can't remember the last time you changed it, now's the perfect time to flush the cooling system and top up with new antifreeze — you need a 50/50 water-antifreeze mix during winter. If you don't know how to do this, your local garage will be able to help and shouldn't charge for the service.

Windscreen and wipers

To ensure maximum visibility, clear any ice, snow or dirt from your windscreen and windows before setting off. Don't use boiling water on the glass as it could crack it; instead, use a scraper (not a plastic card) and de-icer in a trigger bottle. Make sure you clear snow from the roof using a soft brush (you don't want to damage your paintwork), as it could fall down onto the windscreen when you start moving.

Ideally, wiper blades need to be replaced every year, or when they start making a noise or leave a smear on the glass. The blades have a tough job to do during winter, so help them out by manually removing any excess debris before switching them on. Lifting the arms up will prevent ice build-up and stop them from sticking to the windscreen. And don't scrimp on screenwash — use a 50% mix of quality wash and water to keep glass grime-free and prevent water from freezing.

Door lock frozen? Rather than breathing on the lock (the moisture from your breath will freeze), use a lighter on your car key to heat it up. A little Vaseline on key holes and door seals will prevent locks and doors from freezing over.

Tyres

It's not compulsory for UK drivers to use specific winter tyres, but it's an option worth considering. Winter tyres have a high silica content, which stops them from hardening in colder temperatures and gives better grip on the road.

Whether you drive with standard or winter tyres, pressures and tread need to be checked once a week during winter. The AA recommends a minimum 3mm of tread for winter driving and definitely no less than 2mm; while the correct tyre pressure can be found in your owner's manual. Don't think lowering the pressure will give you more grip on the road — it actually reduces your car's stability and affects the handling.

In extreme weather conditions, you might find it useful to keep a set of snow chains in the car. These can only be used when driving on compacted snow or ice, where they offer extra traction. Using the chains on normal road surfaces could damage both the road and tyres, so get used to fitting and removing them before driving in snowy weather.

Wet and windy conditions

Gale-force winds and torrential downpours can make roads extremely hazardous to drive on. If you can postpone your trip until the weather settles, then do so. If you can't, make sure you check tyres, lights and wiper blades before you set off. Let someone know where you're going and what time you're expected to arrive at your destination, and make sure your phone's battery will last the duration of the drive.

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