Last Updated: 25/10/2018
Windscreen wipers should be checked both at the beginning of Summer and Winter, but are one of the most neglected parts of car maintenance. Water erodes the rubber in windscreen wipers as does the salty grit that is scattered across our roads. It's best to start off each cold season with a new set just to be sure.
Also pay close attention to any small cracks in the windscreen as these can often be fixed easily, but left untreated a bad chip can turn into a crack during the Winter months. Insurers generally offer free windscreen repair services to avoid more costly replacements so it's always worth checking your policy before the weather descends.
Lights & Visibility
Ensure both your head and tail lights are clean and clear of dirt or snow. Hindering your own visibility is one thing when the headlights aren’t performing, but in heavy rain, snowy and foggy conditions, tail lights that aren’t doing their job will place you at additional risk from other drivers who might not be able to see you.
It is important to make sure that all of the bulbs are functioning properly and that your fog lights are working. Fog tends to creep up very suddenly when on a journey and well-performing fog lights will help to keep you safe in hazardous conditions.
Whether you’re popping down to the shops or are planning a journey that takes you beyond your local area, you will want to stay inside the car. Check that the radiator is working properly and well-sealed. Fill up with antifreeze. The few pounds you spend on anti-freeze could potentially save hundreds on engine and radiator repairs. Always check your manufacturer's handbook to ensure that you use the correct fluids.
Using the dipstick in your car engine, make sure to check oil levels regularly. Manufacturers may have different recommendations for checking your oil level so check your handbook to confirm, but generally the engine should be cold. Just remove the dipstick, wipe it clean with a cloth and reinsert it fully back into the engine, remove it again and you should see where the oil level is at based on the markings on the dipstick. That quick check standing in the rain for a minute will save hours in the freezing cold at the side of the road with a seized engine.
Next to running out of fuel a flat battery is perhaps one the most frustrating things to happen, especially in the Winter cold and rain. According to the RAC this common ailment accounts for around a third of all vehicle call outs and it’s easy to forget the additional strain batteries must deal with in the Winter months with additional heating and the increased use of lights.
Car batteries have a life expectancy around five years so if your vehicle's battery is coming to the end of its life it's best to check it, or out right change it before the cold weather sets in.
Tyres are possibly the most critical part of winter maintenance and checking the tread can save your life. Remember that wet roads require deeper tread to maintain an acceptable displacement of water and prevent aquaplaning. With a legal minimum of 1.6mm and a recommended 3mm depth by the AA, checking your tyres is crucial just before the cold sets in.
Tyre pressure is equally important, and this should be checked frequently. Cold air contracts, so tyre pressure will reduce the colder it gets even though tyres will warm up once the car is on the road. Check the vehicle's manual for manufacturer recommendations for cold weather tyre pressures and check them every week.
Significant changes in pressure could also indicate slow punctures or other problems which are better dealt with while near a good service centre at the weekend, in daylight, rather than on the side of the road on a dark wintery night.
Winter Car Emergency Kit
All the advice in the world is futile if you don’t have a plan for when things unexpectedly go wrong. Ensure you have a winter safety pack in your car and remember to tailor it to your specific needs, especially if you travel with vulnerable family members such as children or the elderly. In extreme circumstances, you could land up on the side of the road overnight! So be prepared with some basic essentials. For more information read our article on creating a Winter Car Emergency Kit.
Winter car maintenance is often overlooked, with drivers often relying on regular service intervals instead. However, investing a small amount of time and money each Winter will provide a huge return in terms of safety, comfort and reliability when it's needed the most.