Tips for Winter-Proofing Your Car

Your car requires special care and a little winter-proofing if you’re to avoid a breakdown or accident.

The AA is always prepared too, with extra patrols on call as the number of breakdowns nearly doubles during particularly cold spells.

Battery/Electrics

Batteries rarely last longer than five years, so replacing them near the end of their life can save a lot of time and inconvenience at the side of the road when they finally fizzle out.

Lights, heaters and windscreen wipers put high demands on the car battery. If the car is driven mainly in dark rush-hour trips, the battery will give out eventually.

Avoid running car electrics any longer than necessary – turn the heater fan down and switch the heated rear window off once windows are clear.
If the car stands idle most of the weekend a regular overnight trickle charge is a good idea to give the battery a chance to revive.

Use the starter in short five-second bursts if the engine doesn’t start quickly, leaving thirty seconds between attempts to allow the battery to recover.

Antifreeze

Antifreeze costs only a few pounds, but a cracked engine block will cost hundreds of euros to repair.

The majority of modern cars use long-life antifreeze, and it is absolutely essential that you don’t mix these with other types as this can cause a sludge to form in the engine. If you’re not sure what type of antifreeze is in your car, take it to a dealer.

Traditional glycol-based antifreeze should be changed at least every two years.

A 50-50 mix of antifreeze and water in the cooling system is needed in winter. This gives maximum protection down to -34° centigrade, and without it, severe engine damage costing hundreds of euros can occur.

If the fan belt squeals continually as soon as the engine is started, that is a sign the water pump is frozen. The cylinder block could be frozen too. Stop the engine immediately and allow it to thaw out. This may take several days unless you can get the car moved to a heated garage.

Most commonly, it is just the radiator that freezes. The car will begin to overheat within a few miles of home, as the coolant is unable to circulate. Stop the car immediately and allow the radiator to thaw.

Visibility

Check that all bulbs are working and that headlights are clean and aimed correctly.

Keep your number plates clean as you can be fined if they are dirty and illegible.

Improve vision significantly by making sure that the windscreen is clean – inside and out. Scratches, abrasion and chips on the outside can also worsen the dazzling effect of the sun.

If you’re suffering from greasy smears on the screen that don’t go with use of a normal screenwash additive then a little elbow grease is required. First try using a cream glass polish with a slight abrasive action. If that doesn’t work then try dishwasher powder dissolved in a little water – Use clean kitchen paper to clean a small area at a time and try not to go back over a patch you’ve just done.

Windscreen washer fluid should be topped up and treated with a proprietary additive to reduce the chance of freezing in frosty weather. Don’t use ordinary engine antifreeze as it will damage paintwork.

Keep the number plates clean too, as you can be fined if they are dirty and illegible.

Keep the number plates clean too, as you can be fined if they are dirty and illegible.

Tyres

Check all tyres for condition, pressure and tread depth. At least 3mm of tread is recommended for winter motoring, and certainly no less than 2mm.

Don’t reduce tyre pressures to get more grip – it doesn’t work, and reduces stability.

Check you have a working jack and wheel brace, and that you know how to change a wheel if necessary.

Buy snow chains from a specialist supplier to ensure that they’re right for your vehicle, and practice fitting them in good dry conditions.

It’s rare to need snow chains unless you live in an isolated area hit with heavy snow, and where the roads are not cleared. They must be removed to drive on a metalled road without a reasonable covering of snow.

Consider changing to winter or all season tyres – these have a higher silica content in the tread which prevents it hardening at lower temperatures, and therefore gives better grip in cold wet conditions.

Keep the number plates clean too, as you can be fined if they are dirty and illegible.

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