Winter is the worst time of the year for a car to break down. It is also the most often. The cold weather can worsen existing mechanical issues with our vehicles, leading to performance issues and even breakdowns.
With COVID reducing how often many of us have been driving, this is also likely to affect performance. Taking a proactive approach to winter car care can reduce the chances of a breakdown. JLR Essex discusses how we can look after our cars throughout winter, with a few simple checks and procedures.
As mentioned, the lockdown has reduced the amount of time many people have been using their vehicles, which can affect the car battery. A car battery recharges as we drive, so when a car isn’t driven for a long time or frequently enough, the battery can die.
Winter also affects the car battery. The cold weather can reduce the battery output. Also as we use our lights and heating more often, this also adds to the strain.
Batteries should last approximately 5 years when maintained correctly. If you’ve noticed issues with your car battery, it is important to get this repaired or replaced by a professional.
If, however, your car battery fails unexpectedly, performing a jump start can reduce the number of time drivers spend stuck in the cold.
Top up the engine with antifreeze
It is important to top up the car engine with antifreeze before winter, to prevent the radiator from freezing or overheating.
Ideally, engine coolant should be made up of 50% water and 50% antifreeze. Antifreeze dilutes over time, which is why it is important to top this up before winter.
Mistakenly, people often add water to the engine coolant, rather than antifreeze, causing it to become too diluted and freeze. This can cause the engine to overheat, which is costly to repair.
Check the tyres
Our tyres are essential when it comes to effective steering and braking. In winter especially, it is essential to ensure car tyres are able to handle the tough conditions, including ice, rain and slush.
Checking the depth and pressure of the tyres before winter is recommended. The legal requirement for tyre depth should be at least 1.6mm, however, we’d recommend 3mm for winter to add grip for the icy conditions.
Alternatively, replacing your tyres with winter tyres can give your vehicle more control in winter.
As we use our lights more during winter, it is important to inspect they are all working effectively. This includes full-beam headlights, indicators and fog lights.
As well as making sure you can see your surroundings clearly, it is important your vehicle remains fully visible for other drivers in the darker months.
Windscreen & wipers
As well as the engine, it is also important to top up the screen washer fluid with anti-freeze. This will prevent the water used to clean the exterior windows from freezing.
We’d also recommend inspecting your windscreen. Any existing chips can worsen due to the cold weather, causing cracks. This is not only dangerous but can be costly to repair. Cleaning your windscreen inside and out will enable you to inspect it for any cracks. Minor cracks can be easily repaired.
It is also important to inspect the wipers for any tears which could affect how effectively they clear your windscreen in bad weather conditions.
Prepare for the unexpected
Even if carrying out all of the above checks, it is best to be prepared for any potential car faults or breakdowns, especially in winter.
If travelling long distances, we would recommend checking the weather forecast beforehand. In the event of bad weather, such as torrential rainfall or heavy snow, we would avoid carrying out unessential travel. Also allowing extra time to travel reduces the temptation to rush, which can cause accidents in bad weather conditions.
Having access to a scraper, de-icer and antifreeze is also essential for winter travel. When de-icing your windscreen, avoid using boiling water, as this can crack the windscreen. Room temperature water is most effective.
In the event of a breakdown, be sure to have a breakdown kit available, with a blanket, torch, shovel and food and drink supplies.
Should your vehicle breakdown and you be stranded, it’s best to be prepared for the winter conditions.
Keeping some spare fuel is also recommended.
Service and insurance
If you don’t feel comfortable or confident checking your vehicle to ensure it is winter-ready, then taking your car for service before winter can prevent mechanical issues.
Lots of issues cars face in winter are exacerbated by low temperatures, the majority of which could be prevented with regular servicing and maintenance checks.
Many garages across the UK offer free or discounted winter car checks. Adding antifreeze to your vehicle and checking lights is easy enough, however, when it comes to brakes pads, brake discs, brake fluid, as well as fan belts and drive belts, it may be worth having a professional mechanic take a look.
As winter is the most common and worst time for vehicles to break down, it is worth drivers ensuring they have comprehensive breakdown cover, in the event of a breakdown. Even if your car in good condition and has been recently serviced, it is good to have peace of mind when it comes to breakdown insurance.
Breaking down any time of the year is stressful and inconvenient, however especially so during winter.