Winter is a challenging time of year for everybody and cars are no exception, breakdowns increase considerably during the cold months as freezing temperatures wreak havoc with car engines. It is also the most dangerous time of the year to drive in, ice, fog, heavy rain/sleet and snow can all make driving hazardous. Some basic preparation will help ensure your car is capable of coping in the bad weather and most importantly doesn’t break down and leave you stranded at the side of the road.
Essential Car Checks
One of the most common causes of winter breakdowns – cold temperatures and damp conditions can affect the chemical process of the battery, potentially reducing its ability to hold its charge. Car batteries do not generally last more than a few years, and the additional power drain of electrical devices and heaters during cold snaps will further shorten its life. Severe cold will ultimately force all the electrical systems of the vehicle to work much harder – this is especially true for older car models.
To avoid start up issues, if and where possible, park your vehicle in a garage or somewhere sheltered on cold evenings. Avoid draining the battery unnecessarily, being careful not to leave any interior lights on by mistake.
If your car makes a clicking sound when the keys are turned to a start position, it is more than likely a sign the battery isn’t holding charge well and needs replacing immediately. If you haven’t changed your battery recently, it may be worth testing – batteries are inexpensive and straight forward to replace.
Anti-freeze is designed to protect your car’s engine during extreme temperatures – it prevents the water in the engine’s cooling system from freezing. Anti-freeze levels should be regularly tested in the winter, this can be performed at home with a tester kit, or at your local garage.
Winter roads are often wet and dirty, gritty spray from other vehicles is frequently thrown on to the windscreen, partially concealing the screen – low sunlight can also contribute to the lack of visibility. Being able to clear the windscreen with screen wash is an essential safety feature all year round, but especially so during the winter months.
Many of us have experienced that panicky feeling when you hit the brakes on an icy/snowy road and the car fails to stop. Numerous accidents in wintery weather conditions could be avoided by simply investing in a set of winter tyres, – a well known safety feature, winter tyres are compulsory in a number of European countries such as Germany, Austria and Sweden.
Also known as cold weather tyres, winter tyres are specifically designed to provide better grip in cold weather conditions. Normal tyres on the other hand, are made from a harder compound which softens in mild temperatures, providing more grip. When temperatures plummet below 7°c however, this type of tyre softens very little, considerably reducing its gripping power.
Cold weather tyres have a softer compound, containing higher quantities of natural rubber and silica, which is not as prone to hardening, providing better grip in temperatures below 7°c. Winter tyres also have a different tread pattern and higher tread depth, better suited to coping with snow and ice.
Although purchasing two sets of tyres may be initially off putting, it is worth bearing in mind that two sets of tyres will last twice as long as one set, using the winter tyres will take the burden off the summer tyres thus extending their life and vice versa.
All Year-Round Essentials
The following items should always be stored in the car in case of a breakdown:
- Road atlas or fully functional SatNav
- A fully charged mobile phone
- First aid kit
- Breakdown cover and contact details
Additional Winter Extras
- A blanket
- Snow shovel
- High visibility vest
- Food and a flask with a hot drink
Further tips for keeping your car in good working order in the winter
- Keep your vehicle clean – corrosive salt deposits can damage the body work of the car and obscure visibility
- Do not leave your vehicle covered in snow, clear it as soon as you can
- Check oil and fuel levels before travel
- Ensure fan belts etc. are all in good working order
Get Your Car Serviced
The best way to avoid time consuming and unsettling breakdowns it to take your vehicle to your local garage for a service before the winter – this will identify any potential problems, make a winter breakdown much less likely and provide you with confidence.