Winter Car Care and Driving Tips

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Autumn is the time to get your car in shape for the harsh winter months ahead. Snow, rain, mud and salt can all degrade the finish of your car so now is the time to protect it.

Rain and snow both collect pollutants from the air as they fall to the ground and these end up as a thin film on your car when the water evaporates. This can cause damage if not cleaned off. Salt is corrosive and can ruin paintwork and chrome. If it binds with mud and sticks underneath the car it can also cause rust.

As autumn starts, you should check that your windscreen washer reservoir is topped up with a decent screen wash and adjust the concentration for winter conditions. The screen wash should contain anti-freeze to stop it solidifying when the temperature drops. Your wiper blades should also be in good condition and shouldn’t leave smears on the windscreen. You can put bags of silica gel under your seats to absorb excess water on the inside windows of your car.

Oil is important for keeping your car running smoothly and it needs checking and changing if necessary to keep the car properly lubricated.

It is also very important to check the condition of your tyres (including the spare) because you will need extra grip in the winter. The tread should be above the legal limit and any wear should be even. Tyre pressures should be at that recommended by the manufacturer.

With the reduced light in the winter it is extremely important to make sure that all of your lights are working before you get caught out. You will also need to check that your car is up to date with services and that your horn work properly.

Batteries take extra use in winter because of the increased power demand for de-misters and lights. Cold starts are more power-hungry because the car fluids are thicker in winter. Check that your battery contact terminals are clean and that you battery isn’t running too low. Replace if necessary.

If you don’t already have roadside assistance options to cover you for a break down, consider getting some, and if you do have some, make sure it is in date still. You don’t want to get stuck with no-one to help you.

A thorough wash and wax of your vehicle in the autumn will help protect it during the coming months. The wash will take off any pollutants already on your car and the wax will form a protective layer to keep the paintwork safe. There are plenty of car cleaning products about to get your car in good condition but don’t just opt for cheap options because your car is one of the most expensive things you will buy so deserves to be looked after properly.

When winter sets in, keep your car regularly washed, especially if you have driven on salted roads. Don’t forget to wash the wheels and undercarriage too. A hand wash is preferable to an automated wash but it is more important for the value of your car to remove pollutants than worry about minor scratches that can occur after visiting a car wash. Dry all seals thoroughly and if possible, keep the windows down and drive the car with the heater on full for a few minutes. You can also apply a trim product.

Ice on the car in the morning is a hassle but it is something that needs to be sorted out properly. Using boiling water is a definite no-no because the temperature difference can cause the glass to crack. Do not scrape ice from your paintwork either as this will cause scratches. Heated windows are OK to use, as is using a proper ice scraper. If you want to avoid the build up of ice in the fist place, either put your car in a garage or buy a car cover. When purchasing a car cover, make sure that the seams are on the outside to avoid scratches and only put on a clean, dry car, keeping cover and straps away from hot exhausts.

For winter journeys, it is a good idea to keep a blanket, shovel, first aid kit, small bag of sand (for traction), torch, high visibility jacket, wellies, warm clothing, gloves, hat, warning triangle and emergency food and drink in the car just in case. Also take a fully charged mobile phone with you so that you can call for help easily if you run into trouble.

Do not set out on your journey until your windows are free of ice and all snow has been removed. Many motorists fell foul of the law last year when they were stopped for still having snow on the roof of their car whilst they were driving – in the event of sudden braking the snow will fall on the windscreen, preventing you from seeing which is obviously dangerous. Failure to remove the snow can result in 3 points on your license and a £60 fine. Wipe snow off your car carefully though because it will have debris in it than can scratch the paintwork if taken off too forcefully.

Winter roads are more treacherous because of ice – both visible and ‘black ice’. In the unfortunate event of skidding on it, come off the accelerator and brakes and steer into the direction of the skid. When you have full tyre grip back, steer the way you want to go. To practice this technique in a safe environment you can book time at a skid pan.

Also watch out for freezing fog. Slow down, don’t drive too close to the car in front, and use fog lights when necessary. It helps to turn off the radio and open a window to listen out for other traffic.

Winter is the time that most damage can happen to your car and when driving conditions are at their worst but with proper car care, forward planning and safe driving, both you and you car should make it through the winter in good shape.