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Winter driving safety checklist

Winter driving safety checklist

Winter can be tough on cars, and breaking down in the freezing cold is no picnic for you either. To help minimise the risk of mechanical problems, try these cold-weather car maintenance tips. 

Daniel Hutson
From the Motor team
minute read
posted 8 OCTOBER 2019

Our essential winter driving checklist

Slippery surfaces, rain and snow, frozen car components and spray thrown up by other people’s wheels can all make it harder to drive safely during the winter months. So make sure you have… 

A well-maintained battery

Cold and damp weather can play havoc with batteries – in fact your car is 51% more likely to have battery problems in winter, according to Axa, while the AA says battery issues are the most common cause of call-outs in the winter months. Lower temperatures affect the chemical reactions inside them, making them less efficient. On top of that, during dark winter months your lights and heater are used more, which means more battery power is consumed. If you’re waiting with the engine off, try to avoid using the heater and stereo, as these will drain the battery and could leave you without enough power to re-start the engine. 

Batteries don’t usually last for more than about five years and it can be as little as two to three years if you mainly do short journeys, according to the AA. So as winter approaches, it might be worth investing in a new one if yours is nearing the end of its working life.

If you do buy a new battery, the RAC recommends having it professionally fitted, because if the leads are connected incorrectly you can do serious damage to your vehicle's electronic system. Old batteries need to be carefully recycled so check if this is part of the service too, otherwise you'll need to take the old battery to your local recycling centre.

Clean, working lights

Make sure all your car lights are in good working order so you can see and be seen on dark evenings and rainy or foggy days. In wintry conditions there’s often a lot of dirty spray from the road surface that can coat and dim your car lights. Regularly give them a good wipe to aid visibility.

Topped-up oil

Keeping an eye on your oil levels is a year-round job, but it becomes especially important in winter. The experience of breaking down is much more uncomfortable and even dangerous in the dark and cold.

Antifreeze in all the right places

Make sure your windscreen wash contains anti-freeze and keep the levels topped up. Just like your lights, your windscreen will get covered in dirt from road surfaces which can reduce visibility very quickly, so it’s important you can wash it effectively.

Some older car models may require antifreeze added to the radiator to prevent the cooling system freezing. However, more modern vehicles have longer lasting antifreeze pre-added, which often shouldn’t be mixed with traditional antifreeze solutions. Ask a mechanic or your manufacturer if you’re not sure about your car’s requirements.

Good road visibility through your windscreen 

If you’re in a rush, it can be tempting to set off with the windscreen still partially frozen or steamed up. Resist the temptation though, as reduced visibility means you’re much more likely to have an accident – and be held liable for it.

As well as keeping your screenwash topped up with a formula containing antifreeze, it’s a good idea to make sure your wiper blades are in good condition. They don’t cost much to replace, and the safety benefits they provide are priceless.

Tyres that can handle cold weather hazards

For people living in colder or more rural areas, winter tyres and snow chains can help with road safety. Winter tyres come with deeper tread patterns and are better equipped to deal with snow and ice. Read AutoTrader’s guide to winter tyres for more information.

If you don’t want to invest in winter tyres or snow chains, you should still make sure that you have deep enough tread on your tyres. Though the minimum the law requires is 1.6mm, the AA recommends at least 2mm and preferably 3mm.

Wet, wintry conditions increase the risk of aquaplaning. This is when water builds up between your tyres and the surface of the road. It’s very dangerous as it can lead to you losing control of the vehicle. The more tread you have, the less likely this is to happen.

As well as good tread levels, make sure you regularly check your tyre pressures conform to the manufacturer’s recommendations, and make sure your spare tyre is in the same good condition as the other four.

Emergency equipment

If you do break down, having emergency provisions will make life easier. These could include…

  • Warm clothes
  • Food and drink
  • Wellies
  • A torch
  • A tow rope
  • De-icer
  • A high visibility vest
  • A first aid kit

Take a look at our breakdown checklist for more on what to put in your breakdown emergency kit. Finally, make sure your mobile phone is well charged before you set off – you never know when you might need it. But don't use your phone while driving – you can get 6 penalty points and a £200 fine if you do.

While you can’t prevent all breakdowns, good car maintenance can help reduce the risk. A few minutes invested in some checks could save you the hassle and stress of being stranded at the roadside. Equally, regular servicing will help to keep your car in tip-top condition and bring any issues to your attention early.

However well prepared you are, breakdowns happen – that’s where breakdown cover comes in. Knowing you’re covered can give you peace of mind, no matter what the season.

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