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How to prepare for Winter driving conditions

Some seasonal driving tips from Lookers​

The good old British winter can be wildly unpredictable these days. No-one knows quite what to expect. You could easily go to bed one calm night and wake up to a winter wonderland. And that’s why getting ready is something every driver should be thinking about.

One of the first areas to act upon is ensuring your tyres are prepared for a change in road conditions. While 1.6mm is the legal minimum for tread depth, the British Tyre Manufacturers' Association states that cars fitted with winter tyres will stop up to 16 feet shorter than those fitted with summer tyres.

Three millimetres is the recommended tread depth for enhanced safety in an emergency, but even if your tyres met this standard when they were newly fitted, time and use can wear them away. To be confident when it counts, check your tyres still meet the safety recommendations.

Antifreeze is also a necessity for the new season, ensuring your engine starts even if the temperature drops dramatically. Your car should contain a 50/50 mix of water and antifreeze – check that yours is full and the mix is correct before winter puts a freeze on your travels.

One thing this season does promise is plenty of rain. If your wipers have been collecting dust and grime over summer, they are likely to need a good clean. You may even consider replacing them.

To help contend with the fresh dirt and salt that does collect over the coming months, filling up your windscreen washer fluid will help you maintain a clear view of the road ahead. Remember to use special automotive fluid designed to resist freezing or your cleaning supplies will be rendered useless when cold weather strikes.

How winter season can damage your car

Now that we know about the importance of being prepared, let’s look at what can happen if you are not. Simply taking some time to think ahead can help drivers protect their cars and minimise the amount of potential damage.

Corrosion

In bad weather conditions, road salt is spread on the roads, sometimes as much as 60,000 tonnes per day across the UK. This salt will accelerate the corrosion of a car's external surfaces.

Preparing a car thoroughly before the onset of winter will reduce the harmful effects of increased grime, road salt and low temperatures. Using a specially formulated pH-neutral car shampoo, followed by a sealant, will protect the exterior paintwork. Some waxes can protect a car for up to six months.

Glass is especially hard to keep clean in winter but, again, special products will help to make this easier. If the car has been left standing for a while, check that the wiper blades are not frozen to the windscreen as if they are switched on the motor, or the windscreen wipers, could be damaged.

Use proper windscreen washer fluid with an additive to reduce the risk of freezing, rather than anti-freeze as it will damage the paintwork.

Do not forget the bumpers, door and window seals and the interior. Rubber and plastic surfaces can be protected to prevent corrosion and sticking in very cold weather.

Check the battery

In the winter months the lights, heater and windscreen wipers are all used much more and this increases the load on the car's battery. Batteries, like all other components of a car, will eventually fail (usually a battery will last for five years) so before winter the state of the battery should be checked and also check that all the connections are clean and greased.

Anti-freeze

Anti-freeze is vital in cold weather conditions to keep a car moving. Anti-freeze that is glycol-based should be changed every two years. Use a mixture of 50 per cent anti-freeze and 50 per cent water for protection down to minus 34 degrees centigrade. It is also important not to mix anti-freeze types, so check the owner's manual for the correct type. If, when the car is started, there is a continuous squealing noise, the water pump and possibly the cylinder block could be frozen. Stop the car immediately to avoid damage. If the car starts overheating several miles from home, the radiator could be frozen and again the car must be stopped and allowed to thaw to prevent damage.

Above all – Stay Safe

At the end of the day cars can be replaced, people can’t. Being prepared and planning ahead is well worth the effort. Follow these top tips and help protect yourself and your loved ones this winter.

  • Avoid distractions behind the wheel and always be alert and well-rested before setting out on your journey. This is all the more important when you know the roads may be difficult.
  • Get your car fully checked out. With winter setting in, now is an excellent time to run your vehicle through a regular health check. If there are any small issues, you can catch them early before the cold weather really takes its toll.
  • Tyre tread and pressure should be checked at least once a month in cold conditions to ensure optimal handling.
  • Pay extra attention to checking your lights and windscreen to maintain maximum visibility. If there are any cracks or chips in your windscreen, get them fixed now to avoid them worsening in the cold weather.
  • Keep your fuel tank at least half full in winter – just in case any unexpected delays occur.
  • Keep a few essentials in your car – these should include a map, torch, high-vis jacket, blanket, coat, warm socks and boots.
  • Always check the weather forecast before you head out so you know what you're dealing with on the roads.
  • Leave plenty of time for every journey – when conditions are difficult, the last thing you want to do is rush.
  • For more car safety advice, contact our experts at Lookers or take a look at our other advice articles.