Top 10 Winter Driving Tips

Autumn is quietly slipping into winter. This time last week the trees were full of rich gold and red leaves. Now, most seem to have gently drifted away leaving branches bare against a dark sky, nature’s way of telling us winter is on the way.

Against this backdrop Motor Codes, the government-approved consumer watchdog for the automotive industry, is now advising drivers to take time to ‘winter-proof’ their cars by publishing its top 10 useful winter driving tips.

Read on, get winter ready and help avoid expensive repair bills.

1. Top up antifreeze

This may seem an obvious suggestion, but many people fail to maintain the right level of antifreeze their vehicle. Without adequate antifreeze, sub-zero temperatures can cause serious damage to your engine. Your manual – or any search engine - will tell you the best type of antifreeze for your car and the amount you should use. Safety alert! Don’t replenish any fluids (oil, coolant, wiper fluid) straight after you’ve driven the car – always wait until it’s cooled down.

2. Ensure your windscreen is clear

In the winter, spray, grit and slush can be splashed onto your windscreen by the vehicle in front. This reduced view through your windscreen may compromise your safety. Your windscreen wipers and washer fluid are the only defence against this. Make sure wipers are working properly and that the washer fluid is always topped up. Top tip!Always keep a supply of washer fluid, ideally mixed with de-icer, in the boot and check that all your driving lights (including foglights) are working properly so wipe them clean once a week.

3. Keep your battery charged

Not surprisingly car batteries work harder during the winter: the heating’s on full-blast, de-misters are working overtime and, because of the shorter daylight hours, headlights are on for longer. On top of that cold temperatures also reduce the battery’s capacity. Don’t be met by silence next time you turn the engine on – so always be aware of the health of your battery.

4. Check your tyres

Tyres with reduced treat are a safety hazard all year round, but in winter the risks are even greater. Monitor tyres and ensure that all four tyres have the safe – and legal - amount of tread. The official required depth of the tread must be at least 1.6mm but in reality 2-3mm is recommended. You may even want to invest in a set of winter tyres, particularly if you live in a rural or hilly area. For further tips read our handy guide here.

5. Test your brakes

The roads are more challenging in winter – wetter, icy and more slippery, so it’s vital that brakes are up to the task. Some newer cars are fitted with sensors that will tell you when the brakes need replacing. Otherwise your local dealership can test your brake pads, discs and pipes.

6. Protect your car body

Nothing ages your car body quicker than exposure to the grit and salt sprinkled on the roads in the winter. Keep corrosion at bay, by washing and waxing your car before the harsh weather sets in. Consider buying a cover – especially useful if you don’t have a garage.

7. Replace belts and hoses

Cold temperatures can weaken the rubber belts and hoses under your car’s bonnet, and you don’t want something to snap out on the road on a cold winter’s night. Although in most cases they get checked at service time every 30,000 miles or so, it’s always a good idea to let a mechanic give them a once-over before the first cold snap arrives, as there may be potential weak points susceptible to the cold weather.

8. Don’t run the tank empty

In sub-zero temperatures, your fuel-line could freeze up – leaving you with a car that won’t start. Easily prevented by ensuring your fuel tank is always more than half-full, so monitor that fuel gauge!

9. Emergency box

Keep an emergency box in your car in case you break down and find yourself stranded in the cold - especially important if you have children and/or elderly people in the car with you. Your kit should include boots, blankets, torch and batteries, first aid kit, jump leads, shovel, road atlas, de-icer and sunglasses (winter sun can be dazzling). If you can, also have some water and snacks on board in case you are unable to get going for a while.

10.Get a timely service

You can address many of these winter-proofing tips in one go by paying a visit to your local Lookers dealership. Remember that keeping up-to-date with the recommended service schedule will help keep your car in good condition all year round – and protect any warranty.

By Tracey McBain