Caring for your car this winter

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That time of the year is rolling around again. The early dark nights and the morning frosts are upon us, and there’s even signs that confirm the festive season is fast approaching.

The cold weather can cause some problems though, especially when it comes to your car. Dropping temperatures are notorious for causing mechanical problems. So, I spoke to two local mechanics – one from a main dealership and one from a backstreet garage – to see how we can best care for our vehicles during the winter, while saving ourselves some pennies at the same time.

Winter Checks

Unknown to many, a lot of garages offer a free or cheap vehicle winter check. It’s worth ringing ahead to see what a garage can offer you. As well as this, you should shop around to see what different services are available at different places.

If you can’t afford or don’t have the time to take your car to a garage, you can carry out some checks yourself. They are not difficult to do, either. You can check your coolant level and oil level yourself – our experts both recommended that you do this weekly anyway, no matter the season. You should also be looking at your tyre tread and tyre pressures and making sure these are at the right level.

Antifreeze

Antifreeze is an additive which lowers the freezing point of a water-based liquid and increases its boiling point. In your car, antifreeze works to prevent your engine from freezing up or overheating in extreme climates. Your car’s coolant helps protects against corrosion and helps to lubricate your water pump, as well as protecting the engine.

Our vehicle technician said, “If someone’s antifreeze is weak, it can damage their engine’s components, the water pump and the radiator.”

It’s wise to make sure that you are stocked up on antifreeze. It’s affordable – retailing at around £10 for 5 litres from most retailers. Most engines use “water” as their coolant liquid however, this is normally a mixture of antifreeze and water.

It’s recommended by experts that you change your coolant regularly, because it loses its effectiveness overtime and it can pick up contaminating particles from your car’s cooling system. Changing the antifreeze regularly will ensure that your car’s engine receives maximum protection. If you’re unsure of how often you should be changing your car’s coolant, you should consult your owner’s manual – most suggest that you flush your coolant system and replace the coolant every 1 to 2 years – or you can buy an antifreeze tester.

You can purchase extended-life antifreeze, which has been said to last for up to five years, but this is more expensive than your conventional antifreeze.

Make sure to check your owner’s manual prior to buying antifreeze, as different types work best for different cars.

Heaters

When your windows are colder than dew point – the temperature where dew forms – inside your car, and you have enough moisture in the air in your car, that moisture will condense on the windscreen, causing it to mist up. Test that your heaters are working as well and powerfully as they should. You need your heaters to work effectively so that they can demist your windows and have good visibility. There is nothing more annoying than a steamed up car when you’re in a hurry, so you can rev the engine to warm your car heaters up more quickly.

Windows and Wipers

An ice scraper is a must for any driver during the winter. You can pick these up for less than a pound in some shops, and they can be stored in your front glovebox compartment for easy access. Owning a scraper means that you’ll be able to start your journey sooner, as you won’t have to wait for your heaters to melt the ice / snow on your windscreen.

All car owners are used to replacing their window wipers – they are not the most the long lasting of products, especially those that can be bought cheaply. However, they are an essential part of winter driving because every driver needs good visibility to drive safely.

Our expert, from a backstreet garage, said, “Check that your wiper blades are good. They need to be clearing your windscreen effectively and leaving no smears. The rain, snow and fog can all disrupt your visibility anyway, so it’s worth paying out a few quid for some decent wipers as winter begins.”

Some car owners swear by leaving their windshield wipers up during the winter. The idea behind the little trick is simple: they don’t freeze on to the glass. Those that swear by lifting their wipers argue that it also makes it easier for them to scrape their windshield. Some critics say, though, that it can cause wear and tear damage to the springs in your wiper arms, and others just think it looks “silly”.

 

Always make sure that your screenwash is topped up, too! When the ground is wet and muddy, your car’s front and rear windows are likely to get dirty quickly, reducing your visibility. Screenwash will keep your windows shiny and clear.

Bulbs

Both the mechanics I spoke to recommended that drivers check their bulbs regularly. With winter comes the early dark nights, so your lights get used much more. When a bulb breaks or goes, it reduces your visibility. It is also a criminal offence to drive around with one or more bulbs not working.

Bulbs can be sourced from most garages and auto shops, at a reasonable price. If you’re unsure of how to insert the bulbs, some garages are likely to insert them for free or charge a small fee. It may be worthwhile going onto Youtube and watching a tutorial someone has made to save yourself from an unnecessary expense.

Battery

The cold weather typically exposes a bad battery. According to AAA’s Automotive Research Centre, at 0°F, a car’s battery loses approximately 60% of its strength, whereas at 32°F it only loses 35%. Starting an engine in cold temperatures can use as much current as needed under normal conditions.

Our expert, a vehicle technician for a major car dealership, said, “The cold can expose a bad car battery. It’s definitely worthwhile investing a battery jumper pack and keeping this in your boot. You can get these pretty cheap from places like Halfords or from online.

“If you do start to experience problems with your battery as the cold weather sets in, it’s worth replacing as its unlikely to get better. The cold can also cause starting issues, which are more common with diesel engines and they can lead to battery failure.”

Tyres

The wet and dirty ground is sometimes a little too much for your part-worn tyres, and they may cause you to be more susceptible to skidding and wheel-spinning.

Our backstreet garage mechanic told StaffsLive, “You need good tread so check it often, otherwise you won’t grip the road.

“If the weather turns bad, with the snow and ice and mud, invest in some mud and snow tyres or winter tyres. Sometimes, it’s cheaper to buy a whole set of spare wheels with the tyres already on, so have a look around before you buy. Keep them to one side until it’s time to stick them on instead of wasting the tread, too. It doesn’t matter if you do slide and kerb your wheels then, because they’re only spares while your others sit warm and pretty for the winter.”

“You should really have a decent spare wheel, too. Make sure it’s at the right tyre pressure and inflated, and the same size as the rest of your other wheels. Don’t be one of those idiots with 17 inch alloys that has to stick a 15 inch steel wheel on your car, because it’s not only going to look awful, it’s going to be a nightmare to drive, especially in the bad weather.”

Our main dealership vehicle technician agrees, “Winter tyres are worth purchasing for safety alone. They grip much better in the wet and the cold. When the snow and ice comes, you’ll want winter tyres on your car.”

Most garages offer inexpensive winter tyre-fitting, and there are also mobile tyre fitters available.

Breaking Down

It’s recommended that all driver carry a high-visibility jacket and a red triangle in their car in case they breakdown. Both items will ensure that other drivers are made aware of them being there, especially at night.

A lot of insurance companies offer break down cover for an additional cost, and a lot of drivers swear by adding the optional extra to their policy.

Our experts told me that it is wise to keep a good torch, with spare batteries, in your glovebox. If you break down at night, this can help you to make any repairs that you are able to make yourself.

Furthermore, you should keep two Mars bars and a packet of crisps in your glovebox at all time. You’re probably questioning my entire list now, but if you break down and are stuck somewhere for a while, these will keep your energy levels up. If you’re diabetic, the chocolate bars could even save your life.

Driving in the Snow

Most drivers dread venturing out into the snow and choose to stay in, but this is not always an option for many.

Our dealership mechanic shared a few tricks with us for safer driving in the snow, “You should be careful and take your time. Wherever you’re going, set off in advance. If I was making a 20 minute journey, I’d allow myself at least forty minutes to get there in the snow. Not only will driving slow make your journey longer, some roads may be shut or blocked due to the snow or accidents. It’s always a good idea to check the traffic news in your area, so that you can pre-plan any diversions you may need to take.

“I’m pretty sure that on Facebook, the Sentinel have a page where members of the public can post traffic updates, so try joining that if you’re from the local area.

“When you’re pulling off, if it’s possible, try to do it in second gear because you want as low revs as possible to prevent wheelspin. Gentle braking will also reduce the risk of skidding. Slamming on your brakes in panic will cause you to slide so avoid this at all costs.

“And just make sure you don’t stop going up a hill! You’re going to struggle if you do!”

The RAC have an online guide with some more tips for driving in the snow, available here.

 

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About Author

19-year-old Journalism student at Staffordshire University. Reporter for StaffsLIVE. Project Co-ordinator for the Staffordshire Youth Commission. Based in the Staffordshire Moorlands.

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