The Motor Ombudsman, the automotive dispute resolution provider, has the following top tips for motorists to stay safe on the road, during, what is, traditionally one of the coldest and most treacherous periods of the year.
1. Carry the right kit
It’s important to be prepared all-year-round, not just for winter, so that you have all the right equipment to hand in the event of a breakdown. With the large majority of people now owning a smartphone, make sure that you take your charger with you. In addition, double check if it can be plugged into the car’s USB ports, or whether you need a USB adaptor to replenish your device using the in-car power socket. Also, put a tow rope, jump leads, a spade and a warning triangle in the boot, and keep a working torch accessible. It’s good practice to carry water, blankets, a first aid kit and a high visibility jacket.
2. Research pays off
Being a member of a breakdown company gives you the peace of mind that help is at hand if you were to need it. Don’t get stranded, and use the internet to search for the most competitive quotes, and take the time to ensure that you get the right level of cover that you need for where you live and use the car.
3. Keep it clean
Grit used to provide added grip on an icy road network can damage the car’s bodywork, so look out for any rust, and touch up any paint chips as soon as possible. If you can, wax the exterior before the cold weather sets in. It’s equally advisable to pressure wash the underside of your car regularly, to remove any salt and solution that could potentially cause expensive damage.
4. Bright lights are best
During periods of inclement weather, lights and fog lamps can get covered in dirt and salt from the road. Make sure that all lenses all work, and upgrade to more powerful bulbs if greater visibility is required. Furthermore, it’s advisable to wipe down the front and rear lights once a week.
5. Check your anti-freeze
It’s an obvious tip, but maintaining the right level of antifreeze is essential. Without adequate levels, sub-zero temperatures can affect your engine. Your manual will tell you the best type of antifreeze for your car and the amount you should use. Also, take a look at the hoses to check that they aren’t blocked or cracked. Never refill fluids straight after you’ve driven the car – wait until it’s cooled down.
6. Have a clear view
In the winter, spray, grit and slush can obscure the view through your windscreen and compromise safety. Your windscreen wipers and washer fluid are the only defence against this. So make sure the wipers are working smoothly and don’t leave streaks (do not use them on an icy surface), and that the washer fluid is always topped up.
7. Keep your battery charged
With colder temperatures, a car’s battery is under even greater pressure during the winter months: the heating’s on full-blast, de-misters are working overtime, and, because of the shorter daylight hours, headlights are on for longer. If the car is not used very often, it might be worth investing in a trickle charger to top up the battery.
8. Tread carefully with your tyres
Balding tyres are a safety hazard at any time, but in winter, the risks of an accident are even greater. Therefore, take a look at all four corners to check that the tread depth is legal i.e. it must be 1.6mm across 75% of the tyre. However, the deeper the tread, the greater the grip. Nevertheless, it’s recommended that tyres with less than 3mm of tread are replaced due to reduced performance. You may even want to invest in a set of winter tyres, particularly if you live in a rural or hilly area.
9. Stop and test your brakes
The roads are wetter and more slippery in winter than at any other time of the year, so it’s vital that your brakes are up to the task. Some newer cars are fitted with sensors that will tell you when the brakes need replacing. Otherwise, you can ask your local garage to test your brake pads, discs and pipes.
10. Get a timely service
You can address many of these winter-proofing tips in one go by paying a visit to your local garage. Many now offer special winter checks, including ensuring tyres are in good condition, mechanical parts are lubricated and essential fluids stay topped up. 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.
For all-year-round advice for staying the safe on the road, check out our handy tips on the “Motoring Advice” section of this website.