As temperatures begin to drop and the weather takes a turn for the worse, it’s crucial that you make sure your car is prepared for anything winter might throw at it. While the Great British weather remains largely unpredictable, and we could experience anything from a temperate season to three months filled with sleet, snow, and floods, it’s always better to prepare for the worst, as you might pay a dear price if you don’t.
Many garages offer winter car services, and while there’s some repairs that should always be left to the professionals, most of these pre-winter checks can be performed by any novice mechanic. Read on to find out how to perform all of the inspections needed to ensure your vehicle is prepared for any weather this winter, including:
- How to check your coolant levels
- How to check your oil levels
- How to check your screen wash levels
- Which engine parts you should consider replacing
- How to check your wiper blades
- How to check your battery
- How to check the condition of your tyres
- How to check your headlights
- How to protect your car’s exterior
- How to protect your car’s interior
- What to include in a winter car essentials kit
Check your coolant levels
During winter when temperatures regularly drop below freezing, it’s crucial that you make sure your car has the correct coolant levels so your engine doesn’t freeze or seize up.
If the water in your engine freezes, it expands. This can damage, or in extreme cases even crack, your engine, leading to a very costly and inconvenient repair that you can easily avoid by ensuring there is always the correct amount of coolant (also known as antifreeze) in your car.
To check your antifreeze levels, you first need to park your car on a flat, level surface and wait until the engine is completely cool.
Most modern cars feature a coolant holder that has clearly visible minimum and maximum level markings — make sure your coolant is within these bounds at all times for maximum performance and safety.
If you need to add coolant to your car, remember that it’s a lot easier to put in than it is to remove, so only add small amounts at a time.
Checking the ratio of your car’s coolant is just as important as checking its level. This should be a 50/50 mix of antifreeze and clean water, but over time often ends up including more water than antifreeze, as it is topped up throughout the year. Pick up a coolant tester, such as this one from Sealey, to check the ratio of antifreeze to water in your car’s coolant system. You will then know how much of each to add in order to bring it to a half-and-half mix, making sure leave some leeway to be able to test the ratio again.
In order to protect your car’s internal systems from corrosion all-year round, it’s important that you use a good-quality antifreeze, as a poor-quality product may produce a black sludge that will negatively affect your car’s performance.
If your antifreeze has been in your car for more than three years, it should be replaced. To do this, you need to flush your vehicle’s cooling system — your car’s user’s manual should indicate how to do this.
Check your oil levels
While you’re checking your car’s coolant levels, you should also take the opportunity to check its oil in case that needs topping up or replacing. Take a look at our guide to engine oil for an in-depth look at the procedure. In short, you should:
- Park your car on a flat and even surface and wait until the engine is cool to the touch.
- Remove the dipstick from the engine, wipe it clean with a cloth, and then return it.
- Remove the dipstick once again. This will be the true reading of the oil level — it should be between the minimum and maximum markings on the dipstick.
- If your oil level is low, add more a little bit at a time, as it’s a lot easier to add more to your engine than it is to remove it.
Check your screen wash levels
While you’re under your car’s bonnet, you should also top up your screen wash levels. This simple maintenance task takes seconds and will help ensure you have complete visibility throughout the winter. Here’s how to do it:
- Locate your car’s screen wash compartment. This is under your car’s bonnet and will be labelled with an illustration of windscreen wipers alongside drops of water. If you can’t locate it, refer to your car’s user’s manual.
- In a clean bucket, mix a good-quality screen wash, such one from our range, with the amount of water indicated on the product’s packaging. Most cars hold 2 litres of liquid in their screen wash compartment, although you may want to check your vehicle’s user’s manual to be sure before you mix together the wash.
- Unscrew the cap of your screen wash compartment and pour the mixture in using a funnel until it reaches the top of the filler pipe.
- Firmly screw the cap of the screen wash holder back in place, shut your car’s bonnet, and test that the screen wash comes out properly.
Topping up your screen wash is essential in preparation for winter, as the low winter sun and beams from other driver’s headlights can obscure your vision when you have a dirty windscreen. Keep your screen wash topped up over winter and use it regularly to ensure you can always see the road clearly.
Replace worn engine components
While you’re making these checks, it can also be a good idea to replace any worn belts and spark plugs while you’re at it. This will ensure your automobile is running well enough to see you through the winter weather.
With all of the strain placed on your car’s battery over winter, it can be especially prudent to replace any worn ignition coils or spark plugs. The falling temperatures also weaken the rubber belts under your bonnet, meaning it can also be a good idea to replace old timing belts and drive belts.
Check your wiper blades
Your wiper blades will have their work cut out for them over winter, with November, December, and January seeing the highest levels of precipitation in the UK according to Weather and Climate.
If your windscreen wipers don’t clear rain from your screen effectively without leaving smears, this is not only dangerous, but can also lead to your car failing an MOT test. It’s especially important to make sure your wipers are running at maximum efficiency during the winter.
You can check the condition of your wiper blades by running your finger down the length of the rubber blade that makes contact with your screen — if you feel any bumps or imperfections, replace the blades with a top-quality substitute, such as the models you can find in our range. This inexpensive upgrade will significantly improve your safety on the winter roads.
If your wiper blades are smooth but aren’t cleaning your screen effectively, you can improve their performance by cleaning them with a tissue doused in screenwash. You should then rinse the blades with clean water and, if they are still leaving streaks or smudges on your screen, you should replace them.
Check your battery
With all of the extra strain placed on your battery during winter — heaters turned up to full blast, headlights running for longer — it’s important to make sure it’s up to getting you through the season. As the cold temperatures also reduce your car battery’s capacity, it’s crucial that you check yours is equipped to deal with the winter weather.
Car batteries have a lifespan of approximately five years. If yours is approaching this point, you should consider replacing it before the worst of the winter sets in, as older batteries are set to struggle.
Unless your battery is brand new, you should make sure to check its performance in preparation for winter. You can do this yourself with a battery tester, such as this one from Sealey, or you can take your vehicle into a garage for a check. If your battery’s output is lacking, then you should consider replacing it. You can find the perfect battery for your vehicle using our car parts finder, and you can find all the information you need to replace your current model in our complete guide to car batteries.
It should be noted that you’re more likely to find yourself with a flat battery if you use your car infrequently or only on short journeys. While your battery is drained when your car sits stagnant and on journeys less than twenty or so minutes, it will be recharged during longer journeys when the alternator kicks in. If you generally use your car less than three times a week, it can therefore pay to regularly make longer journeys during the winter to give your battery an opportunity to recharge.
Check the condition of your tyres
Your tyres are going to have their work cut out during the winter, so it’s crucial that you make sure they’re up to the task to ensure your safety in hazardous conditions.
You should begin your check with a visual examination — can you see any cuts or bulges on any of your tyres, or damage to your wheels? Have a professional take a look at anything suspect if the tyres are relatively new, while it is worth replacing older tyres showing any of these signs.
With the potential of rain, frost, ice, and snow awaiting your vehicle, it’s important that your tyres’ tread is deep enough to provide adequate levels of grip. In the UK, the legal minimum tread depth is 1.66mm, and this is often indicated by a ‘tread bar’ that runs across the width of the tyre at this height. If the tread of your tyres is approaching the legal limit, you should make sure to replace them in preparation for the worst of the winter weather.
If your tyres don’t feature a tread bar indicating where 1.66mm lies on your tyres, you can quickly and easily check their depth is above the legal limit using the 20p test. This simply entails placing a 20p piece in one of the grooves of your tyres’ tread — if the band running along the outside of the coin is completely obscured, then the tread is over 1.66mm deep. If any of the band is visible, then your tyres are below the legal limit and should be replaced immediately. To get a more accurate reading of the tread depth, invest in a tyre tread gauge, such as this one from Sealey, which is VOSA approved to be used during MOT testing on all classes of vehicle.
If your tyres need replacing, you may consider investing in a set of winter tyres. This could be an especially good idea if you live in the countryside and spend a lot of time on B roads. These tyres, which can be identified by the snowflake symbol on their side, are made from a softer compound that is specifically designed to provide high levels of grip in temperatures 7°C and below. They also feature a tread pattern that provides improved traction on snow. They can be a lifesaver on winding country roads during the winter, as they reduce stopping distances and improve cornering in rainy, snowy, and icy conditions.
A great alternative to winter tyres is a set of snow socks, which you can pick up from our online store. These can be kept in the boot of your car and then installed on your tyres whenever it snows, allowing you to get on the roads no matter what the weather throws at you.
Lastly, you should check your tyre pressure — this will ensure they’re providing optimal grip and not negatively affecting your fuel efficiency. Use a tyre inflator to check and change their pressure, referring to your car’s user’s manual for the recommended level and adjusting it accordingly.
Check your headlights
Your headlamps will be required a lot more often over winter, so it’s important that you make sure they are in full working order in the lead up to the early nights.
Firstly, you should check that all of your lights are working. You’ll need to enlist the help of someone to check them as you cycle through all of your car’s light settings, making sure not to forget your hazard lights. If any of them are not working, order a replacement from our wide range, or take your car into a garage as soon as possible.
You should also perform a visual inspection of your lights and, if they are damaged, have them repaired. While you’re doing this, you should take the opportunity to clean them with a damp cloth to make sure they are not obscured by a build-up of dirt.
It’s also important to make sure your headlights are aimed correctly. Make sure they’re both at the correct height by parking your car approximately 25ft from a wall when it’s dark and turning your headlights on. They should both be at the same height, illuminating the ground between yourself and the wall. If the beams are pointing directly at the wall itself, they need to be lowered, as they will blind other drivers on the road. If they don’t reach the wall, they need to be raised, as they won’t illuminate a sufficient amount of the road.
Protect your car’s exterior
The salt in road grit can badly corrode your car’s exterior and underbody, so it’s important that you take measures to protect your vehicle’s bodywork to keep it from rusting over winter.
Rustproof your vehicle’s underbody and lower body panels by coating it in an underbody sealant. This will protect it from both corrosion and chips resulting from surface stones, meaning that costly repairs are less likely down the line.
When you’re not using your car, you can protect it from the winter weather with a car cover. This is a wise investment for anyone who relies on their car to get to work on a morning, as it will prevent you from having to defrost your vehicle in order to get off the drive.
Protect your car’s interior
Lastly, as the winter brings plenty of rain, hail, and snow, you’ll likely want to protect the interior of your car from muddy feet. Pick up a set of car mats and seat covers if you don’t already own them and install them in your vehicle before the worst of the winter weather sets in. Together, these will keep your carpets and seats in showroom condition, no matter how bad the weather gets outside.
Winter car essentials: What accessories to keep in a winter car survival kit
While making all of the above preparations will go a long way to making sure your car continues to work well throughout the season, it’s important to prepare for the worst and put together a winter survival kit. This can then be stored in your boot and will always be there in case of an emergency — something you’ll definitely be grateful for if you’re unfortunate enough to suffer a breakdown at this time of year.
To ensure you’re prepared for any eventuality during the winter, here’s everything you should include in a winter survival kit:
- An ice scraper and a good-quality aerosol de-icer, such as this one from CarPlan.
- Extra antifreeze and screen wash.
- A foldable shovel, spare socks, and an old pair of walking boots in case you ever need to dig your car out of the snow.
- Road salt, grit, or cat litter to provide traction if you ever get stuck in heavy snow.
- Snow socks, which will help your tyres gain traction in the snow.
- A car cover, which will protect your vehicle from the worst of the winter weather when you’re not using it.
- Gloves, a hat, an old coat, and a thick blanket.
- Sunglasses (to protect you from winter sun).
- A hi-vis vest.
- An in-car mobile phone charger.
- An LED torch.
- A comprehensive first-aid kit.
- Energy bars with a long shelf life and bottled water, in case you end up stranded by the side of the road.
- Jump leads, in case you or another motorist require a jump start. Alternatively, you could invest in a specialist jump starter, such as this excellent pocket-sized unit from Angry Jester.
- An emergency warning triangle, such as this one from Ring, to serve as a visual alert to other motorists, roadside assistance, and the emergency services in case you ever break down or are involved in an accident.
While some of this equipment may be excessive if you live in an urban area, we recommend anyone who lives in the countryside puts this winter emergency kit together and keeps it in the boot of their car from the end of October until the threat of frost has passed, which in some years is as late as April or even May.
By properly preparing your car for winter you’ll ensure your vehicle performs well throughout the season and reduce the chance of any automotive problems to a minimum. If you’d like to know more about winter-proofing your vehicle, just get in touch with a member of our team for their expert advice.