Not that we’ve had the most amazing summer weather this year, but as the nights start drawing in, Halloween approaches and the central heating systems start clicking into life again, we’re all too aware that winter is heading our way. So here are ten top tips for getting your car prepared for the harshest motoring season.
- Check your tyres
And we don’t just mean give them a half-hearted kick as you walk round your car. Are your tyres badly worn? Are they running at the correct pressures? Are they a set of special semi-treaded items on a sports car that are designed to work only in the summer? Ensure your tyres are in the best possible condition they can be. Worn or incorrectly inflated tyres will place you at much greater risk of having an accident in the colder, slimier winter months. Consider fitting winter tyres, though note that they are only really effective when the temperature drops below seven degrees Celsius, which is relatively rare in Ireland – statistically speaking.
- Check the battery
You’re going to place enormous strain on your car’s battery during the winter months, because you’ll frequently have the heater fan in the cabin blowing at maximum, you’ll click on the heated seats and steering wheel and windscreen (depending on your car’s spec), you’ll be using the lights and the wipers too. A tired battery will either mean your car simply won’t start in colder weather, as lower temperatures have an impact on the battery’s overall effectiveness, or that it will let you down just when you don’t need it to. And who wants to spend the night on the hard shoulder because they didn’t check their battery? It should have a useful life of around five years in normal service, so if you don’t think you’ve replaced it since 2014, get a new one – they’re not massively expensive items to buy, normally costing a bit less than €100.
- Check the antifreeze/coolant
The normal ratio of distilled water to antifreeze in your car’s coolant system should be 50/50, but you can increase this to 60/40 in antifreeze’s favour in the case of particularly harsh winters. Either way, ensure there’s plenty of fresh antifreeze in your car’s coolant system, otherwise this vital fluid will freeze up in the system in cold weather, your car’s engine will then run hot because it is being starved of coolant and you’ll end up with a) a massive repair bill for a cooked cylinder head, and b) an unfortunate incident where you’re stranded at the roadside in a cloud of steam as your car’s engine boils over. Its overheated engine will only keep you warm for so long…
- Check all your lights
Simple one, this; turn the car on, and then switch on every light it has – sidelights, dipped beams, main beams, front fog lights (if fitted), rear fog lights, indicators, brake lights and reversing lights. You’ll need a second person with you to check some of these (specifically the brake lights), but if you spot any bulbs are out, get them replaced ASAP – especially the headlights, as these will not only reduce your effective visibility in bleak conditions but they will also reduce the visibility of your car to other drivers, increasing the risk of accidents.
- Check your washer fluid and wipers
This links to visibility – while rain and melting snow might clean your windscreen for a short period, only a fool would go out driving in winter with no effective washer fluid in their car’s reservoir. On drier days after bad weather in winter, grit on the roads mixes with spray and coats your windscreen in a quick-drying mess of dirty grey spots, making it next to impossible to see out of the glass. Throw in the low-lying sun in winter skies and it’s a match made in hell – so you’re going to need plenty of washer fluid on longer journeys to ensure you can see out of the windscreen, meaning you should check it is fully topped up before each and every trip during winter. Like the coolant, you need to put an anti-freezing agent mixer into the water, because if you just put water in there then it will freeze into a huge solid mass in cold conditions and be useless until your engine’s operating heat has melted it fully; this takes a long, long time, mind. Also ensure the wipers are in good nick – if they judder across the screen or smear fluids badly, then they are worn out and need replacing. Again, these are a matter of a few tens of Euro to replace, so don’t skimp on them for winter.
- Get your car serviced
Not essential, but if your car is due some maintenance anyway, booking it in for a service in late autumn is a good idea, as the garage will pick up on anything that might need addressing and which could cause you to have an incident/accident in bad weather.
- Prepare for long-distance journeys
If you’re going hundreds of kilometres at a time in winter, have a look at all the available ‘pre-flight’ info you can find: the weather forecast for the day you’re travelling, the travel news on the routes you’re planning to use and so on. If you’re rushing to make an appointment in bad weather, that’s when problems occur, so preparing thoroughly beforehand means less risk of failing to make your destination. This includes getting up and ready a bit earlier to give yourself extra time to drive more slowly, as well as prepping the car itself – if you’re travelling early in the morning and it has been a cold/snowy night, you’re going to come out and find the car is iced up/covered in thick snowfall. You need to thoroughly defrost it with de-icer and a scraper, clearing ALL windows entirely, before driving off, a process that will take 10-15 minutes, most likely.
- Carry a winter breakdown kit
Have some items in your car so that you’re as best prepared as you can be if the worst comes to the worst and you can’t complete your intended journey. Throw the following into your boot: a shovel, a torch, a blanket and/or a heavy winter coat, sturdy winter boots or Wellingtons, bottles of screen wash and antifreeze, an ice scraper and can of de-icer, something to charge your smartphone (an in-car cable or USB cable, so that – provided the battery on the car hasn’t died – you can at least still keep in contact with people while you’re awaiting recovery), maybe some items of food and drink and a high-visibility vest if you have one.
- Check your breakdown cover carefully
You might only have a version of breakdown cover that will recover you to the nearest garage to your location, so make sure you’ve got the best cover available that will get you home/to where you need to be in the event of a breakdown. The peace of mind will be worth it, as it’s one less thing to stress about while you’re trying to concentrate on driving in challenging conditions.
- Belt and braces
General driving suggestions that apply all year round are well worth remembering in winter. So try not to drive your car around with the fuel light blazing as it’s on fumes; always make sure you’ve got at least quarter of a tank of fuel in it . Check its oil level to make sure the engine is in tip-top condition. If you’re mechanically savvy, or you know someone who is, then check (or have them check) the state of your brake discs, pads and fluid – tired brakes are going to lead to big problems in slippery conditions, as they will extend stopping distances. Check all the engine’s belts, plugs and leads where appropriate; or, as we said earlier, simply take it in for a service and get a mechanic to do all of this for you. Some garages even advertise low-price, comprehensive winter services/checks for vehicles, so find one of these and get your motor in for a check-up.