For drivers, Autumn is the transitional period between summer and winter driving. As the days get shorter and the weather starts to take a turn for the worse, many owners start to think about preparing for winter.
So, just exactly what do you need? To help answer this question, we’ve compiled a comprehensive winter car checklist. Follow all of the items on here and you can easily start preparing your car for winter.
Of course, one of the biggest changes in winter is the condition of the roads. Even when it is not snowing, the various forms of sleet, slush and rain ensure that you need different parameters from your car tyres.
A set of winter tyres should be included in any winter car kit check.
Specifically, winter tyres focus on a number of important areas, such as better grip and braking distances on wet surfaces. If you’re not buying new tyres, such as using your existing winter set, then make sure you check their roadworthiness before you drive out on them. Ensure you have the right tyre pressure and that the tread depth is above the legal minimum of 1.6mm. Due to the extra grip and traction needed during this time of year, we would advise ensuring the tread depth is no less than 3 mm. This keeps the grooves and sipes deep enough to ensure water dispersion and protection against the likes of aquaplaning.
Furthermore, if you happen to live in a particularly rural area, where the roads are less frequently maintained, you might want to invest in snow chains or snow socks.
A smooth engine is vital to making it through winter conditions, as numerous factors put extra pressure on the motor to keep the car in motion. As such, ensuring you have all the necessary fluids is a great way to reduce the risk of any surprise breakdown when driving in heavy snow and other difficult environments.
The colder periods can play havoc with your engine, especially as many drivers mistakenly assume they don’t need coolant. This fluid serves to prevent the engine from overheating and, when you’re pushing your vehicle through difficult conditions, this will prove vital in ensuring your car runs as smoothly as possible.
Of course, at the same time, you should also want to stock up on antifreeze. As the name suggests, this is important in ensuring your engine doesn’t freeze - which is more than possible during the colder months. However, as many experienced drivers know, antifreeze works a little differently to other fluids.
When preparing your car for winter, check if it is time to change your antifreeze.
Specifically, you should keep the antifreeze in your tank for around 3 years, before draining it completely and refilling. This is because antifreeze actually loses its anticorrosive properties over time, so anything that is kept in the car too long will start to become corrosive and less efficient. Draining the tank completely is the only way to ensure this expired coolant isn’t in the system.
Likewise, there are a few different types of antifreeze available, with the most common being ethylene-glycol. However, you should always check which type is recommended for your specific engine. On this note, you should always check to ensure whether or not you are adding pure antifreeze or a pre-mixed compound of water and antifreeze. If it is the former, you should also ensure water is added, at an approximate 1:1 ratio.
Similarly, you always want to ensure you have enough oil in your engine. This is relatively simple to do, as a dipstick provides a perfectly good measure of how much oil is available. If you need more, simply add it. Just be sure to do this slowly, as it is much easier to put oil in then it is to remove any excess.
Aside from the engine, there are a number of other vital fluids you should top up on, especially since you’re going to be opening the hood to take care of the engine anyway.
Winter can bring a lot of precipitation, be it rain, snow or something in between. As such, your windscreen wipers are going to be busy. If you haven’t topped up on screen wash, this could result in a lot of streaking marks across your windscreen, hampering your vision.
During the winter months, it’s important to ensure good visibility through your windscreen.
As an added benefit, screen wash typically has a lower cooling temperature than water so, when ice starts to form, your car won’t end up with frozen washer jets.
We already mentioned earlier that some good snow tyres will help ensure good grip and braking distances but, as far as the latter is concerned, braking fluid is just as vital. If this is running low, simply top it up so it’s close to the maximum value.
Of course, if you topped it up recently and it is lower than it should be, this could be a good time to get the brakes checked. Excessive use (or loss) of fluid could be a sign of a leak, or perhaps a pad that is getting highly worn down. In any case, checking the fluid can be a good warning sign for other issues. Yet you should consider checking the brake pads as well. If they are starting to get worn down, they should be replaced before the winter season, rather than after, to ensure your car is at its best when it comes to braking in wet conditions.
Power steering fluid
Power steering fluid is a crucial for well maintained power steering and, during the tougher months, the support offered by power steering is highly appreciated by countless drivers. It goes without saying, then, to ensure that your power steering fluid is topped up. As with most other fluids, ensure this is somewhere in between the maximum and minimum values on the tank.
Ice building up can be a problem, whether it’s on windows, hinges or other vital areas. As such, it never hurts to have an ice scraper in your car - as well as a spare one in your garage.
Furthermore, while many people swear by the use of hot water to melt ice, this can often be a slow process. Likewise, it is not much use when you are not at home and need to de-ice your car without access to this resource.
Having some way to break and clear ice is important
Fortunately, you can also apply glycerin, which is readily available in a variety of places. This is more useful outside of your car, however, so try to keep a small bottle at home and at work - if it’s inside your glove compartment, it won’t provide much help when you’re trying to break the ice to get in!
Another way to protect your car from ice is to ensure that it does not form in the first place. Covering your car with protective fabric - such as a specialised car cover or even a piece of tarpaulin - can provide a layer between your car and the elements.
While this has its most benefits on cars parked outside, you may want to consider if your garage is dry enough. If water is getting in and freezing overnight, ice can still form. In these cases, you may want to consider including a car cover in your car winter kit.
Check your car battery
A car battery is vital throughout the year but, in winter, it is often in much more demand. Air conditioning and heating, for instance, is a perfect example. This is rarely used in the summer but often becomes a regular part of a cold morning drive.
In addition to this, the cold weather, especially when it is damp, can also limit your batteries remaining efficiency. It’s always worth checking to see how much juice is left in your battery (if you don’t have the right tools for this, take it to a garage), especially if you’re planning a long trip. It may be safer to install a new battery.
The damp, colder weather can often impact the efficiency of your car battery.
Similarly, you never know if you’re going to be caught without battery power - especially if the weather drops sharply and there’s less energy than you thought. In these instances, it certainly wouldn’t hurt to have some jump leads spare, incase other motorists are able to help you out.
In winter, the night often gets darker and lasts for longer. This, in addition to the need to look out for ice and other dangerous conditions, requires drivers to use their car lights quite often, including high beam visibility.
This would make the period leading up to winter an excellent opportunity to check your light bulbs and ensure everything is in working order, otherwise you risk losing visibility at a crucial moment.
As far as general maintenance goes, it’s worth cleaning the lights on a regular basis, to ensure dirt doesn’t build up and dim the light as a result. Likewise, some spare bulbs are always worth having on hand - you should replace your lights when they start to dim with wear and use, rather than wait for them to completely give out. In the UK, a set of spare bulbs is a requirement for all motorists, yet the approaching winter makes for a good opportunity to check and inspect your lights.
Lock and door seals
Ever noticed how doors are harder to open in the winter? The cold weather does but, fortunately various special sprays can be applied to the seals on your car doors and locks.
On the other hand, if you don’t want to spend this kind of money on a product with very limited (yet worthwhile) use, you can achieve similar results with vaseline. Apply the vaseline to the lock and then turn it back and forth. After a few turns, this will ensure a consistent coating of vaseline and, done every week or so, this will help protect the seals from freezing shut.
Emergency winter car accessories
It’s always best to be prepared for an emergency. You never know when you might need to spend a few hours in your car during a cold period, for instance, or when you need to brave the elements and do some repairs outside. The law in the UK requires drivers to carry a few basic supplies as mandatory car equipment, but it always helps to be prepared for a wider range of scenarios.
We also suggest including the following winter car accessories and supplies:
A charger for your phone. If you’re stuck or lost somewhere, being able to access the internet (or even GPS) can quickly resolve any issues. Having a charger ensures you don’t lose power too soon
A hi-visibility vest. If you have to do repairs or maintenance in poor light conditions, a hi-vis vest will ensure other motorists can see and avoid you. This will greatly improve your safety, especially if you’re on busy roads, such as highways.
A shovel. If you get snowed in and want to remove the snow (or mud) blocking your path, a shovel can make light work of most obstructions. There are many foldable or collapsible variants that can easily fit in your car boot.
A tow rope, on the other hand, can be essential if your car gets stuck - or, more specifically, the wheels become bogged down and need a little extra force to get free. On the other hand, a tow rope also allows you to stop and help other drivers in need.
A pair of wellington boots. Not only will these keep your regular clothes clean, they can ensure a good level of grip and support when walking on wet surfaces. Likewise, they can also be kept in the boot of your car - or even in a plastic bag - to ensure the interior of your vehicle stays clean.
A torch or flashlight is also essential. As we mentioned earlier, the winter period is characterised by long nights and fading light conditions. A strong torch ensures you always have access to a light source when you need it. We would also advise a spare set of batteries as well, just in case!
Some warm clothes will also be useful. If you need to leave your vehicle when the weather is dropping, a few extra layers will help keep you warm. We also recommend keeping an old rug or blanket in the car too. This can be used to kneel on when doing repairs and can also help keep the car clean.
Always ensure you have something to eat and drink in the car. A bottle of water is a perfect example, while protein bars and other quick snacks can provide you with energy when you need it. These items don’t need to be changed too often (as opposed to, say, making a sandwich everyday) but can prove entirely useful in some dire situations.
Finally, while it goes without saying, make sure you have enough fuel! You may find you use fuel more quickly during the winter, due to added rolling resistance and other driving factors, so always ensure your tank has more in it than normal.
always ensure your car is never close to being empty.
This also applies to electric vehicles - try and keep your car as fully charged as possible, as you don’t want to be stuck outside with a dead battery away from a charging station!
As you can see, there are a quite a few things to consider when it comes to preparing your car for winter. Yet, our checklist should help ensure you have all the vital equipment you need to keep your car in working order. It is always better to be prepared than to run into a surprise disaster and not have the right supplies on hand!