5 expert tips for a winter-ready car
As the UK suffers from more stormy and cold weather, insurance experts at A-plan Insurance have compiled a list of the top five tips to keep cars going through the winter.
Know how to read a dashboard
All cars come with lights and symbols to indicate an issue; however, these are not the same across all makes and models. Around 52% of drivers can correctly identify what the warning lights mean but it’s essential that drivers recognise the 12 most common symbols using the manual that came with the car.
If any of the red lights appear, that is an immediate warning to take your car to a garage so it can be fixed. If a yellow light appears, it can still be serious but not as urgent so take the vehicle to be checked as soon as possible.
Preparation is essential in winter as breaking down in the darker months with less visibility can be more dangerous.
Check tyre pressure and tread depth
Often, drivers don’t think about their tyres. By law, the minimum tread depth is 1.6mm, but it’s recommended that tyres should be changed at 3mm. Tread depth refers to the grooves in tyres and it helps to grip the road surface. In wet conditions, a shallow tread depth increases the chance of aquaplaning and losing control of the vehicle.
An easy test is to take a 20p coin and place it in the grooves of the tyre. If the outer band of the coin is visible, the tyre should be changed. It’s also good practice to test your tyres before any long journeys.
Tyre pressure normally sits between 20 and 30 psi on most vehicles, but to test this without a meter, place the palm of your hand on the tyre and push down. A tyre with low pressure will feel soft which is a good indication that the tyres need inflating.
Check the battery
The number one cause of vehicle breakdowns, in cold or wet weather, is the battery going flat. Batteries are at a greater risk of failure due to the cold temperatures slowing down the processes within the battery, which reduces its ability to hold a charge.
Cold weather can also cause condensation to form as the freezing air meets the hot air surrounding the battery and engine. This condensation can then cause corrosion which damages the components.
If the car sputters when the ignition is started or the red warning light flickers, the battery needs to be changed. This is even more important in electric vehicles as the charging speed and effectiveness of the battery can be impacted, leading to a less efficient vehicle.
Don’t let the car sit for a long time
Older, pre-1980's cars, needed to be left idling to warm up but for modern vehicles, this does more harm than good, damaging spark plugs and producing almost double the emissions of a moving car.
In a modern car, simply scraping ice off the windscreen gives enough time for the engine to warm up, but that isn’t enough to keep a car roadworthy.
To keep the engine in top shape, a short drive of around 15-20 minutes is needed. This doesn’t need to be every day, but regularly running a vehicle for this period keeps the battery and engine healthy and ensures that the oil is at a workable consistency to start the vehicle. A slow, gentle pace will allow the engine to warm up safely and ensure that all parts are working correctly.
Check the lights work and fluid levels are correct
As the nights and early mornings get darker, commuters should check their headlights, brake lights, and indicators are all working properly. Ask a friend to stand outside and check the lights to identify any bulbs that might need changing.
While performing these checks, inspecting the fluid levels in your car can also help to reduce the risk of damage. Checking the anti-freeze and oil levels can help to keep the engine running, and these are simple to top up without visiting a garage.
A spokesperson for A-plan Insurance added that:
“Driving in icy conditions or extensive rain can be difficult for most drivers. The most important thing is to take it slow and be mindful of other road users.
“It can be tempting to not drive at all in bad weather, but this can cause more damage to the vehicle and cost a lot in repairs come springtime.
“Freezing rain can build up on the moving parts over time so running the car at least three times a week will help to prevent unnecessary damage.”