Winter car checks: how to make your car safe and roadworthy over the colder months

As the darker nights and colder days set in, you’re probably more likely to be thinking about Christmas than you are your car.

However, if you want to keep safe and avoid any potential troubles on the roads, it’s important to give your vehicle a good onceover before heading out in a cold snap, as it will likely save you time in the long run as well. While many car dealerships will offer you a ‘vehicle health check’ or similar, there’s nothing stopping you from doing it yourself, and saving some money in the process.

Here’s how to get your car winter ready…

Check under the bonnet

Close-Up Of Woman Checking Car Engine Oil Level On Dipstick
Checking your car’s fluids helps to prevent a breakdown, which is especially important in poor weather conditions. (Castrol)

If you haven’t been under the bonnet of your car for a while, with winter fast approaching, now is a good time to do so.

Visibility is key so check the washer fluid as a priority. In the summer months away you can get away with using water, but for winter it’s best to use a dedicated screenwash, which can also contain an anti-freezing agent. You can usually find the washer fluid by looking for a blue filler cap that’s normally embossed. On newer cars, it might even tell you if it’s low on the dashboard, but you can easily check by filling it up until you can start to see the liquid.

While you’re here you should check your car’s oil levels as well. You can see the level by looking at the dipstick: take it out, wipe it clean and then return it to the engine. Then bring it out once again and that will tell you the level of oil in the engine. If low, you really should top it up and be sure to use the appropriate oil, which your vehicle’s handbook should be able to tell you.

Windscreen and wipers

Winter weather Jan 16th 2021
(PA)

After this, have a look at your windscreen. It’s a good idea to do this when your vehicle is clean, as it makes spotting any chips or damage in the glass much easier. If there are small chips, these should be repairable and will help to avoid any larger cracks that are more likely to develop when the temperatures are colder. If there are any larger cracks already, it means your windscreen will need to be replaced as your vehicle won’t be classed as roadworthy.

Wipers are also key, especially when visibility is often compromised when roads are muckier and often covered in salt.

Put your wipers on and if they aren’t clearing the glass effectively, perhaps if they’re missing patches or just smearing the dirt, they really should be replaced so as to not compromise visibility. If your car has a rear wiper, don’t forget to check this too. Your local auto parts shop should be able to supply the right kind and it’s also an easy job to replace them too.

Buy yourself an emergency kit

In winter the chances of breaking down or being stuck on the road increase, and the last thing you want is not to be prepared for any eventualities. It’s why it’s worth investing in a kit for your vehicle. A first aid kit is a must, but there are plenty of other things that are worth including, such as a hi-vis jacket, warning triangle, de-icer and scraper and a torch. Warm clothes, wellies and a shovel are also decent additions to have with you.

Tyres

Check tyre tread depth
(Tyre Safe)

As the only part of the car that’s in contact with the road, tyres are a really important part of your car to check, regardless of whether it’s summer or winter.

The first thing to do is to check them for damage, whether that be cracks, bulges or rips. If there are any of these you should seek out a new tyre to ensure your safety on the road. After this, you need to look at tread depths and pressures. For depth, your tyres need to have a minimum of 16mm of tread – something that can be done by using the outer edge of a 20p coin. Though 16mm is the absolute minimum, for winter it’s worth making sure your tyres have a bit more tread as grip levels are severely reduced. You then need to make sure that your tyres are at the correct pressure – you should be able to find this information either in the petrol filler flap of your car or in your vehicle’s handbook.

You could think about winter tyres too, though you should make sure those already on your car are safe as your first port of call.

Visibility is key

Winter weather Dec 4th 2020
(PA)

Darker days mean compromised visibility, and here your car’s lights are especially important, not just so that you can see but also so that others can see you as well.

Put your car’s lights on, and inspect the front and rear to ensure there are no bulbs or elements out. Don’t forget to check fog lamps and indicators too. For brake lights, you’ll either need a friend to help or use a reflective surface as a mirror – another car or garage door, for example.

Check the battery

With colder weather comes a greater chance of your car’s battery failing. The last thing you want to do is get to your car only for it not to start, and it’s why it’s worth spending the time beforehand to check that it’s working properly.

While you can get home battery testing kits, this is a part where it could be worth asking a specialist to inspect it for you to see if it’s holding a decent amount of charge. If you need a replacement battery, prices start from around £60 fitted, but those for specialist cars can be easily upwards of £100. Not all batteries are the same though, so getting the right one is a must.