Checklist: How To Prepare Your Car For Winter

    Person in winter defrosting their car
    Published: 6 January 2022. Written in partnership with WhatCar?

    Winter is here, but have you prepared your car for freezing weather? We have a checklist of everything you need to think about when it comes to your car and winter. So here’s a checklist to help you prepare your car for winter…

    No-one likes heading out of the house in harsh weather. But, even as the winds of winter start to blow, millions of motorists will be taking to the roads. In fact, in 2019 over 31.2 million trips for leisure were made by car across the UK in the depths of December.[1]

    Whether you’re planning on driving the length of the country, or simply popping to the shops for some hearty snacks, it’s imperative that your car is ready for anything and everything that winter will throw at it – whether it’s snow, ice, rain or sludge. This is even more important when you consider that 45% of motorists fail to do any safety checks on their car before the start of winter – not only endangering themselves, but other road users.[2]

    We’ve partnered with the experts over at WhatCar? to ask them exactly what you need to consider when making sure your car is safe for driving in winter. So, in order to keep you on the right track as the weather turns colder, here’s some essential advice to help you get your car winter ready.

    Fuel & EV charging

    Man in winter filling up his car with fuel

    Let’s start with the most basic check: fuel. Research shows that roughly 800,000 UK motorists break down every year due to running their tank dry.[3] With fuel-heavy stop/start traffic more likely in poor weather, and with journeys taking longer than usual, you’ll need to keep an eye on your gauge and ensure your tank has sufficient fuel for every trip. You don’t want to be waiting for recovery in the cold!

    Equally, the large-capacity lithium-ion batteries of electric cars don’t run quite as efficiently in colder weather. That means the maximum range you get out of a full charge might be smaller than you expect, compared to summer driving.  So, make sure you’re fully charged and have pre-warmed your car’s batteries before you unplug and get in. Equally, plan your trips and charging stops accordingly to compensate for any loss in range.

    Oil

    Research has revealed that three million UK drivers don’t know how to check their oil level, while 19% of motorists never plunge the dipstick[4]. As the bloodline of your engine, it’s vital to check your oil level regularly. If your engine lubricant runs too low, it will cause the metal components to grind and eventually seize. If the oil level is towards the minimum requirement, make sure to top up.

    Tyres

    Tyres in winter snow driving

    As the only source of direct contact with the road, your tyres are arguably the most important safety feature of your car – and good-quality well-maintained tyres can save your life. But, less than 30% of drivers know the minimum legal tread depth[5], while in one year there were over 11,000 winter tyre-related incidents across the UK.[6].

    Before the roads get too wet and icy, you need to check your tread and pressures. The legal tyre tread depth for cars in the UK is 1.6mm – you can check this using a tyre depth gauge, or by using a 20p coin. If you can’t see the outer band of the 20p your tyres are within the legal limit.

    Ideally, for wet, icy or snowy conditions, you should have a minimum tread depth of 3mm. So, during winter, make sure you check your tyres every fortnight, and before long journeys. If your tread is going below the advised limits, consider getting new rubber.

    All-season tyres offer a good balance of performance between summer and winter driving. But, if you want to go a step further, a set of winter-specific tyres are a great investment. Covered in chunky tread and with a chemical compound that offers better grip in cold weather, winter tyres perform better in wet and slippery conditions, and even on dry roads so long as the temperature is below seven degrees.

    Windscreen washer fluid

    As snow, slush, mud and road salt cakes your windscreen during the winter, you’ll find yourself reaching for the washer stalk much more during the colder months. So, not only is it important to carry extra ready-mixed fluid in your boot at all times, but also that you’re using fluid that’s effective down to temperatures of at least -15c – the lower you can get, the better!

    Wiper blades

    Road signs in winter with snow

    While ensuring that you have enough washer fluid, making sure your wipers can properly clear your screen is equally vital to safe winter driving. To check the condition of your blades, simply spray washer fluid and see if the wipers clear the water properly. If the blades streak, skip, squeak or smear, it’s time for new ones. You can also check your wiper blades by running your finger along the rubber, if it feels rough or you find any splits, they’re not fit for purpose.

    It’s also recommended to keep your wiper blades raised off the screen during cold nights that could leave an icy morning frost. This means when you come to drive in the morning, your wipers won’t be frozen to the glass.

    Windows

    As basic as it may seem, having clean windows can be the difference between staying safe or having an accident. Give the inside of all windows a good clean with window polish or glass cleaner to combat smeers, glare, streaks and dirt blocking your view. Keeping silica gel packets in your car to absorb moisture can help fight condensation, too, while an ice-scraper and de-icer in the boot means you’ll never be caught out by the frost.

    Headlights

    Headlights in winter driving

    During the darker months, it’s crucial to keep both your headlights and taillights clean. Giving them a wipe every week or so will ensure you can see, and be seen. It’s also key to check all your bulbs – headlights, indicators and brakes – are working as they should be. If one’s out or looks dim, don’t wait to get it changed.

    Coolant

    Coolant (water mixed with antifreeze) is pumped round your engine to prevent overheating. While coolant rarely needs topping up, it’s important to make sure the level is between the Min and Max markers. If your coolant level does drop suddenly, you’ve probably got a leak and need to head for a garage. Remember, never open the coolant tank when the engine is hot, or you’ll risk scalding yourself!

    Battery

    In freezing temperatures, your car battery is under far more stress, so it’s important to make sure it’s up to the job. If your battery is more than five-years-old, consider getting it replaced. Equally, if your car struggles to start or you have a loss of electrical power, it’s probably time to change.

    Every so often, you should also check the battery terminals are clean and tight. If they need a scrub, disconnect the battery entirely (negative terminal first) and use an old toothbrush and a mixture of warm water and baking soda. If you’re unsure or wary of your car’s electrics, let the professionals take a look.

    Winter driving kit

    Hazard triangle in the road when driving

    Sometimes, despite all your precautions, luck won’t be on your side. If you are unfortunate enough to experience a breakdown during winter, it’s important you have everything you need to keep you and your passengers warm, fed and most importantly, safe. Having a basic winter kit in your car at all times will ensure you’re never caught out by the elements.

    • We’d suggest keeping the following in your boot:
    • Blanket
    • Ice scraper/de-icer
    • Phone charger
    • Map & torch
    • Jump leads
    • Tow rope
    • High-visibility jacket & warning triangle
    • Basic first aid kit
    • Water and food
    • A small shovel, if you have room

    So, by following our list of 10 essential winter safety checks, you and your car should be ready for anything winter has to offer.

    Is your car prepared but still feeling nervous about driving in winter? We have 10 essential tips for safer winter driving that will keep you feeling confident on the roads.

    As a Vitality car insurance member, you could get rewarded for your good driving. Available with qualifying car insurance plans. Log in to Member Zone for the details.

    [1] About the data in this release: planned leisure trips based on RAC survey conducted w/c 9 December 2019 by Ragdoll Research of drivers’ travel plans (sample size 1,600 UK motorists who are planning on driving across the surveyed period); congestion and road-specific information based on INRIX data. Globally, INRIX analyses 500 Terabytes of data from 300 million different sources covering over 5 million miles of road. The data used is the congested or uncongested status of every segment of road for every minute of the day
    [2] https://www.gov.uk/government/news/survey-shows-many-drivers-wont-be-ready-when-winter-bites