Looking after your car this winter: FAQs

Need a hand looking after your car this winter? You may think your car will protect you through the trials and tribulations of icy roads and foggy windows, but you need to make sure it’s prepared with the right tools.

In this article, I’ll give you some tips and tricks you can use to get the most out of your car this winter and make sure you’re safe out on the roads.

What winter does to your car

Extreme cold, which we’re unlikely to get in the UK, can seriously affect your vehicle.

It pulls voltage from your battery, thickens your oil and brake/transmission fluids and reduces your tire pressure (up to one psi for every 10C drop!).

However, even in the milder winters, we get these issues are still a factor. One of the worst habits drivers forget about is changing their wiper blades semi-regularly, especially when they start to notice streaks.

You need to clear the windshields before you turn on the blades to prevent them from getting torn due to the cold – they’re only rubber after all.

Spark plug failures are also another issue to look out for – always make sure you get yours checked out before the cold weather starts to make sure your car will keep running throughout the winter.

What is the best winter car cover?

On the one hand, a car cover can help protect your car from snow making it easy to remove first thing in the morning in one swoop.

On the other hand, condensation can be trapped underneath and if it’s cold enough, the cover will become brittle (sort of like a sheet left on the clothesline in frost), meaning it will crack when you try and remove it. It can even stick to the car if the condensation freezes them together.

However, they can be useful if you’re storing a car in the garage over winter. You should use a cotton, breathable cover to prevent dust from gathering on your car.

What is the best winter car battery?

There’s no need to get a specific winter battery, however, if you know your battery is on the way out you should get it checked and/or replaced before the cold weather sets in – especially if it’s over 5 years old.

You should be looking for anything loose or corroded, especially the cables. When you switch off your car, make sure everything electrical is switched off to give your car the best chance of starting up first time the next time you drive it.

What are the best winter car tyres?

Car tyre in show looking after your car this winter

When the temperature falls below 7C, summer tyres begin to experience faulty performance as a thin layer of ice on the road will begin to weaken them, leading to poor handling and braking.

It’s important to switch your tyres over if you know you’ll be driving in any form of cold weather.

I can’t say what the best winter tyres are for your car as there are tonnes of different manufacturers out there – it’s best to go to your local trusted dealer or Quickfit to ask as they’ll be fully qualified to give you the appropriate tyres.

What to put in a winter car emergency kit

It’s up to you what you believe your essentials are, but as a basis, you should start with:

  • Blankets/Warm Coats
  • Boots
  • Engine Oil
  • Washer fluid
  • Coolant
  • Flashlight
  • Spare tyre kit
    • Repair kit/spare tyre
    • Car jack
    • Locking wheel nut key

What does a winter car service involve?

A winter car service is generally on the same level as a normal service (depending on whether you’ve got a full service or the basic service) however they will check tyre pressure, battery checks, light checks, wiper blade changes, oil changes and possibly anti-freeze screen wash top-up.

However, some manufacturers may do slightly different checks so you should check with your garage.

What is a winter car check?

Many places, such as Halfords, will offer a free winter check which looks at your car lights, wiper blades, oil, and car battery and a free screen wash top-up as part of a winter check.

They’ll also offer a 10-point check, including windscreen treatment and anti-freeze changes for an extra cost (£59.99 at the time of writing).

What is winter car oil?

As we previously discussed, oil can thicken in the cold weather. Winter oil can either contain anti-freeze elements or be created thinner to reduce the thickening effects.

How to store your car for the winter

Behind the wheel driving in snow

You should store your car in a safe and dry building.

Before you leave your car for the winter, all oil and fluid levels should be topped up. Your tires should be inflated to the recommended proper level and your battery should be corrosion-free.

It’s recommended you wash the car thoroughly before you store it away to prevent any paint damage, including wax-polishing the exterior.

Depending on the battery, you may want to remove it and store it inside the house, leaving it on a piece of wood and connecting it to a maintainer/tender, not a trickle charger.

Some newer models don’t allow you to remove batteries to preserve the computer’s memory – if this is the case, connect the tender to the battery while the hood is ajar so you can run the cables into the engine bay.

Windows should be rolled down an inch (hence the safe place to store), to prevent moisture from building up inside the cabin.

If you know there are likely to be mice or rats within the storage place, fill up any holes (such as the exhaust pipe) with steel wool balls or laundry fabric sheets. Use a high-quality cotton fitted cover to allow the car to breathe.

How often should you wash your car in the winter?

Honestly…it depends on where you are and how much dirt gets on your car, as well as personal preference.

If you’ve driven it on a heavily salted road, there’s a risk that salt will start to corrode the underside of your car and so you may want to rinse it off regularly.

If your car is kept outside, you need to make sure you can dry it so it doesn’t freeze, or do it when it’s a milder temperature.

How to get your car winter-ready

Make sure you do all of these as a minimum:

  • Fill up the tank
  • Replace your windshield wipers
  • Ensure all fluids are topped up
  • Check tyre pressure
  • Change to winter tyres if possible
  • Check  battery cables and fluid levels are up to scratch

Winter car tips and tricks

A common misconception is that you should idle your car for 10-15 minutes first thing to “warm up” the engine. This may be true of old cars with carburetted engines, however, it may be doing more harm than good in your nice new Mercedes.

Modern vehicles only need a minute or two before you start driving, or else you’ll be stripping vital oil from the cylinders and pistons of your engine.

To ensure a nice long life for your engine, clear the windscreen with an ice scraper and go, making sure to drive relatively slowly for the first  5-15 minutes till everything is warmed up, or else you’ll be wasting petrol/diesel.

Leaving the car frequently almost empty in the winter can cause the moist air within the tank to freeze and crystallize, leading to ice in the fuel lines.

By filling up more frequently, you’re doing your car a big favour. There is a gas line antifreeze available, but generally speaking, it’s better to avoid having to use it. A lot of petrol stations already add anti-freeze to their petrol during colder months, but not all of them.

Never never NEVER use hot water to clear your windscreen. That water will find any tiny chip that’s already there and expand, causing it to go from a tiny little chip to a massive crack across the glass.

Use an ice scraper and some antifreeze instead. It may take a little longer, but it’ll be worth it. I promise.

Don’t slam on the breaks when you’re on an icy road or you’re pretty much guaranteed to spin out. In other words, no speeding. Patience is key with winter driving – better late than crashing your car, right?

So, here are my top tips for looking after your car during the winter months. Remember, it’s always best to be over-prepared than under-prepared!

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