1. Headlights – don’t be a “One eyed monster”
Are they working properly? Do any bulbs need replacing? Are you sure?! It is dark morning and night at this time of year and you might face freezing fog as well, so you need to keep an eye on your fog lights too. Even in the hours of daylight, the weather conditions may mean visibility is impaired.
No doubt you will have encountered the ‘one eyed monsters’ on the road. A missing headlight, side light or brake light can be confusing to other road users and if the other one goes out as well it can be extremely dangerous.
This a simple winter car check you can do yourself. Shine your lights on a wall or the back of a bus. Check for reflections in shop windows or on the wall in the car park. Walk round the car or get a friend to check for you.
Being caught with a light out can lead to a fixed penalty notice and a minimum £30.00 fine.
In addition, weather conditions at this time of the year can make your headlights dirty quickly and you might not want to wash your car when it is below zero! Use a clean cloth to wipe the headlights as often as you need to (you should also take the opportunity to clean your registration plates)
2. Windscreen – don’t drive blind
Allow yourself enough time to defrost your car properly before you start your journey! Make sure that you keep your windscreen fluid topped up at this time of year, using a fluid that is suitable for winter conditions. Check that your windscreen wipers are working properly and in good condition and use your car’s heating system and rear-screen heater to help defrost and de-mist the windscreen and melt any ice.
If it has snowed, take care to remove as much loose snow from your car as you can before you start your journey. Snow flying off vehicles can cause an obstruction to the visibility of other road users and potentially be quite dangerous.
It’s advisable to carry additional screenwash in the car. Running out can quickly lead to your windscreen becoming obscured by salt and grime. You may also want to get any windscreen chips or cracks looked at, as the cold could lead to them becoming much more severe. Don’t forget to wipe the inside of your windscreen as well.
It may be tempting to leave the car running while you retreat to the warm but it is actually an offence to leave your car running unattended. In addition, this is giving a potential thief an opportunity to make off with your car while your car insurance is invalid!
3. Tyre tread & pressures
As the condition of the road deteriorates in poor weather conditions, it is in your interest to check that your tyres have a decent tread and are well inflated. Although the minimum legal tread depth is 1.6mm, the AA recommends at least 2mm and preferably 3mm in winter conditions. This will dramatically improve your ability to steer and brake safely.
Check your tyre pressure frequently in cold weather. Tyre pressure can drop with the air temperature and this can lead to premature wear on your tyres and reduce your ability to grip the road properly.
If you drive frequently in winter, or in an area which is prone to snow and ice, you might want to consider a set of winter tyres. They offer better grip when the temperature heads below freezing
4. Has your battery taken a battering?
Car batteries have an average lifespan of around 5 years and battery failure is one of the main reasons why people call a breakdown service. In the cold weather, there can be extra demands on them from lights, heating and wipers. In addition, cold weather makes the engine harder to turn over and reduces the amount of energy your car battery produces. If you are struggling to start the engine, turn off all these extras before trying again. The AA advises using the starter in short, sharp burst. If the engine doesn’t start quickly, wait a good 30 seconds between attempts to avoid flooding the engine. If you haven’t used your car in a while, you could consider giving the battery an extra charge overnight.
5. Be Prepared
Check that you have a winter driving survival kit packed in the car, particularly if you are driving a long distance or bad weather is forecast. It might be better to stay at home but if you can’t avoid the journey, at least make sure that you are prepared if you break down or get stuck. This should include the following:
Torch & spare batteries
Anti-freeze and screen wash
Set of warm clothes – hat, gloves, scarf and coat
Food and drink
Spare phone charger
In addition, don’t forget to check your fuel levels before leaving home and top up if necessary. The last thing you want to do in freezing conditions is run out of fuel and get stranded on the side of the road!
These are all small checks that even the least mechanically-able of us can perform to ensure that we stay safe and mobile on the roads this winter. However, the unexpected can always happen so it is a good time to double check that you have adequate breakdown cover as well – just in case!