hero banner

A practical guide to safe motoring in winter

6 minute read

Before you jump into the car in the freezing cold, get it ready for the chilly challenge!

As winter approaches, it's crucial to prepare your vehicle for the challenges that the cold, wet, icy, and generally inclement weather winter can bring.

Ensuring your car – or whatever you drive – is winter-ready not only improves your safety on the road, it also helps prevent potential breakdowns. In this guide, we explore practical steps to ‘winterising’ your vehicle for a smooth and safe driving experience.

Check your tyres

Top of the list – start by paying attention to your tyres. They are your car's first line of defence against slippery roads. Ensure they have adequate tread depth, and if you live in an area prone to heavy snowfall, consider switching to winter tyres. Winter tyres offer improved traction and control in icy conditions – as the RAC explains, “They have a softer rubber compound, along with deeper grooves and narrow cuts – called sipes – built into the tread. These features help disperse water/snow, and allow the rubber to flex – improving traction and grip in cold conditions.”

If you’re in the UK, you’re not really likely to need chains, that would be unusual. But regularly check tyre pressure, as it tends to drop in colder temperatures. Squashy tyres won’t grip as effectively.

Check the battery

Cold weather can take a toll on your car's battery. Before winter sets in, test your battery to ensure it's in good condition. Clean any corrosion from the terminals and tighten connections. You can get a kit to test the battery for under £10, and it’s money well spent.

If your battery is more than three years old, consider replacing it to avoid the inconvenience of a sudden breakdown on a cold winter day. You don’t want to find yourself stranded with a flat battery in the freezing weather.

Top up all your fluids

You should have antifreeze/coolant as a standard in your engine water, but it’s worth checking on that, to make sure it doesn’t need topping up, or balancing. Too much water in the ratio can make the water freeze.

As well as this, cold weather can cause other fluids to thicken or freeze. Regularly check and top up your engine oil, transmission fluid, brake fluid, and windscreen wash. Consider using winter-grade windscreen wash to prevent freezing.

Check lights, wipers, and window heaters

Visibility is paramount in winter weather. Ensure all your lights are in working order, including headlights, brake lights, and indicators. Replace any burnt-out bulbs and make sure everything is clean, so the light is clear. Check the fog light, and just run through all the variations for the rest of the lights – main beam, side lights and so on – to make sure it’s all functioning correctly.

Check and replace windscreen wipers if they show signs of wear and tear, as they’re essential for maintaining clear visibility in challenging conditions. Ice plays havoc with old rubber and old blades – so go into the colder weather with wipers that work. And now is a good time to check the rear window heater. Because you can buy a repair kit on Amazon, again for under a tenner.

Prepare an emergency kit

If you haven’t already got one, this is a no-brainer. Being prepared for unexpected situations is key to safe winter driving.

Assemble an emergency kit that includes items such as a blanket, non-perishable snacks, bottles of water, a torch, a first aid kit, and a basic toolkit. It's also advisable to have jump leads, an ice scraper or de-icer spray (or both), and a shovel in your car in case you encounter unexpected challenges on the road. And you should have this already, but just in case – get a triangle.

Check the brakes

Winter conditions demand optimal brake performance – this goes without saying. Having your brakes inspected by a professional to ensure they are in good working order is a really good practice.

Protect the exterior

Finally, winter road treatments such as salt and sand can be harsh on your car's exterior. Regularly wash and wax your vehicle to provide a protective barrier against corrosive substances. Pay special attention to the undercarriage, as it’s particularly vulnerable to salt damage.

If you’re not confident finding your way around your vehicle – or you know someone who isn’t – it’s worth noting that many garages will offer a free winter car check, and many branches of Halfords do this too.

Preparing your car for winter is a sensible step towards safe and stress-free driving during horrible weather conditions. By focusing on essential areas such as tyres, battery, fluids, lights, and brakes, you not only enhance your safety but also ensure your vehicle performs optimally when you need it the most. Stay prepared, and enjoy the winter season with confidence on the road.

Seafoam coloured wave on white background