How to prepare your car for winter

Auto Trader’s experts show you the best way to get your car ready for winter, to help you survive whatever the weather throws at you.

Words by: First published: 26th November 2015
Winter is a tough time for everyone and everything - but especially for your car. Colder temperatures, poorer weather and more hours of darkness all contribute to making life on the road more treacherous than at any other time of the year. However, if you plan ahead and follow our tips below, you can lessen the impact of the season on your driving.
How to prepare your car for winter
How to prepare your car for winter
Being able to see out of your car is absolutely crucial at any time of the year, so you should always keep them clean. But, it’s even more of a problem in the winter when the combination of grimy windows and a low sun can be a blinding combination. So, before the slush and spray do their worst, make sure everything is clear and clean – inside and out. Also, keep an eye out for any cracks in the screen that could get much worse in cold weather; and, last, but not least, keep a pair of sunglasses in the glovebox.
...and be seen
It’s every bit as important that people can see your car, so make sure that all your lights are clear of grime and muck, as well as being undamaged. And, remember, when we say every light, we mean every light – headlights, tail-lights, indicators (including any repeaters on the side of the car) and foglights.
Get a grip
With the prospect of wet roads, snow and ice, it’s vital that your tyres are in a fit state to cope. Although the legal minimum tread depth is 1.6mm across 75% of a tyre’s width around the whole wheel, we recommend you have at least 3mm over winter. You can check the depth using a tread depth gauge or get a rough idea by looking at the tread wear indicators or using a coin. If you have less than 3mm of tread left, you should get the tyres replaced.

You could also consider fitting a set of winter tyres, which give you more grip and shorter stopping distances in poor conditions. They don’t just work in snow and ice, either; as long as the temperature remains below seven degrees Celsius, they’re better than the equivalent summer tyre.
How to prepare your car for winter
How to prepare your car for winter
Clean blades
You can guarantee that winter will throw all manner of rubbish onto your windscreen, so make sure that your wipers are up to the job of swishing it away. Clear any muck away from the blades, and if they’re worn or damaged, get them replaced sharpish.
Fill your boots
Preparing ahead will mean you don’t struggle if the worst does happen and you get stuck. A scraper is vital for clearing snow and ice from the windscreen; a shovel will help dig your way out of snow; and, it’s worth chucking in some old bits of carpet, which you can use to put under the wheels to get extra traction. A first aid kit is a good idea, too, as are a torch, a warning triangle and a tow-rope. It’s also worth having a hi-vis jacket and some spare warm clothes to hand, as well as some boots, in case you need to walk in snow.
Vital supplies
In case you are stranded away from civilisation and have to wait in your car for a while, keep a supply of food and drink inside that can sustain you. And, while you’re thinking of stuff to leave in the glovebox, don’t forget a phone charger, as the last thing you want is to lose your only means of communication in the event of trouble.
Top up
Make sure that all the car’s fluids are at the proper level. That starts with the screenwash (and, remember, you’ll get through this far more quickly in winter than at any other time of year), but also extends to the anti-freeze. As well as making sure you have enough, you should also ensure that it doesn’t need replacing – which a local garage can do for you. Last, but not least, always make sure you leave a decent amount of fuel in the car, so that you can keep the engine running and the heater on if you get stuck in the middle of nowhere.
How to prepare your car for winter
How to prepare your car for winter
Route planner
In case an accident blocks your way on an unfamiliar road, it’s worth having a road atlas in the car, which you can use to find your way around the problem.
Taking charge
Winter is as tough a test as a battery can face, what with you needing lights, wipers and heating more often than at other times of the year. So, give your battery a health check – which can be done by a local garage – and consider replacing it if it’s getting on for five years old, which is the average life expectancy of a battery, according to the AA.
Clear leaves
Autumn will bring down loads of leaves, and there’s a strong chance lots will end up stuck under the edge of your bonnet. It’s important that you clear these away as soon as possible, because if you let them block the drains that would usually take away rain water, you could find water overflowing and leaking into your car.
Related topics:
Car ownership