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Winter checklist: essential car preparations 2021

Use our driving in snow and winter checklist to ensure you’ve got all the winter essential preparations in place for driving safely in snow and icy roads.

We may not get Arctic conditions here in the UK, but it still gets cold and icy.
It’s important to pay extra attention to car maintenance in winter and snow days as there’s increased risk of damage due to the sand, road salt and grime that gets stuck which can lead to rusting. Following these simple steps in our driving in snow and winter essential checklist will help you prepare your car for icy roads and winter and have a much safer and less stressful winter season:
✅ Check your liquid levels: screenwash, anti-freeze, coolant, oil, fuel
✅ Check your car battery ✅ Clean your windows inside and out ✅ Clean your lights ✅ Check your tyres ✅ Consider fitting winter tyres ✅ Check your wiper blades ✅ Clear leaves from under your bonnet ✅ Carry your phone charger with you ✅ Consider buying a car cover ✅ Make a winter car survival kit
You can easily follow these simple steps at home which will help in keeping your car ready for driving in snow. In the next section, we’ve detailed how to carry out these checks.
However, if you don’t want to do all this yourself, many car garages and dealers offer a professional winter car check. Some places even do it for free. If your car is due for a service, it would be worth getting this done before winter sets in and the roads become snow-covered. Some garages offer winter specific services.

Check your liquid levels

Screenwash


Using a screenwash in winter is important to remove any extra dirt and grime around the windscreen and wiper blades, so make sure you have enough of it. The screenwash also contains anti-freeze which helps in preventing water from freezing, thus it’s important to use proper screenwash rather than just using water. The screen washer bottles are usually located under the bonnet in the engine compartment of your car – refer to your car’s handbook to know the exact location. Remember, you shouldn’t put anti-freeze in the washer bottle as it can damage the paintwork.

Engine Coolant

The engine’s coolant, also known as anti-freeze, helps in preventing it from overheating or freezing during winters. Check that your coolant level is between the min and max mark. It shouldn’t need topping up but do double-check. If it does, you’ll need to get your car to a garage. Remember, don’t open the filler cap unless the engine is cold.

Engine Oil

Cars running on low oil in winters often breakdown. It can also cause damage to the engine which can be costly to fix. Check that your car’s oil level is between the minimum and maximum mark and top it up if needed.

Fuel

There are two people in this world: those that top up their fuel when they’re basically running on air, and those that re-fuel when the tank is half full. In winter, especially, try to be the latter! During winter, roads often get congested which means you might be on the road for longer than usual. Using heater and window defroster take-up more fuel as well which is why it’s important to have plenty of fuel.
winter driving
driving in winter

Check your car battery

In winter, cars take up more battery as it requires more power to start a cold engine and use car heating and window defrosters.
If your battery is more than five-years-old, consider getting it replaced as that’s the average life expectancy of a battery, according to the AA. You can use a home battery tester or visit a local garage specialist to check its health. Also, check the battery terminals are clean and tight. If there is any corrosion, you can try to clean it off, although if there is any obvious damage to the outside of the battery, leave it to a professional to check it. Some signs of battery terminals damage include difficulty in starting the car, stalling, battery corrosion and loss of electric power. If you do want to clean it yourself, make sure you disconnect the battery first, starting with the negative (usually black), or you could get a shock when you touch the positive. Reconnect the negative last too. You can then clean the terminals with a mix of warm water and baking soda (a strong mix) which will fizz, so don't panic. Use an old toothbrush or wire brush to clean and dry the connections afterwards with some paper towels. Apply some petroleum jelly to the exposed metal bits to help prevent future corrosion.
check car battery
batteries in winter

Clean your windows

It’s of utmost importance that you can properly see out of your windscreen and windows when driving.
However, in winter, a combination of dirt and low sun can make it difficult to have clear visibility. In this case, keep a pair of sunglasses in the car and make sure your windows are clean inside and out. Also, check for any cracks in the glass, and use a windshield sealant before the cracks become worse in winter. It can be a good idea to get your windows inspected, especially if they’re old.
clean snow off your windows
Clean your windows

Clean your lights

As well as being able to see where you’re going, it’s also important that people can see you, especially in the dark and long winter nights!
Make sure all your lights – headlights, indicators, brake lights, fog lights included – are all clean. Problematic car lights are a major reason for failed MOTs. So, make sure that all your lights work properly. You can refer to your car’s handbook to know how to change car lights manually or get professional help. You should also ensure that the lights are dust-free – this helps in maintaining the lights’ effectiveness.
clean car lights for proper visibility
clean car lights

Check your tyres

Check that your tyres are in good condition. If you find any obvious faults like cracks or splits, then you should get it checked immediately.
The legal minimum tread depth limit is 1.6 mm, but in the colder months, it’s better to have a minimum of 3 mm of tread on your tyres for better control and grip. You can check this by using a tread depth gauge or getting a rough idea by looking at the tread wear indicators on your tyre. To see each tyre’s inner shoulder, you should turn the tyres to a full lock. In winter, tyre pressure reduces as compared to summer which consumes more fuel when driving. Thus, it’s important to check and maintain the correct tyre pressure. You can find the recommended PSI (pounds per square inch) figure in your car’s manual or online. If the tyres need topping up then you can visit any nearby petrol station with an air pump at most petrol stations, or you can buy a kit to keep at home.
check your tyres
check your tyres

Consider fitting winter tyres

You might want to consider changing to a set of winter tyres as they can provide better grip and shorter stopping distances in poor conditions.
Learn more about winter tyres.
winter tyres
winter tyres

Check your wiper blades

Cold temperatures can make your car’s wiper blades stiff and brittle, so careful not to yank them off if they’re frozen (you might need some de-icer to help).
Check if there are any cracks or splits in the blades and buy new ones if they’re not working as well as they used to. Winter will do its best to throw all sorts of extra grime at your windscreen.
clean wiper blades
clean wiper blades

Clear leaves from under your bonnet

Leaves can be a menace in winter – they cover potholes and make the roads more slippery.
These leaves can also damage your car - they could block the drains that take away rainwater, which could lead to water leaking into your car. In some cases, they could also decompose (if not removed for a long time) and ruin the paintwork. So, while you’re checking your fluid levels, clear all the leaves from the edge of your bonnet.
snow covered cars
snow covered cars

Carry your phone charger with you

One of the dangers of driving in snow is the risk of car breakdowns.
In such a situation, the last thing you’d want is to run out of phone battery in the middle of nowhere, so carry your phone charger in the car just in case. Also, you can consider buying a small portable charger to keep in the glovebox, so that you have a back-up if you don’t have any other means of charging. You should also write and keep your breakdown provider’s number on a piece of paper in the glovebox, as well as having it saved on your phone. Learn more about the dangers of winter driving.
carry winter essentials
carry winter essentials

Consider buying a car cover

It’s not a necessity for winter, but a car cover can help prevent fluids in your car from freezing, save you precious time in the morning so that you don’t have to de-ice your windows (five more minutes in bed, yay), and help in protecting your car from salt that might be spread near your home.
car cover for proection from snow

Make a winter car survival kit

It may seem a bit extreme but making up a winter car survival kit could be really helpful and keep you safe if your car breaks down.
You can buy a small camping shovel and look at getting a first aid kit, torch, warning triangle, jump leads, spare carpet to use if your tyres are stuck/spinning, and tow-rope as well. If you’ve got a spare coat, throw that in the boot, along with a hi-vis jacket, and some boots/wellies and other warm clothes. Also carry some food such as high-energy cereal bars, which will also help if you forget to have breakfast. Check out our recommended list of winter kit essentials and other winter driving advice.
winter survival kit
winter survival kit

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