road with heavy snow

Your essential winter car service checklist

When the clocks go back at the end of October, it’s one of those “checklist” items that tells us that winter is almost upon us. So too are shorter days, colder temperatures, and the first Christmas products in the shops. The onset of winter also brings conditions that aren’t kind to your car. If you need to stay on the road, therefore, it can be important to perform a winter car check.

So, what is it about winter that can be such a challenge to car owners? Well, to start with, cold weather can be a problem for some of your vehicle’s electrical and mechanical parts. Secondly, the conditions can turn even the simplest journeys into a challenge. With our winter car service checklist, however, we have some tips to help you stay safe on the roads in the coming months.

Check oil levels and antifreeze

Oil level checks shouldn’t just be left to your winter car maintenance routine. This really should be something you do all year round. In fact, the RAC says its patrols check the oil level of each breakdown they’re called to – and one in three vehicles are found to be dangerously low. When you don’t have the right amount of oil, it can damage the engine and cause a breakdown.

At the same time as checking your oil in winter, it’s sensible to check your antifreeze levels too. In warmer weather, water is enough to keep a car’s cooling system in good working order. This is essential as it cools your engine. In winter, though, water can freeze if the mercury drops below zero. So, mixing in antifreeze (usually 50/50 with water) can reduce that risk.

Are your lights in working order?

You’ll know that shorter days in winter mean longer nights. In summer, you might head out on your commute to work in glorious sunshine. And, with a bit of luck, it’ll be like that when you’re on the way back home – you can only trust the British summer so much! This isn’t the case when winter arrives, however. Instead, you’ll find more of your car journeys are made in the dark.

For that very reason, it’s so important that you make sure your lights are fully functioning when doing your winter car maintenance. Sidelights, brake lights, indicators – these should be in top condition. Don’t forget the fog lamps either. It’s not just about the safety of you and other road users either. You have a legal requirement to make sure your lights are up to the task.

Is your battery properly charged?

As we’re on the subject of electrical systems, cold weather can play havoc with your car battery – not least if you won’t be driving as often during the winter. Thankfully, some things can help you spot if your battery might be failing.

Is your car slow to start? Does the engine sound laboured when you turn the ignition? Has the red battery warning light appeared on your dashboard when out driving? These little signs can all point towards a problem with your battery.

The last thing you need when you’re out driving or about to start the journey home from work is a dead battery. As part of your winter car check, you can invest in an overnight home trickle charger. Or, if you’re really unsure, take your car in for a professional service.

Make sure the right tyres are fitted

In the UK, no law says you must have dedicated winter tyres fitted. But this doesn’t mean you shouldn’t check your tyres as part of your winter car service checklist. If nothing else, it’s vital to make sure they have at least the minimum tread depth of 1.6mm. Even then, the AA says it’s good practice to replace yours when the tread depth goes below 2mm.

Of course, it pretty much goes without saying that driving on summer tyres is a no-no in winter. These tyres are designed for warmer temperatures and drier roads.

Screenwash and wiper blades

One of the biggest challenges for drivers during the winter is visibility. The longer dark periods are one noticeable feature of winter in the UK. But other things can impact your visibility. A frosted windscreen will stop you from clearly seeing the road ahead, for example – while poor quality wiper blades can easily cause a hazard in wet or snowy conditions.

With that in mind, here are two more things to add to your winter car checklist. First, have you filled up with screenwash? Driving in winter kicks up more dirt and grime onto the windscreen, so this is vital to keep things clear. Second, make sure your wiper blades are in good condition. It’s easy for them to become damaged if you run them over a window that’s iced over.

Keep your motor full of essentials

Your winter car check should go beyond ensuring things like lights, tyres, and oil levels are good to go. It’s well worth keeping some essential kit in your boot or glove compartment before you set off on a winter car journey.

The basics may include some extra screenwash/antifreeze, for example. You’ll almost certainly need a windscreen scraper for those icy mornings too. It isn’t often necessary, but people living in areas of the UK prone to heavy snowfall may also benefit from snow chains or socks.

In recent years, there have been some extreme cases where UK drivers have been stranded in snowy conditions. So, maybe think about some spare clothes and something to eat/drink too – just in case you’re on a journey that gets interrupted by some wild weather this winter.

Don’t ignore professional advice

Ultimately, a professional mechanic will know how best to service a car with winter in mind. As much as it’s always a good idea to carry out your own winter car checks, sometimes there’s no substitute for expert advice. If nothing else, it can give you a little extra peace of mind.

It’s also possible that a professional may spot something that, if not dealt with, may go on to be a serious issue. The cost of that service may well prove to be a lot less than the cost of a winter car repair. It’s a tough decision to make when you’re balancing finances against rising food and energy costs. But you could see it as an investment in the reliability of your car this winter.

What to do if your car is out of action

So, are you thinking about that pre-emptive service? Or – despite all your best checks – maybe your car has fallen foul of the colder conditions?

Either way, it’s understandable you still might need access to a car for work or another purpose. Will you borrow a friend’s car? Or perhaps you’ll use a partner’s vehicle for a few days? For both situations, don’t forget some temporary car insurance that covers you for as long as it takes.

At Dayinsure, we’re experts in offering flexible and affordable short-term car insurance if your vehicle lets you down this winter. Your cover can start in as little as 15 minutes too – with our insurance available to drivers aged between 18 and 75. Why not get your quote today?