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How to steer clear of vehicle breakdowns this winter

calendar Published on: Thursday, 7th December 2017 | male icon Author: Kevin Thorpe

The winter can take its toll on your car, so with temperatures dropping, youíll need to take extra care of your vehicle. Keep reading for some useful pointers that should help you to steer clear of breakdowns this chilly season.

Windscreen washer fluid and wipers

A combination of water, slush and grit on your windscreen can make seeing the road ahead difficult in winter, and the low sun highlights every spot and smudge on your windscreen, further reducing visibility. This means itís essential that your windscreen wipers are in good condition. Consider replacing them if the rubber is starting to look at little worn or youíve noticed that they are leaving smears on the glass. 

Also, make sure you continually top up your windscreen washer fluid, and choose a wash that has a high enough concentration of antifreeze in it. 

Another top tip is to make sure you donít leave your windscreen wipers on the Ďautomaticí setting in chilly weather. If they try to move as soon as you start your engine and they are frozen to the glass, thereís a risk they could blow a fuse.

Coolant

If the coolant in your radiator freezes, your engine could be seriously damaged. So, to ensure this doesnít happen, it pays to check your coolant levels on a regular basis and to make sure it contains the correct level of antifreeze. You can find instructions on how to do this in your vehicle handbook. If you find you need to top up the level of coolant, ensure the engine is cold before you remove the filler cap. Take care to use the right sort of antifreeze too. Different types donít tend to mix well.

Battery

Battery problems are especially common in winter. This is because the cold weather reduces batteriesí ability to charge themselves. If youíre able to, itís a good idea to keep your car in a garage when youíre not using it. This will protect it from the lowest temperatures. 

You can also invest in a car battery booster. These rechargeable devices simply clip onto flat batteries and provide an instant boost, and they can be a convenient alternative if you canít find jump leads or you donít have time to use a conventional battery charger.

Ice

Try to keep the inside of your car as dry as possible during the colder weather. If you spill drinks and donít clean them up or you leave wet clothes in your vehicle, the condensation this causes can freeze in your ignition lock. Meanwhile, if you return to your car to find the door lock is frozen, try applying a small amount of a water-dispersant such as WD-40. 

Another tip is to avoid opening your windows as soon as you set off. Thereís a chance they will be frozen in their frames, and if you try to move them down, they might become detached from the mechanism. Itís best to wait until your car has warmed up a little before you attempt to move your windows. 

Also, so that ice on your car doesnít become too thick and hard to shift, try to clear it on a regular basis - even if youíre not using your car.

Alternator

A screaming noise accompanied by a burning smell when you start the engine can suggest that water from the windscreen has made its way into the alternator and caused the rotor to freeze. So, if you notice these signs, stop the engine immediately.

Paintwork

The grit used on roads to keep them clear of ice can be corrosive to your car, so itís especially important at this time of year to clean your vehicle regularly. This will help to keep your vehicleís bodywork in good condition. Donít be tempted to blast water inside the brake cables or drums though because it may freeze, leaving you unable to move your car.

Fuel

It might seem like an obvious point, but always make sure you have enough fuel when youíre on the roads in winter. If you get stuck because of accidents or bad weather, itís vital that youíve got enough left in the tank to keep going. Bear in mind that cars use more fuel when they are stopping and starting a lot.

Tyres

Your tyres have to be fit for the wintry conditions. To be extra safe, you might want to switch to winter or all-season tyres that give you added grip. Regardless of the types of tyre you use, itís essential that they have enough tread depth. Although the legal minimum is 1.6mm, itís advisable to have at least 3mm of tread depth, especially at this time of year. If yours arenít up to scratch, itís vital that you replace them as soon as possible. 

Make sure your tyres are inflated to the correct pressure too. Under or over-inflated tyres can make it more difficult to grip the road and therefore increase your risk of skids and accidents.

Time for a service?

You might be able to do a lot of these checks yourself, but for extra peace of mind when youíre driving in winter, why not book your car in for a service? Technicians will be able to give your vehicle a thorough examination and pick up on any issues that might increase your chances of a breakdown or accident this winter and beyond.

Be prepared

As well as making sure your carís in good condition, youíll need to take extra care when driving during the winter. From allowing yourself extra time to reach your destination, to sticking to major roads that are more likely to have been gritted, to giving yourself more stopping distance between your vehicle and the one in front,  there are a range of things you can do to stay safe on the roads in cold weather. 

It pays to pack some emergency supplies too just in case you get stuck while youíre out and about. For example, consider taking a blanket, shovel, torch, water, snacks and a charged mobile phone when you set off on journeys.

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