Why should I do a winter car check?
Winter is the toughest season for vehicles. Lower temperatures mean the battery is under greater stress to start the engine, the wipers are working overtime to clear rain, sleet and snow, the tyres are doing their best to keep you on the straight and narrow, the engine's antifreeze mixture needs to be able to resist the hardest frosts… you get the idea.
A winter vehicle check is an essential job that every car owner should carry out before the cold weather arrives. Of course, you could visit your local garage or Halfords and pay for a winter check and service but with a Haynes Manual or AutoFix by your side, it’s a quick and easy job to do it yourself FOR FREE!
Haynes winter vehicle check list
1. Perform a battery health check
Shorter daylight hours and cooler temperatures during the winter months mean you'll be using your car's headlights, heated rear screen and heater a lot more than at other times of the year.
If your car also has heated seats, a heated steering wheel and a heated windscreen, your battery's going to be getting a real pounding, so battery health is one of the most important winter checks you can do.
Tap on the above link to see how to carry out a battery health check.
2. Check your headlights
Your daytime running lights/sidelights, dipped and main beam headlights are essential for your wellbeing, as well as that of other road users, at all times of the year but especially during autumn and winter, when the weather takes a turn for the worse. You also risk being pulled over by the police if you've got a bulb out. Click on the above link to see what's what when it comes to car bulbs.
This is one of the easiest winter car checks you can do, and it's also worth making sure the tail light bulbs are working – although you'll need a friend to help you with the brake lights.
3. Check the wiper blades
All of us take these thin strips of rubber for granted – you may hardly use them during the summer months and then expect your wiper blades to work flawlessly, hour after hour, to clear ice, hail, sleet, rain and snow from your windscreen during winter.
That's why we recommend changing your car's wiper blades every year, preferably before winter hits, to make sure you can see clearly in all conditions. Tap on the above link to find out more about this essential winter car check.
4. Examine the windscreen
A damaged windscreen can result in your car failing its MoT test, depending on where and how extensive the damage is (click above to find out more on that).
All of us flinch when we hear the loud crack when a stone hits the windscreen, before our eyes scan the glass to see if there's a chip. Don't delay in getting it repaired – it's likely to start spreading in the winter months, during repeated freeze-thawing.
The good news is that your car insurance policy is likely to cover windscreen damage; chip repairs can be done for free in some cases, while the worst-case-scenario of a new windscreen is likely to cost you less than £100, instead of hundreds if it's not covered by insurance.
5. Perform a mini-service
You've already lifted the bonnet to check the battery as part of this winter car check, so while it's open you should also check those fluids.
The car needs to be on level ground for this check, so with that sorted (and the engine cold) turn your attention to the coolant. You should be able to see its level without having to remove the lid from the expansion tank, so check it's between the min-max markings.
Now remove the lid and check its colour (usually pink or blue). If it's brown or clear you need to change it because the antifreeze won't be strong enough to prevent the coolant from freezing and causing engine damage if we get a hard winter. Antifreeze also protects the engine from corrosion and can last for several years on modern cars, but don't neglect it! If you just need to top up the coolant make sure you use the correct type for your car.
If your car has an engine oil dipstick, remove it, wipe the oil from the end of it with a clean cloth and return it to the tube and withdrawing it again. Now examine where the oil is. Consult your Haynes Manual or car handbook for guidance on the markings and use the correct grade engine oil if you need to top it up. We recommend changing your engine oil and filter every year/around 10,000 miles, whichever comes first.
Winter muck and grime means you'll be using your windscreen washers more often at this time of the year, so top up the windscreen washer bottle. You'll find ready-mixed screenwash at car accessory shops and supermarkets – try to find mixes that are rated to -10C or below.
Don't forget the clutch/brake fluid reservoir. It's normal for the level to fall as the brake pads wear, but make sure it's above the 'Min' marking that'll be on the mini dipstick attached to the reservoir lid or marked on the side of the reservoir. Consult your Haynes Manual to see which fluid to top it up with – don't mix DOT fluid types! Most vehicle manufacturers recommend changing your brake fluid every 2 years.
Plus… don’t forget the tyres!
Those four rubber rings are always vital but tyre condition and tread depth are especially important in winter, when there's more water and slush on the road.
Spend a few minutes now checking the pressures (don't forget the spare wheel!) and the tread depth – the legal minimum is 1.6mm in the UK, but we recommend changing your tyres when they get down to 3mm.