To coincide with 2015’s Road Safety Week, it seems sensible for us to carry out some simple checks to ensure our cars are up to everything that winter weather can throw at it. Of course, at Green Flag we know from experience that there are some things no driver can predict. But there are plenty that we can. To help less experienced or less confident drivers be prepared for bad winter weather, I’ve compiled these six simple checks that take just couple of minutes to carry out and can minimise the chances of a car breaking down in harsh winter weather.
Check your tyres
Even if this winter is a relatively mild one, as it has been so far, it’s likely to be pretty
wet. And that means it’s vital to have your tyres in tip-top condition. First check their air pressure. Under inflated tyres cost you in many ways. They use more fuel and wear out more quickly. They can also overheat and explode unexpectedly and you don’t want to be stranded at the roadside with a flat tyre.
It’s also important that you have sufficient tread depth. The legal minimum is 1.6mm. But tyre maker Continental has proved that a tyre’s ability to grip deteriorates the more worn it gets. It claims that at 50mph on a wet road, a new tyre with 8mm of tread will stop in 25.9m. With 3mm of tread that distance increases to 31.7m and with 1.6mm of tread it is a worrying 39.5m. That’s a difference of almost two car lengths between 3mm and 1.6mm so if your tyres are nearing the legal minimum, changing them could be a life saver. You can buy a simple tread depth gauge from most service stations, alternatively, use the simple 20p test.
It’s vital that your car’s coolant has sufficient anti-freeze in it. This should be taken care of when it’s serviced. If you’re not sure, or your car’s new to you, ask a garage to check it. They can test the concentration to ensure the car’s system is properly protected.
Check a car’s battery
Winter is a tough time of year for your car’s battery. The reason is simple. The older a battery gets, the less able it is to hold its charge. The colder the weather, the thicker the oil gets so the more current the starter motor draws from the battery to turn the engine over. The combination leads to old batteries not being up to the job.
The average age of the batteries that Green Flag’s technicians replace is between six and seven years. If you’ve any doubts about your battery, take it to your local fast fit centre or garage and ask them to perform a test on it. Most will do so for free and it’s worth it for peace of mind.
Be safe, be seen…
Check your headlights, rear lights and fog lights. Either replace any broken bulbs yourself or take the car to a garage if it’s not a job you feel comfortable with.
And see too…
In the winter when the sun’s low, dirt on the outside of windows and smearing on the inside can cause glare that impairs visibility. It’s important to clean your windows inside and out. Make sure your windscreen wipers are working properly – it can be easy to change them if they’re not – and fill your washer bottles with screen cleaner.
It’s impossible to predict every eventuality. But there are some common sense pieces of equipment you can keep in the boot. An ice scraper and de-icer will always come in handy in the winter. Battery jump leads could come in useful, as could a tow rope. If snow is expected, it’s worth having a blanket in the car and a folding shovel, just in case. And if you’ve got a mobile phone, take it with you and make sure it’s fully charged. If you do breakdown this winter it could be your lifeline.
Nick Reid is a fellow of the Institute of the Motor Industry and head of automotive technology at Direct Line Group