Road Safety: Is your car winter ready?

Weather conditions are changing and you might be thinking, is your car winter ready? The WHCVS Community Car Scheme recommend you should have your car serviced regularly and that general health checks are also useful. Some garages even offer winter checks as a service. Planning ahead is always a good idea to help prevent delays in your schedule, inconveniences and for the utter most important reason, safety.

For Road Safety Week, and with the help of experts in the motor industry, here are some checks you can do.

Your Journey

Do you know where you are going or have you checked out your route? Just this month, I decided to let my sat nav lead the way without checking the route. Usually, it diverts from traffic however this time, part of the route was closed due to road works, there was a big build up of traffic and I had to navigate a new route myself. What should have been a 40 minute journey ended up being 40 minutes more.

Check traffic conditions with Traffic England so you are as prepared as can be for any disturbed routes.

Check your fluid levels – Oil, water coolant and fuel

Oil levels that are below the minimum mark on your dipstick can lead to breakdowns and engine failure. You should only fill your oil with the oil recommended by your cars manual or the manufacture between the minimum and maximum mark on your car’s dipstick. You should do this when the car is cold and on level ground.

Before you set out, check your coolant (antifreeze) level. Driving on a low level of coolant could cause your car to overheat. The RAC recommend it should be topped up when the engine is cold and you should refer to your manufacture handbook for the correct coolant mix.

RAC: How to check your car’s coolant and antifreeze

Check you have plenty of fuel for your journey and fill up if necessary; don’t wait for the warning light. It’s no fun having to jump out on a cold rainy day to fill up your car but, it will be it will be even less fun if you run out of fuel in the middle of nowhere and have to wait to be rescued.

Screen wash is a vital check. A dirty or smeared windscreen can obscure your view and cause accidents. It is also against the law to drive without fluid in your screen wash. There are a few screen wash fluids on the market – summer, winter, all year round, concentrated and diluted. They can usually be picked up during your weekly shop at a supermarket, at petrol stations or a car shop.

RAC: How to check and top up your screen wash

Use the correct one for the season – winter, containing de-icer will help to remove dirt, grit, bugs and snow when it falls.

Always have a can of de-icer and a scraper handy, to break down the ice on the windscreen. Before you set off, allow the car to warm and the windows to de-mist.

Warning lights

All cars have warning lights and some may look slightly different from each other depending on the age of the car. What they refer to can be found in the vehicles handbook. Get familiar with them and pay attention to warning lights when they appear on your car’s dashboard; have any faults seen to as soon as possible.

Having your car regularly serviced and put through health checks can help to maintain your vehicle. If your car is due a service, book it in as soon as possible to avoid long wait times.

Take the Green Flag Quiz and see whether you can identify the dashboard warning lights.

Tyres & wiper blades

Check your tyres regularly not only for the wear on the tread but also cracks or bulges in the side walls, slow nail punctures and pressure. Worn tyres and punctures are dangerous and tyres should be changed or fixed immediately.

The minimum tread depth of 1.6mm is set by law and you can receive a fine of £2500 and 3 penalty points per tyre when caught driving with bald tyres. You need to have good grip and contact with the road for stopping distances and adverse weather condition. Over time this decreases and the tread is worn down. New tyres start with 8mm.

Independent research by the Motoring Industry Research Association (MIRA) has shown that tyres with 3mm of tread have an average 25% better performance than those at 1.6mm – which represents an extra 8 metres of stopping distance in wet conditions!”


Check your wheels are properly aligned to prevents the outer or inner edge of the tyre wearing down faster than the middle.

Carrying different loads require different pressures in your tyres. Always consult your vehicle manual for the correct pressure.

Halfords: How to check and inflate car tyres

While doing these checks you can also check that your wiper blades are clean and free from leaves or debris. Look for tears where the rubber is starting to come away from its form and replace them if you need too.

Remember these are delicate bits of rubber which don’t require any force so avoid pulling them or running them over icy windscreens.

Heating and air conditioning

Both of these functions help to keep you warm or cool during the different seasons, your air conditioning (air con) with heat acts as a dehumidifier to help de-mist your windows.

Get your air con re-gassed often; you can find out more about air con re-gas here

Having your cabin filter changed during your service and your air con used regularly will help to prevent a build up of bad smells entering your car when used.

Whether it’s 35 degrees outside or barely breaking freezing, it’s essential your air con unit is fully functioning. However, apart from visual checks of the pipework, there is not a lot for you to check yourself.

Air con system servicing should be carried out by a competent person with the correct equipment.


Keep it clean

Just washed the car and it starts to rain? It’s happened to us all, but with all the weather changes that we get in the winter, it’s a good idea to wash your car regularly to remove dirt, bugs and salt caused by gritting the roads. Parts like lights, number plates and side mirrors will need to be cleaned more often and at the same time you can check they are all working.

Your battery

Fleet News reports that “Battery failure is the ‘most common cause’ of breakdown” in the UK Having your battery checked regularly can prevent being in the situation where your car won’t start.

Things to look out for:

  • Slow engine turning over slower than usual
  • Flickering battery dash symbol
  • Returning to a car with a flat battery, when no interior electrics have been left on

Some garages offer a free battery health check if you have any concerns.

Brakes, brakes, brakes

If you start to hear an unusual screech or grind when you brake or your brake bite doesn’t seem right to you, get them checked out. Sometimes when your car hasn’t been driven for a while these noises might occur but you should still pay attention if they don’t disappear after a drive.

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