Breaking down abroad
European breakdown cover explained
We all hate getting out of bed and venturing outside during the winter months. However, the cold and icy conditions are just as tough on our cars as they are on us.
On the 2nd December last year, the AA reported attending to an average of 1,150 breakdowns every hour. These motorists avoided expensive call out fees and hours of waiting stuck at the side of a road by ensuring that they had an adequate breakdown cover policy in place.
Nevertheless, this doesn’t make up for the inconvenience of car failures or the cost of repairing them if you only have a basic breakdown cover policy. However, there are things that can be done to reduce the likelihood of these breakdowns occurring; the key is being proactive.
Ice on the windscreen is a regular morning occurrence in the winter. It is vital that you do not attempt to drive until your vision is clear as the chance of accidents will significantly increase and you will likely be held accountable for any damage caused.
It is recommended that you leave the house about ten minutes earlier than normal to ensure clear vision and remember to put your own safety before punctuality. Make sure that you are stocked up with de-icer and have a scrapper kept with you at all times. Utilise your air conditioning or blowers to speed up the demisting and condensation removal inside the car.
Windscreen wash should be topped up regularly, as this will prove to be essential in ensuring maximum visibility during the winter months, particularly when gritters make an appearance. Also make sure that windscreen wipers are in good conditions but do not be tempted to use them to disperse ice from your windscreen as this could damage them. If the blades are torn, then this is a sign of damage which indicates that a replacement is needed.
Police issued a warning last year that they would fine any motorists who fails to remove loose snow from their vehicles before driving. The reason being that snow flying off vehicles can cause obstruction to the visibility of other road users and turn into a significant danger.
Another common reason for police to pull over motorists in the winter is the visibility of number plates. It is vital that registration plates are still visible other wise you could be fined; so make sure that any lose dirt is removed before driving.
The same is true when it comes to headlights which are of increased importance in the dark and potentially foggy conditions associated with winter. Make sure that you can see and also be seen by ensuring all exterior car lights are free of dirt.
Anti-freeze is the coloured fluid which is found in radiators. It is used to prevent your engine and radiators from freezing in the winter.
You should regularly make sure that your vehicles anti-freeze levels are between the maximum and minimum. This will help avoid potential damage to the engine or radiators which will be much more expensive to fix than the couple of pounds it would cost to buy anti-freeze.
However, bear in mind that most car manufacturers fill modern vehicles with longer lasting anti-freeze which should not be mixed with traditional solutions. If you are unsure about what fluid to put into your vehicle, it is recommended that you consult your local dealership or a qualified mechanic.
Oil levels are another thing which you should keep an eye on with weekly checks. Low oil levels can cause significant damage to your engine as oil is basically the blood flow which passes through your cars system.
Oil levels can be checked with the use of a dipstick which has two marks indicating both a maximum and minimum level. Make sure that your oil levels are between these two points at all times.
Flat batteries are one of the most common reasons for motorists seeking breakdown cover providers assistance in the winter; making up about one-third of the total number of call outs. The additional use of heaters, lights and other electrical components on the car all add to the strain which is placed on batteries during this period.
You should therefore make sure that you do not use these features any more than is necessary; switching off heaters and blowers as soon as vision is restored for example. In addition, ensure that your car is not left unused for long periods such as over a weekend; as your battery will be less likely to fail if it has a regular charge running through it.
Car battery’s usually last no longer than five years; so if your battery is coming to the end of its life as winter approaches it might be worthwhile changing it in order to avoid the inconvenience of a breakdown.
Your tyres are the only part of the car which are in contact with the road. The quality of tyres therefore has a big impact on the drivability of vehicles; something which becomes increasingly important as the condition of roads deteriorates.
Although the minimum tread depth on tyres required by law is 1.6mm, the AA recommends that motorists have no less than 2mm and preferably 3mm for winter driving. The tread is what disperses lose water and snow from the roads so that you do not aquaplane. A deep tread of 3mm will therefore disperse much more water than one of 1.6mm and make it less likely that you will lose control of your vehicle.
Tyre pressures are also important. It is recommended that you check these at least once a week during the winter; ensuring that they reach the manufacturers recommended levels.
You will be able to find these in your vehicle handbook or on a sticker on the inside of the driver’s door.
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