How to keep your car running this winter

Cars-stranded-in-snow
At this time last year I was driving a clapped out old Vauxhall Corsa that I took no care of. As temperatures plummeted, winter punished my negligence with a series of mechanical problems and repair bills. Had I carried out a bit of maintenance on it every now and again, the four-wheeled leak might have made it through to the spring, but instead it was eventually sent to the great scrapheap in the sky. Like Ebenezer Scrooge, I was forced to see the error of my ways, and now, like the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come, I’m here to warn you against a similar fate. Here’s a look at some of the most common car problems caused by cold weather, and what you can do to avoid them.

Problem: Batteries running flat

The AA says battery faults are the most common cause of breakdowns, and there’s an increased risk of battery problems when the mercury starts falling. A car battery, like any battery, relies on a chemical reaction which is slowed down in low temperatures. This reduces the battery’s ability to hold charge and makes it more likely to run flat. Another problem at this time of year is that our cars are often left standing for days at a time, as we hang up the keys so that we can celebrate with a drink (pro tip: drink-driving ruins lives), or as especially bad weather keeps us indoors. This means the battery will miss out on the charging it usually gets from regular use. Discharge + Cold weather – charge = flat battery.

Fix: Prevention is better than cure

  • Test your battery as soon as possible, and replace it if the levels look too low to get you through winter.
  • Before you start your engine, switch off all drains on the battery, such as lights, wipers, heaters, radio, satnav, air conditioning etc.
  • Use non-essential electrical features sparingly.
  • If possible, keep your car parked in a garage overnight, when temperatures are lowest.

Problem: Tyre pressure dropping

Because of science, tyre pressures drop in cold temperatures. Insufficient tyre pressure will make your car less fuel efficient and is Dangerous with a capital D as it gives you less control over your vehicle and makes them more susceptible to damage.

Fix: Keep up the pressure

It’s dead easy – check your tyre pressures more regularly in cold weather and keep them topped up to the recommended level in your owner’s manual. If you don’t have your manual, visit tyre-pressures.com

Problem: Frozen washer reservoir

This one gets me every year, and usually means replacing a blown fuse for the wiper blade motors. Depending on your water/screenwash ratio, your windscreen washers may become unusable as the fluid freezes in the pipes and reservoir. It’s easy to think that you’re just running out of screenwash and continue holding the lever, attempting to squeeze out the last few drops – but if it is frozen; you can burn out the motor, or blow a fuse.

Fix: Antifreeze and common sense

In colder temperatures, don’t dilute your screenwash with water – pour it in neat and it’ll be less likely to freeze. If you’re pulling the screenwash lever and nothing is happening, check your fluid levels. If screenwash is available but not squirting, the pipes may be frozen.  It should thaw out as you drive, but while testing it you should use short bursts to avoid motor/fuse burnout.

Problem: Thick oil

Motor oil thickens in low temperatures, which means your car has to work harder to pump it around the system. If it gets too thick, you may struggle to start your car at all. Your owner’s manual should indicate which oil you should be using (this may differ in the colder months) and how often you should change your oil.

Fix: A well-oiled machine

Simply change your oil as recommended by the manufacturer, and check your oil levels regularly. Did we miss any common winter car problems? What are they? How do you avoid them? Share your wisdom in the comments.

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