Are you ready for the worst of the winter months ahead? Thought not, so here’s our guide to getting yourself – and your car properly prepared for what lies ahead…
According to the RAC around 7,000 cars break down every day in the UK, a number which increases as winter takes hold, however advanced planning will help to reduce the risks of being stranded.
Lighting the way
With dark mornings, days and nights it’s important that you can see where you are going, and crucially other road users can see you too. Give your bulbs a check over and pack a spare bulb kit should one decide to blow. Become familiar with how to change them and if you need a screwdriver to remove a lens first, make sure you have one packed just in case.
If you have a watercooled vehicle make sure your coolant is clean, and correctly topped up. Not only does it assist with halting hot engine temperatures in the summer, but it can prevent damage to your engine in the depths of winter too. If you drive an aircooled car or bus, then you’ll know the importance of carrying a spare fanbelt and adjusting shims, regardless of the season.
With sub-zero temperatures forecast, take the opportunity to ensure your heating is functioning as it should be before the snow comes! We covered this topic in more detail for aircooled VWs here, and watercooled VW models here. Have you packed an ice scraper and a demister pad? It might be alright when you leave, but come 5 pm and home time it could be a different story!
It’ll be oil-right
Thanks to modern multi-grades, gone are the days of having to use a thin 20 or 30 monograde during winter and a thicker 30 or 40 grade during the hotter summer months. However, it makes sense to carry out an oil and filter change before the onset of the colder weather. If left standing over winter, the water and acids from the combustion process can separate and cause internal corrosion. Not only that but as we are sure most of you will vouch – having to crawl underneath a car to drain old oil in the bitter cold (or snow) isn’t particularly fun!
Air con considerations
If you have air con, then now is the time to check it is working efficiently, and sort out any known problems. Despite being a closed system there is a gradual loss of refrigerant over time, and the less that’s in the system the harder your compressor will have to work to achieve the same effect. The only true way to determine how much refrigerant there is in there is to vacuum it out and weigh it; often you’ll be surprised at just how little is flowing around. Most air con specialists charge £60-£80 to do this and replenish the system with fresh refrigerant.
Guilty as charged
Batteries tend to fail more often on cold mornings, but if you’re waiting for tell-tale signs such as slow cranking before you take any action – forget it, because modern, sealed units can give up the ghost at any moment. The best way to prevent being caught out is to do a simple voltage test. Put a voltage meter across the terminals – if you’re getting 12.6-13v at this time of year, then your battery should hold out over winter. Installing an insulated battery cover and applying Vaseline to the terminals to keep things watertight are additional measures you can take, to increase battery life and keep your electrics happy.
Although the minimum legal tyre tread depth in the UK is 1.6mm, having more meat on your tyres will significantly increase their efficiency in wet, wintry conditions. Independent tests on wet roads using a car travelling at 50mph found that the stopping distance on tyres with a tread depth of 8mm was 25.9m compared to 39.5m on tyres on the 1.6mm legal limit.
Consider fitting winter tyres; they contain a higher quantity of natural rubber compound to stop them from hardening in the cold and are specifically engineered to offer improved performance and reduce stopping distances in cold, wet conditions. Indeed, braking tests have revealed that at 5 degrees Celsius a vehicle fitted with cold weather tyres travelling at 62mph stopped a full five metres earlier than the same vehicle with standard tyres. Motorists can also benefit from using cold weather tyres in snowy conditions, as they have many more delicate cuts in the tread which are designed to absorb snow, allowing the tyres to maintain their grip when driving over snow-covered roads.
Road salt can play havoc with your bodywork, and small chips or blemishes which have broken through the paint and gone down to the metal can quickly worsen if left for the duration of winter. That’s why it will pay to sort them before they spread, to avoid having to spray a whole panel! An easy solution is to tackle them yourself by rubbing down, treating with a rust inhibitor then applying primer and topcoat.
Consider filling cavities with Waxoil or similar to keep moisture out of the crevices, and if you are feeling up to the challenge give the whole underside of your chassis a coat of RAPTOR to keep it protected forever more! Check out our guide to using RAPTOR here.
Digging the dirt
As well as protecting the bits of bodywork you can see, it’s also good practice to take care of the bits you can’t. You don’t need to go to this extent and put your car on a rotating spit unless you want to, but it is important to tackle mud traps in the top of wings and sill areas, to prevent corrosion, otherwise, you will end up with a full resto on your hands!
It’s also a good idea to keep drainage channels clear to prevent the build-up of leaves and rainwater. If the drain holes for these became blocked, water can flood into the car, making your carpets wet, giving you condensation issues and potentially ruining your electrics. Not good…
Keep it clean…
We all hate washing cars in winter because, let’s face it, with so much muck on the roads, it hardly seems worth it does it? However, it’s crucial to keep a car clean to protect the paintwork against contaminants and oxidation during the winter months.
Start by giving the car a good, thorough clean. Then use a clay bar to remove surface contaminants like tree sap because if you put wax on top of such deposits the wax won’t bond as well or last as long. Next, use a product which will cleanse the paint and remove scratches and swirls as well as oxidation and oil stains or stains from bird droppings. Finally, apply a really good polish/wax to seal and protect your paintwork. Importantly, find one that contains hydrophobic polymers, so water will bead and blow off the paint surface when it rains.
Once you’ve done this, regularly wash the car with a quality wash and wax product which will make keeping your car clean easier and of course keep it looking smart regardless of the season.
If you are planning on parking up your vehicle over winter rather than using it, then stay tuned for our guide to winter storage tips, coming soon!