How to ensure your car runs well in winter
A few simple checks can minimise the risk of a breakdown in the colder months, writes Geraldine Herbert
Unlike our UK neighbours, we tend to escape any real blast of winter and get off rather lightly. As a result this makes us even more vulnerable to sudden extreme changes in temperature. Come the snow and ice and we slide, slither and bump our way around and very often our cars are as unprepared for winter as we are.
A properly maintained car can weather winter temperatures and November is the perfect month to start preparing. Ideally a pre-winter service would be ideal, when tyres, battery, wiper blades and anti-freeze would all be checked and the vehicle given a thorough inspection. But if your budget does not stretch to this a few simple checks on a regular basis would go a long way to preventing breakdowns.
Battery failure is one of the most common causes of breakdown and despite what people may think they don't actually last forever. Replacing them can save you a lot of time and inconvenience.
Cold temperatures reduce the capacity of any battery and if it is more than three years old it is worthwhile having it checked. To get the most out of a battery ensure that lights, radio etc are turned off when the car is not being used and when starting the car wait until the engine is on before turning on lights, wipers and heaters. But if your battery is reaching the end of its life, usually indicated by sluggish starting, then it's time to think about a new one.
Ensure coolant is topped up regularly to ensure a healthy engine, as overheating is a common cause of breakdown. Don't forget to top up the windscreen washer fluid, ensuring it contains an anti-freeze agent. Check the vehicle handbook for the recommended ratio.
Don't let the fuel levels drop too much, so fill up before you set off on a long journey. If you do get stuck at least you'll be able to stay warm.
Check that all the light bulbs are working and that headlights are clean and aimed correctly. Lights should be cleaned regularly, especially when roads are salted.
Wiper blades should be replaced regularly, so check them out as winter approaches for wear and tear.
Always ensure that your tyres are properly inflated to ensure the best possible traction with the road.
Should you consider switching to winter tyres? While they are far superior on snow and ice than regular tyres, they're designed to work when temperatures are below 7C. Daytime temperatures in Ireland during winter are usually above this but, if you are on the road regularly very early in the morning and very late at night when temperatures are much lower, then they may well be worth the investment.
More importantly, however, you should consider the condition of your regular tyres, while 1.6mm is the legal limit, a thread depth of 3mm is recommended for winter motoring and certainly no less than 2mm is necessary. Check the spare tyre also.
Clean windows are essential for safe driving. Stock up on de-icer and a plastic scraper for frosty mornings.
During the winter months, you should prepare a pack that can be stored in the boot. Some of the items you should include are a torch; spare batteries and bulbs; screen scraper/de-icer; jump leads; warning triangle; first-aid kit; mobile phone; warm blankets; extra water; shovel (to clear snow if necessary); and road maps.
Keep a can of de-icer or WD-40 on hand to defreeze frozen locks. Do not pour hot water on the frozen lock as this will only increase the amount of water inside the lock and result in future frozen locks.
Never force the key to turn a frozen car lock.
When you are on the road adapt your driving style to take account of the state of the road.
Avoid sudden acceleration or braking which could result in skidding on icy or snowy roads, as stopping distances are 10 times longer in ice and snow. And, remember above all, check the weather forecast and postpone your journey if bad weather is predicted.