Published: 29/11/2021

Preparing your car for winter: top tips, what to check

Winter driving’s a challenge. Here’s our car maintenance checklist that takes a bit of extra thought in winter. You’re twice as likely to break down during this season, but preparing your car for winter can help prevent this.

Not sure where to start or what to check? Read on.

Winter car checklist: top products to buy

Here are some quick, easy tasks that take no time at all, but can make all the difference up to more serious jobs, such as fitting winter tyres.

Winter driving tips

Winter car maintenance checklist

Most of the checks are the same ones you should do normally, but there are a few checks where a bit of extra attention wouldn’t go wrong.

Battery check

Winter weather puts a strain on your car's 12-volt battery. It makes it harder for an engine to turn over, but, as an EV driver knows, cold weather has a negative impact on the power a battery can deliver. If you r battery is old, it could be tired. Cold weather means it might not work well. With the additional strain of heaters, lights etc it can become a critical component. If it struggles to provide enough power to start your car, chances are it's on its way out.

Home battery testers are available, but it’s easier to see a specialist. You can drive to your local supplier (or online) to buy a new one. Most stockists will even fit them.

Battery prices vary, costing from around £60 fitted. Cars fitted with stop-start systems need a heavier duty battery that can cost more than £100.Make sure you get the right one for your car.

If it won’t start, you can try a set of jump leads. If you're skilled enough and it's accessible, you could remove the battery and charge it indoors. Not easy to do, not least because car batteries are heavy. Always refer to the owner’s manual. How to jump-start a car if it’s flat

Check antifreeze

Antifreeze, stops the water in the engine’s cooling system from freezing. To test it, an antifreeze tester is available for about £10. Carefully follow the instructions – the engine must be cold.

Read the freezing point of the antifreeze using the scale inside the tester. Replace or top up the antifreeze in the car’s system.

Check screen wash

Wet winter weather draws all the dirt and road salt from the road surface. You’ll use your wipers a lot. Assuming your wipers are in good shape, they’ll still smear grime across the windscreen if your washers are empty.

Keep it full! You can buy ready mixed or concentrated screen wash, which you’ll need to mix with water.

Screen wash has a lower freezing temperature than only water, so you shouldn’t end up with frozen washer jets. They can still become blocked if there's a heavy frost or freezing rain gets into them.

Check exterior lights

It sounds simple, and it is. Maintenance of your exterior lights an important aspect of any winter car checklist.

Check and clean them regularly. Salt and dirt can quickly build-up, reducing the effectiveness of the lights and reducing your visibility to others. It's best to keep your lights on in all sorts of weather. It helps you to be seen. Carry extra bulbs in case of a failure, but learn how to replace the bulbs, because you can guarantee that when one blows it'll be in the dark, freezing cold and wet weather. Not the ideal time to learn about your car.

Professional winter car checks

No time? Ask an expert. Many dealers and spares shops will do this for a nominal fee. You can even get free winter car checks.

Winter tyres

Consider buying a set of winter tyres if you drive lots in winter. They offer exceptional grip, they're effective in snow and ice and they also perform better than summer tyres when it's wet. Not cheap, but well worth the investment for the additional safety they bring.

If you don’t want the extra cost of winter tyres, checking the tread depth of your existing tyres is important. The legal limit is 1.6mm, having more than this can dramatically improve steering and braking. If your tyres are due replacing, winter is a good time to do it. Check your tyre pressures regularly, as these can change with the drop in air temperature.

Winter car equipment

It might seem a bit extreme carrying an emergency kit with you through the winter – but if you’re ever stranded, you’ll be glad of it. We recommend:

  • Mobile phone and charger
  • Hazard warning triangle
  • Hi-visibility vest
  • First aid kit
  • De-icer and a scraper
  • Shovel
  • Tow-rope
  • Wellington boots
  • A torch
  • Warm clothes
  • Food and drink

A decent set of car mats will protect your car’s carpets from wet, muddy feet, but can be wedged under the driving wheels to get you moving if you’re really stuck in the snow.