Winter driving can be challenging due to slippery roads and poor visibility, which can affect your driving behavior and insurance.
However, you can reduce the risk of an accident or breakdown by giving your car a winter health check. Below is our 10 point action plan to winterize your car.
1. Check tire tread depth
Worn tires increase the risk of skidding, aquaplaning and accidents. It can also result in fines of up to £10,000 (£2,500 per tyre) and 12 penalty points.
By law, the tread depth must be at least 1.6 mm. However, experts recommend a depth of 2-3 mm.
There are a few ways to check tire tread depth, including tread depth gauges, tire tread gauges, and various tools found in professional garages.
However, we recommend the 20p test:
- Inflate each tire – the test will not work if they are flat
- Put a 20p in the groove of a tire
- If you can’t see the outer band of the coin, your tires are over the legal limit
- If you can see the coin’s outer band, they are under limit and need to be replaced
You can also choose winter tires if you live in a cold climate. They have deeper treads and softer rubber, which provides more traction. Read more about winter tires.
2. Check the coolant level regularly
Coolant cools your engine, prevents rust and stops freezing. It’s a mixture of antifreeze and water.
It’s always good for your car, but in sub-zero temperatures it’s essential. You should check your engine’s coolant level regularly and top up if necessary.
Try to change the coolant only when the engine is off, otherwise you will burn yourself.
The ideal coolant level is between min./max. in the tank, but check your car’s manual. You need a protection level of at least -25°C.
3. Take care of your lighting and use the right ones
Visibility is difficult in winter, so you need reliable, well-maintained lights. You should visually inspect your vehicle’s lights regularly, and if a light fails, replace it before your next trip.
By law, all of your car’s exterior lights must be working – from the headlights to the turn signals to the license plate lights.
How to use your different lights:
- dimmed headlights – Twilight, night and poor visibility
- high beam or high beam – in bad conditions
Switch your high or high beam back to low beam when you see another driver.
The days are shorter in winter, so night driving is more common. Read our guide to driving at night for more advice.
4. Check your wipers
In winter, rain, ice, salt and muddy water can foul your windshield much faster. That’s why it’s important to have working windshield wipers and a filled windshield washer system.
If your windscreen wipers are broken or the windscreen wipers are empty, you can be stopped by the police for some traffic offences. Defective windscreen wipers/blades are also a common reason for a TÜV failure.
Avoid this by:
- Make sure your wiper blades are clean and don’t leave streaks/streaks
- Run your fingers over the wipers to check for cracks
- Do not use dish soap in your wash tank
- Use washing liquid that can withstand temperatures of at least -15 °C
Experts recommend changing wiper blades every 12 months.
5. Check the condition of your windshield
Make sure your windshield isn’t likely to chip or crack. This is more likely to happen in winter when you de-ice your car windows.
We process thousands of windshield claims annually and windshield protection is an important part of most auto insurance policies.
Some things you can do to prevent windshield damage:
- see how the weather will be – Use a windshield when night frost is forecast
- clear frost slowly – Use de-icer and scrape slowly if your windshield is icy
- Avoid using boiling water – Cracks or chips may occur
- wait for windshield wipers
6. Monitor engine oil
Motor oil behaves differently in very cold temperatures and does not flow as well. Your engine may take longer to heat up or run inefficiently.
To avoid engine damage and a possible breakdown, regularly check your engine dipstick and keep the oil topped up. Remember: Too little or too much oil can cause engine problems.
Try to change your oil and filter every year (usually at the annual service) and don’t ignore any warning signs. Ignored, your engine will seize and could cost thousands to rebuild or replace.
Also watch out for leaks. Losing oil too quickly and dark puddles under your car are signs that you have a leak. Common causes of engine leaks are:
- a damaged oil filter
- a defective filter cap
- Oil pan gasket leaking
- broken valve cover
- too much oil
Contact a professional if you do not want to find the source of the leak.
Finally, check your car’s manual to make sure you’re buying the right type of oil and buy a reputable brand.
7. Test your brakes
Your brakes can help prevent aquaplaning and skidding in winter.
Some garages and tire fitters run free brake tests, where technicians check your car’s brake pads, shoes, calipers, hoses, discs, and handbrake linkage.
We recommend that you have your brakes tested in a professional workshop. Here are some common signs of brake damage:
- loud or squeaking noises when braking
- spongy or soft brakes
- Smell of burning when braking
- Your brake light will flash when the brakes are not applied
If you notice any of these, have your brakes tested.
8. Test your battery
Dead batteries are a common mistake in winter. Drivers use heaters, demisters and lights more frequently in cold, dark weather, which drains the battery.
We also drive shorter distances more often in winter to avoid getting caught in the rain, which means the engine and alternator struggle to recharge the battery.
As part of your car’s winter health check, have your battery tested by a professional. You may also want to purchase a battery charger and jumper cables.
9. Fill in the body
Salt and grit help keep roads rolling, but they can increase rust and corrosion on your car.
This can only be countered by prevention. Wash and wax your car before the weather turns bad, paying attention to the wheel arches and underside.
This should keep your car fit over the winter and prevent long-term damage.
10. Have the right insurance
Are You As Secure As You Could Be? If your renewal is before winter, consider your auto insurance coverage level.
Our coverage includes features like breakdown protection, windscreen protection and key care protection that are helpful in winter.
It is often more beneficial to have extensive coverage and should an accident happen you will have the right level of protection.
What if I don’t have time for a winter health check?
Head to your local shop or tire fitter if you don’t have time to do the above – many offer special winter checks.
However, that costs money – if you can’t do all that, we recommend prioritizing tires and vision.
Also read our tips for driving in extreme weather to be prepared.
I’m an experienced journalist, digital editor and copywriter now specializing in automobiles. I’m the editor of the Automotive Blog and have worked across media in newspaper, magazine, television, teletext, radio and online for well-known names such as the BBC, GMTV, ITV and MSN. I have produced digital content in the financial sector for Lloyds Bank, Nationwide and the Money Advice Service. I am married with two children and live near Bath in Somerset.