Preparing your vehicle for winter

Preparing your vehicle for winter

When summer has bowed out for another year and the leaves have started to fall, it’s time to think about preparing your car for the winter. The number of breakdowns soares in winter as most drivers are ill-prepared for the changing conditions.

Even in the UK’s rather temperate climate, there are still some top tips you can follow to make sure you are ready for when winter finally comes.

Get your car serviced

If you know a service is due around the corner, it might make sense to get it booked in before winter. Colder weather exacerbates issues with your car, and rectifying them before autumn is over can help prevent a future breakdown.

Many UK manufacturers offer free winter health checks for your car. If you’ve not heard from your local garage, give them a call. They’re usually more than happy to fit you in - at no cost to you. This is because the law of averages tells them, that the more vehicles they inspect, the more likely they are to find issues that need fixing. Of course, if they find any issues and you want them sorting, then you will need to pay for it.

Check your battery

This is one of the most important parts of your car to have checked. As the temperatures drop, the battery is less efficient meaning its output is reduced. At the same time, people will tend to have their lights and heaters on more. Also, the engine oil gets thicker in colder weather so the battery has to run double time. All of these add additional strain so it’s important to make sure your battery is up to the task.

Car batteries are most effective for around five years, after which time it is worth looking to have them check out and replaced if needs be.

Remember, if your battery is flat and the car won’t start, you might be able to jump-start it with some jump-leads connected to another vehicle’s battery. This could be just enough to get you going to the nearest garage.

Top up your engine coolant with antifreeze

Engine coolant is a 50/50 mix of water and antifreeze. It’s important to maintain this ratio throughout the year. Many people top up just with water over summer, this means that by winter there isn’t enough antifreeze in the solution to keep it from freezing over during cold snaps. This means your engine can overheat which can be a very costly repair.

Check your tyres

The legal tyre tread limit is 1.6mm on any tyre in the UK. That said, during winter it is worth considering replacing any tyres with less than 3mm, as less than this means there’s less grip. As we all know, winter tends to see more rain - and naturally sleet and snow - than other times of the year, so this is when you need the most amount of grip you can get.

Some drivers go as far as having a summer and winter set of tyres. Winter tyres offer increased grip, so if you do a lot of driving in winter this is definitely worth considering. It sounds extreme but in some colder countries this is simply routine for all motorists!

Once you’re happy with your tyres’ treads, check they’re pumped up to the correct pressure. This will help with grip and fuel efficiency.

Check your lights

With winter being so wet, lights can easily get dirty and become less effective. Try to keep them as clean as possible and always check for any cracked lenses. Replace any blown bulbs as well, as you’ll be using your lights a lot more than in the summer months. Remember, lights are not just to help you see, but for you to be seen as well.

Clean your windscreen

Give your windscreen a good clean and check for any cracks as they can grow more quickly in winter. If you do spot any, then ask your insurance company how much it is to repair. It’s often free, or has a nominal fee of £10-25, and doesn’t affect your no-claims bonus. They will usually send someone to your home or place of work as well for convenience.

Top up your screen washer fluid. You will want to have it less diluted in the winter so it has a higher antifreeze concentration.

Check your wiper blades

Run your finger along the wipers and check for any tears. If the edge isn’t smooth then they won’t be able to wipe your windscreen effectively. Consider replacing any torn ones.

Check your bodywork

It might not seem important as a winter check, but look for any stone chips. Whilst they’re mainly superficial, the salt that is added to roads in winter can attack them and make them worse. It’s a good idea to repair any surface damage before the weather turns. You could also have your car cleaned and polished with wax for an extra layer of protection, or even get your car professionally detailed. It will look awesome and keep your car bodywork in great shape through the winter.

Carry a winter supply box 

A supply box can be useful in all seasons, but especially so in winter. Here are some handy items to consider keeping in your vehicle at all times:

  • Antifreeze screenwash
  • Window scraper
  • Umbrella
  • Warm weather-proof coat
  • Woolly hat
  • Gloves
  • Blankets
  • Torch
  • Shovel 
  • Hi-visibility jackets
  • Food and water
  • Phone charger

Prepare for long journeys 

Whenever going on a long journey, it’s good practice to make sure both you and your vehicle are properly prepared.

Check your windows and lights are clear, and you have enough screenwash. Also check your engine oil level and fuel level before you set off. If you hit major traffic there’s nothing more stressful than running low on fuel and not knowing if you’ll be able to get to a petrol station in time. Similarly, if you have an electric vehicle, check how much range you have in advance.

Check your route online. Whether using a satellite navigation system or not, it’s good to have a rough idea in your head of where you’re going, and any potential backup routes in case you hit heavy traffic or an accident.

On that note, check the traffic before you set off. If there has been an accident on your route it may make sense to go a completely different way.

Also, plan any stops in advance. It’s good to know where the services are on the way so you can schedule breaks for fuel, food, drink, toilets or to have a rest or sleep.

Check your breakdown cover

Whether you have a fairly modern vehicle, or one several years old, it’s always a good idea to have suitable breakdown cover. Policies can be quick and easy to set up, and if you do break down, it’s good to know you have support available.

Make sure you keep a copy of your policy number and a contact telephone number so you know who to contact if the need arises. Worst case scenario just google the company name and give them a call quoting your vehicle registration number.


It’s important to always expect the unexpected, and if you follow these steps, you should make it through another winter without any major issues. You’ll likely increase the lifespan of your vehicle as well, so it’s a win-win.

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By Niall St John

Niall is the Co-founder of DriverBuddy and loves his cars!