Listen to grandma
Grandma Marshall used to trot-out the most bizarre expressions. “It looks like a tom tit on a round of beef” may have been one of her more unfathomable adages but she did offer more conventional (and useful) advice occasionally. “Buy cheap, buy twice” was of the better-known nuggets of guidance that she used to impart, as well as the popular chestnut, “prevention is better than cure”.
I tend to use both of those phrases frequently, when advising people on automotive reliability. Generally, the warmer summer months are kinder to a car but cold and damp air can test its electrical system’s reliability to breaking point. While recovery services are the last port of call, it is better to prevent a breakdown from happening in the first place, by ensuring thorough and regular servicing, rather than tempting a potentially inconvenient and dangerous situation.
By far, electrical problems are the most common causes of vehicles failing to start. If your car battery was struggling during the summer, it is likely to give up completely come winter time. Batteries especially do not like working in cold weather, when the engine becomes harder to turn. If you are unsure about your car battery’s condition, most garages are able to test it quickly and occasionally for free.
Should you need to purchase a new one, do not be tempted to buy cheaply. Pay a little extra for a heavier duty battery, especially if it possesses a longer warranty. If you tend to drive on short journeys only, the battery may never get the chance to recharge fully and investing in a higher capacity replacement will pay dividends. While driving, switch off any electrical accessories, once they are no longer required. Heated rear windscreens, for example, place a huge demand on the electrical system. Additionally, take your car for an occasional longer run, which will not only benefit the electrical system but will also allow all of the car’s mechanical parts to reach their optimum working temperatures.
Naturally, other factors need to be taken into account, most of which are checked during a routine service. Engine coolant and screen-wash age and concentration, radiator integrity, hoses and their connections, tyres and sidewalls, springs and dampers, ignition and braking system conditions, lamp operation and security aspects all need to be inspected at least annually, to reduce the chance of an unexpected breakdown. Maybe Grandma’s phrases were useful after all?