Winter car maintenance tips
Now that the leaves are in free-fall, thoughts are turning to switching on the heating, wrapping up warm and, if you are anything like Mrs M, making Christmas preparations. Yet, do not forget that, no matter how new, or advanced, might be your car, winter checks are necessary, to reduce the risks of you being both inconvenienced and out-of-pocket, as well as ensuring that you remain on the right side of the law.
Most of these checks can be carried out on your driveway and take little more than a few moments. Split windscreen wiper rubbers will fail the MoT Test; perished ones might not but their effectiveness will be reduced. If matters are not improved, after wiping the blade rubbers with a damp cloth, renew them. Certain car accessory stores offer a fitting service, which reduces any inconvenience.
Certain summer grades of screen-wash tend to possess negligible anti-freezing quantities, as does a solution that has been topped up with water alone. As driving with frozen screen wash is illegal, replenish the bottle with a good quality screen-wash; it tends to be more cost-effective to buy it in concentrated form and dilute it with water at home. I recommend a 50% mixture strength. Do not use engine anti-freeze in your screen-wash bottle but bear in mind that engine coolant needs its anti-freeze strength to be checked regularly and renewed periodically, to maintain its anti-corrosion properties.
Although double-checking that all of your vehicle’s lights are operating seems obvious, should an assistant not be available, reverse up to a reflective surface and apply the brake-lights, rear sidelights and rear indicators to confirm that they are working; you can do the same nose-first. Apart from looking for any obvious tyre damage, notably on the inside walls, do not forget the pressures, which will dip slightly, as the weather cools. Should you wish to fit cold-weather/winter tyres, consider that they will need to be fitted shortly, before the temperature drops regularly below seven degrees Celsius.
Despite being a chore for many owners, washing the bodywork by hand and applying a protective wax to the paint, will make it more resilient to being assaulted by water, dirt and salt. Cleaning the glazing is prudent, particularly as a fug can form on the inside surface, which tends to be common, if the car has spent long periods exposed to the summer sun. If any door hinges and check-straps appear dry, are noisy, or should rust stains be obvious, consult the owner handbook, in case they require lubrication.
Evaluating the battery and charging system performance tends to be outside the scope of an average car owner but problems with these items tend to be the most common cause of breakdowns, because winter places them under greater strain. Driveway checks tend to be limited to ensuring that the alternator drive-belt is neither split nor frayed and that the battery terminals are not corroded. Take advantage of garage offers of a low-cost (or even free) pre-winter analysis, which will verify the battery’s capacity and the alternator’s recharging ability.
The advantage of visiting a workshop is that the health of other items, such as the coolant strength, brake fluid boiling point, steering system and the various rubber gaiters can be ascertained, with the vehicle raised on a ramp. For this reason, it is not a bad idea to have your car serviced, just prior to winter taking hold, so that any items can be spotted, before they fail and cause an unwelcome and unwarranted breakdown.