Autumn, season of mists and appalling driving conditions, the harbinger of the winter months soon to come when the roads are at their most treacherous. Already we have seen heavy rain, floods, strong winds, hail and fog to give us warning of what’s in store this Winter so time then for a few tips on preparing your car for the difficult driving times ahead.
For now is the best time to ensure that your car is safe and reliable, the middle of a snow storm on a country road is just the wrong time to attempt emergency repairs which could so easily have been foreseen.
Motoring rescue organisations say that 90 % of their millions of annual calls for help are a direct result of inadequate servicing. More worrying is that nearly 5 % of all road accidents are directly attributable to mechanical failure so surely it makes common sense to give your car a regular check up.
If you do discover a fault get it fixed quickly before you are stranded with a broken down motor or, worse, in a hospital with a broken body because you failed to notice wear of a vital component.
First, and most important, check your tyres, your only contact with the road. Ensure that there is at least 1.6 mm of tread over the entire width of the tyre – the legal minimum – although 2mm is safer. Ensure also that the tyres are free of cuts and bulges and correctly inflated. If in doubt get them checked and replaced and don’t forget to check the spare.
It is vitally important to see and be seen, so check that lights and indicators are clean and working, stock up on spare bulbs in all sizes, most car spares shops sell kits containing all of the bulbs for your car.
Check that the wiper blades are clean, not split or worn and that they clear the windscreen and rear window adequately, replace them if in doubt. Top up the washer bottle with screen anti – freeze [ not ordinary anti freeze ]. Ensure that washer jets are clear – use a pin – and correctly aimed.
Buy at least one can of de-icer and a scraper and keep them handy in the glove box. For those mornings when even the door locks are frozen another can and scraper should be kept indoors.
Under the bonnet, ensure that the battery is able to take the extra strain, remember, you will frequently be driving with all of the electrical components in use at the same time, top up with distilled water if your battery is of the older, unsealed type – many batteries are now sealed for life, such batteries are clearly marked. Clean and grease the battery terminals with a smear of petroleum jelly. If in doubt have your garage test the battery.
Check, or have checked, that the ignition system and the distributor are in good order and if they are, spray the leads and the distributor with silicone to prevent moisture entering.
With the car on level ground, check that the oil level is between the upper and lower marks on the dipstick. Try it twice, cleaning on a tissue each time. If necessary, top up with a good quality oil. Better still, now is a good time for an oil change to a lighter multi – grade oil which will ease cold weather starting and give the engine better protection in the months ahead.
If your air filter has summer and winter positions, adjust it now to the latter. Check on the condition of the fan and other belts and if in doubt replace them.
It is always worthwhile carrying spares of each belt or one of the cut – to – length emergency belts which are available.
Unless your radiator is of the permanently sealed type drain it and refill with the correct mixture of anti-freeze, checking first that all of the hoses and clips are in good condition.
For all of the above checks consult with your car manual which will clearly show the checkpoints and specify approved lubricants and fluids. It is unwise to use inferior and unbranded products as they will not perform as well or last as long.
Finally a recommended check list of spares and essential equipment to carry for winter driving, all can be obtained from your local garage or car spares shop.
- Torch with spare batteries
- Jump leads
- Spare bulbs and fuses
- Tow rope
- Small shovel
- Wellingtons and an old jacket
- A blanket
- Spare belts, a hose repair kit and clips
- A warning triangle
- First aid kit
- A small tool kit for basic repairs
If you lack either the skill or confidence to carry out all of these checks then it’s time to let the professionals take over, book your car into a reliable garage and ask them to quote for a winter service which should include all of these points. They can advise on and quote for any repairs they find necessary. Remember, if you want your car to stay reliable have it serviced regularly at the intervals suggested in your handbook or if it has covered more than 6000 miles since last checked over.
Don’t take chances this coming winter, make sure your car is safe.
Article © Graham Benge 2007