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Tips to Prepare Your Car for Winter

Tips to Prepare Your Car for Winter discussed by AP Autocare

When winter is here and the dark, cold nights have set in you should always ensure your car is ready and safe to drive in the colder, wetter and icy conditions. You never know when the freezing temperatures will take hold which result in dangerous driving conditions like icy roads, sleeted drives and even snow.

Preparing yourself and your car for driving in these conditions is vital to keep yourself and others on the road safe, as well as decreasing the likelihood of you breaking down. Statistics show you are twice as likely to break down during the winter months, so taking a few steps to ensure your car is prepared and ready for winter will decrease the chances of you breaking down.

Our ‘Prepare Your Car for Winter’ hints and tips will ensure you and your car are ready for the cold weather and keep you ahead of the winter weather and adverse driving conditions.

At AP Autocare we offer winter car checks and services to ensure your car is ready and in safe working order for when the colder and adverse weather arrives. Contact us on 0117 963 8916 or book online here.

When my car won't start in the cold, what should I do?

Despite the fact that your car might not start for a number of reasons, there is a routine you can follow to increase the chances of getting things running again. Start by:

  • Turn off everything, including headlights and radios: Anything that uses electricity drains your battery further. It is a good practice to leave your engine running for a while before turning on your accessories.

  • As you turn the ignition, press the clutch: This lessens the load on your battery and makes starting your engine easier.

  • Ensure that your battery leads are in good condition: Look under the battery's cover for signs of corrosion - usually a salty, crusty substance. The corrosion must be removed. Starting with the negative (usually black cable) terminal - disconnect your cables, and clean with a toothbrush and baking soda solution. When connecting the cables, always start with the negative.

Make sure your engine oil is at the right level: Check the level using your dipstick. If it seems low, add more. If you can switch to a thinner grade if possible in winter. Check your car's handbook to find out what type of oil is recommended.

Preparing Your Car for Winter

Problems during the cold winter months can be avoided with a little preparation.

An analysis of breakdowns that the AA attended during the winter months found that battery problems were the top cause of car breakdowns during cold weather. 

Your car battery holds a charge less effectively during cold weather because cold weather affects the chemical process inside. The battery in other devices, such as mobile phones and digital cameras, may also lose charge faster when it's cold.

Typically, weaker, older batteries will have lower performance, and cold temperatures can make this worse, causing the battery to discharge or go flat very quickly.

It may be time to replace your battery if it is having trouble holding a charge. Speak to one of our team about a replacement battery. We believe we have the best prices in Bristol on a new car battery.

Do I need a new battery for my car? 

We can test the battery and let you know if it needs to be replaced. 

The AA looked at the most common breakdowns their mechanics were called out to between December 2018 and February 2019. Here are the top reasons for calling the AA:

  1. Battery-related (24%)

  2. Tyres (16%)

  3. Intake and emissions (8%)

  4. Starter and alternator faults (6%)

  5. Locks and alarms (5%)

Car problems during the winter range from issues with the fuel intake, such as faulty pumps and injectors, to electrical problems. All of these problems can be checked and resolved with our Winter Car check.

Book Your Car in for a Service 9 Winter Check with a Reputable Garage

The most efficient and safe way to prepare your car for winter is to book it into a garage for a winter service as this will include the essential checks to ensure your car is ready for the winter. A winter service will include:

  • Battery Test
  • Tyre Check
  • Brake Pads, Discs and Brake Fluid Checks
  • Fan Belt and Alternator Drive Belt Checks
  • Coolant & Antifreeze Top-up
  • Windscreen Wiper Inspection
  • Screen Wash Check
  • Oil Level Check
  • Lights Assessment

Battery Test

You have a flat battery if you hear a faint whining noise when you turn the key in the ignition, but the starter motor does not turn over.

In the case of a completely discharged battery, or if the cables to the battery are loose, you may not hear anything.

Additionally, the dashboard ignition lights may not illuminate if the battery is completely flat, and the car cannot be unlocked using remote central locking.

Cold, damp weather puts huge amount of strain on your car's battery as it makes it harder for an engine to start and has an impact on the battery’s ability to keep your car running as well as powering your cars heating system. There is nothing worse than getting into your car in the cold or freezing weather and your battery won’t start your car. If it won’t start then it is likely that your battery needs replacing.

If you can successfully jump start your car it is likely the battery was the issue. If you jump start your car and it dies immediately, your alternator is most likely faulty.

The dashboard and headlights may also flicker, the car's gauges may move jerkily, and if the alternator overheats, you may smell a burning smell coming from the cabin.

If all the lights and in-car electrics are working fine, this points to an issue with the starter motor – rather than the battery. Even jump starting your car won’t work if the starter motor has failed. Replacing a starter motor is generally a task for a trained mechanic. They’re not hugely expensive, but the work can take up to half a day.

Your garage will check the health and the voltage outage of your battery during its winter check and service and advise you if it needs replacing before it gets to the point when your car won’t start.

Tyre Check

Checking the tread depth of your tyres is important at any time of the year but even more important in the winter. The legal tyre tread limit is 1.6mm, however, more than this will dramatically improve the steering and your cars braking speed and capabilities which essential if the roads are icy or wet. If any of your tyres need replacing, or are nearing the minimum tread then your garage will advise you of this and recommend any which should be replaced. They will also check your tyre pressures which is essential for safe driving in the winter and you should also do this every 4 weeks and before any long journeys. Tyre pressures can change quickly when the temperatures drops so checking them regularly is essential for safe driving.

Brake Pads, Discs and Brake Fluid Checks

During your service and winter check your garage will check your brake pads, brake discs and brake fluid to ensure they are safe, legal, fast and responsive which is more important in the winter months when the roads are wet and icy and you need to stop your car quickly. During your service and winter check, they will make sure your brake pads and fluids are bled and replaced and they will let you know about any faults in your cars braking system so you are able to rectify them immediately so your car is safe to drive.

Fan Belt and Alternator Drive Belt Checks

Your service and winter check with your garage will ensure your cars fan belt and alternator drive belts are tight and not worn, and that all your plugs and leads are in good condition and secure. These checks will prevent the likelihood of you breaking down if they need replacing.

Coolant & Antifreeze Top-up

Antifreeze is an essential element to stop the water in your engine’s cooling system freezing. Engine-related breakdowns and sometimes engine’s seizing are commonly related to your cars cooling system and its antifreeze levels. Antifreeze is added to the water in your vehicle's radiator to prevent it from seizing and causing costly issues. Frozen water expands and can split engine hoses and pipes, causing leaks and reduces its cooling efficiency. A winter car check and service with a garage will ensure your vehicle’s cooling system is working effectively and your cars antifreeze levels will be checked and refilled if needed. Checking your antifreeze levels regularly throughout winter is essential to your car running smoothly and will prevent costly breakdowns.

Windscreen Wiper Inspection

Windscreen wipers working effectively are extremely important in the winter to ensure you always have full visibility in wet and icy driving conditions. A service and winter car check will ensure your windscreen wipers are in good working order. The cold wet weather can damage the rubber on your windscreen wipers so it’s always a good idea to check them regularly throughout the winter yourself.

Screen Wash Check

During the winter months, you will use your windscreen wipers and screen wash a lot more due to the salt and dirt on the roads so it is essential it is topped up and at the right level. Even if your windscreen wipers are in good working order they will smear dirt across the windscreen if your screen wash is empty. Your garage will check the levels of your screen wash and fill it up during your winter check and service with them and you should also check it regularly throughout the winter and before you go on any long journeys.

Screen wash has a lower freezing temperature than water alone so you should always use a good screen wash to prevent freezing which will end up in you not being able to use your windscreen wipers effectively when you are driving and can also result in the windscreen wash bottle and pipes splitting which will then need to be replaced.

Oil Level Check

Your winter check and service with your garage will check the oil levels in your car’s engine. Too much or not enough oil in a car will cause major engine problems so it is vital it is at the right level to avoid unwanted breakdowns and costly repairs. Driving without enough oil or low oil pressure will seize your car’s engine, resulting in you needing a whole engine replacement. If you notice the oil light on when you are driving or whilst the car is running, you should turn your engine off and check your oil levels immediately. Your garage will advise you which oil you should use as for some cars thinner oil is recommended in the winter to enable it to run more smoothly.

You won't be able to start your car in cold temperatures if your oil has a high cold viscosity (resistance to flow). In contrast, excessive hot viscosity causes premature wear on engine components because they won't be adequately protected.

Check the manufacturer's recommendations in your car's handbook, and switch to a thinner grade of oil if possible in winter.

Typical grades are 10W-30 and 5W-20, with the first number (followed by a ‘W’ for ‘winter’) denoting the oil's thickening characteristics during cold weather. As the number decreases, the oil gets thinner.

DON'T Warm the car up

Have you ever been told to warm the cars engine before driving, especially during winter?

When the weather is below zero degrees, it’s easy to believe you need to let your engine “warm up” for a minute or two by letting the engine tick over before driving away. 

According to an old adage, letting your engine reach normal operating temperature is better for your car than starting it up and driving off right away. In a 2009 study, researchers found that, on average, people believed a car's engine should idle for four minutes in subfreezing temperatures-but it turns out this is bad for your car, your wallet, and the environment. In fact, idling your machine in the cold only leads to a shorter lifespan for your engine.

Older car models with carburettors did experience engine performance problems due to cold weather. In colder temperatures, petrol and diesel are less likely to evaporate, which would have prevented carburettors from getting the right mixture of air and fuel into the engine. Consequently, some cars stalled at times, and this may have contributed to the practice of heating up our engines. You don't have to worry about this if your vehicle is made within the past few decades. Since the 1980s, car companies began replacing carburettors with electronic fuel injection, which uses sensors to calculate the proper mixture of fuel and air to supply your engine.

As soon as temperatures fall below freezing, your engine automatically adds more gasoline to the fuel mix to compensate. Leaving your car idling exposes your engine to a more rich fuel than is necessary, which causes oil to be stripped from your engine's vital components.

Petrol and diesel are excellent solvents, and if you run them at a cold idle for an extended period of time, they can actually wash the oil out of the combustion chamber walls, causing them to lose their lubrication and reducing their lifespan. Consequently, what you intend to be helping your car's engine might actually turn out to be damaging it.

The engine switches back to its regular fuel mixture once it reaches about 40 degrees, but idling does not help it reach this point any faster. Getting an engine warm is best accomplished by driving. You shouldn't use this as an excuse to speed down the road: Your engine will take anywhere from five to fifteen minutes to reach a normal operating temperature after you start driving. Until then, take it easy on the accelerator to avoid putting unnecessary strain on your engine.

Light Assessment

The days are shorter and darker and the weather is worse during the winter months so ensuring your exterior lights are working effectively is an important winter check that your garage will do when it is with them.  You should also check and clean your lights regularly as the salt and dirt from the roads will build-up on them without you knowing in the winter months, reducing the effectiveness of your lights for others to see you, as well as reducing your visibility. Driving without working exterior lights is illegal and dangerous, so it is an important winter check.

A winter check and service at your local garage will ensure your car is prepared and ready for the colder months and adverse weather conditions. Snow, ice and wet roads can cause dangerous driving conditions so having your car checked and in tip top condition is vital to yours and others road user’s safety.

Preparing for Longer Journeys

When you are going on longer car journeys you should always be prepared and carry a winter breakdown kit which you will be extremely grateful for if you ever break down. A winter breakdown kit should include:

  • Mobile phone and a car charger
  • Hazard warning triangle
  • De-icer and scraper
  • Hi-visibility vest
  • First aid kit
  • Shovel
  • Walking boots
  • Torch
  • Warm clothes & blanket
  • Food and drink

Check you have Breakdown Cover

When you are going on a long journey away from home it’s always a good idea to have breakdown cover even if your car has been serviced and had its winter car check at your local garage. Being stranded and broken down away from home in the winter is scary so even having minimal breakdown cover will ensure you have access to a company coming out to you to try and get you started again, or getting you to a local garage for any faults to be repaired. Breakdown cover will give you peace of mind that you aren’t on your own on longer journeys in the winter when the weather and driving conditions are normally worse.

Many of the problems you find when driving in the winter months can be easily avoided by booking your car in for a Service and Winter Car Check so any problems or likely problems which may occur are fixed before they cause you any problems. Being prepared is important when it comes to road safety in the winter so take time to invest in your cars safety when preparing for winter and before you go on any long journeys. AP Autocare in Bristol will Prepare Your Car for Winter and have pre-set winter checks which will make sure you and your car are prepared for the colder months.

About AP Autocare

We have been in business for over 40 years and are one of the most reputable and independent MOT, Repair and Service Centres in Bristol and we are Bristol's Largest Independent Multi Manufacturer Specialist.

We are within walking distance from Bristol City Centre and Temple Meads Train Station and are ideal for your Winter Car Check, Service, MOT or Repair if you work in the city centre or surrounding areas.

We offer a courtesy car if you need a car whilst it is booked in with us, or we can arrange a lift to work, home or a collection and delivery service to ensure that being without a car isn’t an inconvenience for you.

We are friendly, professional and have competitive rates, with the skills of a main dealership but without the costs associated with them.

We offer services for all vehicles of any age and size from small cars to light commercial vehicles up to 3.5 tonnes (Class 7).

Our Services include:

  • Winter Car Checks
  • Servicing
  • MOT’s
  • Bodywork & Paint Repairs
  • Engine Diagnostics and Repair
  • Annual and Interim Services
  • Air Conditioning
  • Tyres & Exhausts
  • Brakes
  • Clutches
  • Remapping
  • Suspension & Steering
  • Welding
  • Battery Testing & Replacement
  • Wheel Alignment
  • Tyre Replacement
  • Remapping

We are a specialist and recognised garage for many of the main car manufacturers including; BMW, Citroen, Peugeot, Mini, Porsche, Audi, VW, Seat, Skoda and Land Rover and we have main dealer level diagnostic equipment along with main dealer knowledge and expertise. Bringing your vehicle to us for any of our services can save you up to 30% compared to main dealer prices.

If you are looking for a Winter Car Check, Service, MOT or Repair for your vehicle, please contact us on 0117 963 8916 or book online here and one of our experts will be able to answer any questions you may have and arrange an appointment for you.

Published: Monday 25th October 2021