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How to winter-proof your car

Yep, it’s that time of year again – icy mornings, dark evenings, gloomy skies and wet roads. So here are some top tips to get your car fit for winter.

Time for a top-up

In summer, you need around 1 part screen wash to 8 parts water. But in winter, manufacturers typically recommend 1 part screen wash to just 2 parts water. So if you’re still running on summer levels, you’d better top up before your washer bottle freezes.

Check your anti-freeze too, because if you’ve ever topped up your car’s coolant with plain old tap water, then it’s likely that the anti-freeze in your radiator is below the recommended level - which means one night of freezing temperatures could wreck your engine.

You can pick up an anti-freeze tester for less than a tenner. Or if you don’t fancy getting under the bonnet, ask your local garage to test it for you. Many garages offer pre-winter checks, which usually covers washers and wipers, steering and suspension, brakes and battery. Sure, it might cost you a few quid, but it’ll be a lot cheaper than fixing a blown engine.

Winter tyre safety

Unless you live in a hilly region where snow is common, it’s probably not worth your while fitting winter tyres. But you should make sure your regular tyres are up to the job. So check your pressures - because poorly inflated tyres can cause a significant loss of traction.

Check your tread too. According to UK law, you should have a tread depth of “at least 1.6 mm across the central three-quarters of the breadth of the tread and around the entire circumference.” If you don’t have a tyre gauge, a 20p coin will do the job. Insert the edge of the coin into a groove anywhere across the central breadth of tread. And if any of the outer edge of the coin remains sticking out, you’ll know your tread is below the legal limit.

Even if your tyres are still legal, it’s worth remembering that most manufacturers recommend changing your tyres when the tread gets down to 3mm. 

Be kind to your battery

Your car battery has to work extra hard in winter. The heated rear windscreen… fans and demister… headlights on those dark mornings … heated seats (if you’re posh).

Switching on these electrical systems before you start the car can put your battery under serious strain. And turning the ignition at the same time can reduce the life of your battery.

So switch off all electrical systems before you start the engine. Then once the motor’s running, you can switch them back on again.

Emergency kit

An unexpected blizzard can quickly turn a busy motorway into an overnight car park. So if you’re planning a long journey, it’s a good idea to pack an emergency kit.

You’ll find emergency kits in the shops for around £40, but you can put together a DIY version for a lot less. Pack a torch, first-aid kit, hi-viz vest, drinks and non-perishable snacks, plus a foil or thermal blanket. Then stow it all in a bag and stash it in the boot – otherwise you’ll be pinching the snacks every time you feel peckish!

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Representative example: £400 loan repayable over 6 months. 6 monthly payments of £126.40. Rate of interest 179% p.a. fixed. Representative 991% APR. Total amount payable is £758.40.