The clocks going back an hour on 31st October 2021 and the onset of the dark nights signals the start to one of the most difficult times of year to be behind the wheel. We may not be subject to prolonged spells of sub-zero temperatures in the UK, but during the Autumn and Winter months it still gets cold and icy.
Information from the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (RoSPA) shows that when the clocks go back every year, there is an increase in the number of road users either killed or seriously injured. The main reasons behind this are because of reduced visibility and increased difficulty in judging speed and distance.
During the colder months it is important to pay extra attention to the maintenance of your vehicle. We have put together this simple checklist to help you prepare your vehicle for the colder months ahead.
- Check Your Car Battery
During the colder months, battery use increases as more power is required to start a cold engine, plus operate the heating system. According to Halfords, the average life expectancy of a battery is 3-5 years. If your battery is more than 5 years old, you may want to consider getting it replaced. You can check the health of your battery by using a home battery tester or if in doubt, Halfords offer a free battery health check.
- Check Your Tyres
Check that all your tyres are in good condition. If you find any obvious damage such as cracks or splits, then you should get them checked immediately. The minimum tread depth for tyres to be legal is 1.6mm. In the colder months, it is advisable to have a minimum of 3mm tread depth to maintain better control and grip on the road.
You can check your tread depth using a 20p coin. Place the coin into the main tread grooves of your tyre. If you can’t see the raised edge around the coin, your tyre’s tread is likely to be greater than 1.6mm and, therefore, legal. If, on the other hand, the outer band is visible when inserted, your tyre could be unsafe and require professional inspection.
Colder temperatures have a direct impact on your tyres – when the temperature falls, so does the pressure of your tyres. During the colder months, check your tyre pressure at least once a month and make any necessary adjustments. You can find the recommended PSI for your vehicle in your car’s handbook or online.
- Check Your Windscreen Wipers
Icy temperatures can make your vehicles wiper blades stiff and fragile, so take extra care not to pull them off if your windscreen is frozen, using de-icer to help if needed. Check the wiper blades for any cracks or splits and replace them if they are not working as well as they should.
- Keep Your Windows Clean
At this time of year, a combination of dirt and low sun can make it very difficult to have good visibility. It is important that you can see clearly through your windscreen and out of all your windows when driving. Make sure your windscreen and windows are clean, both inside and out, and consider keeping a pair of sunglasses in the car to help with any glare. Check your windscreen for any cracks or chips that have the potential to become worse during the colder weather.
- Clean Your Lights
As well as being able to see where you are going, it’s equally important that other people on the road can see your vehicle, especially in the dark winter nights. Make sure all your lights and the covers are clean and dust free – headlights, indicators and brake lights. Check that all your lights are working correctly, replacing any bulbs if needed.
- Check Liquid Levels – Screen Wash, Fuel and Oil
Screen wash is important to remove dirt from your windscreen and wipers, keeping your visibility good. In the winter months, you will use a whole lot more so make sure you keep it topped up. Screen wash also contains anti-freeze, which helps to prevent water from freezing when the temperatures plummet. Therefore, it’s important to use proper screen wash, rather than just using water.
There are two types of people in the world, those that like to test how far their vehicle will run with the fuel light on, filling up when they’re running on fumes, and those that don’t like the fuel tank to get below half full. In the colder months especially, try to be the latter. During the darker months, roads often get congested which means you might find yourself on the road for longer than planned. Using heaters and window defrosters takes up more fuel, which is why it’s important to always have plenty of fuel.
Cars low on oil in winter are more susceptible to breaking down. Low oil levels can also cause damage to the engine, which can be costly to fix. Check that your car’s oil level is between the minimum and maximum mark, topping it up if necessary.
- Clear The Leaves From Under Your Bonnet
Leaves are terrible when they fall, making the roads more slippery and covering potholes and damage to roads that, if visible, could be avoided. Leaves can also potentially cause damage to your vehicle, blocking the drains that clear away rainwater leading to water leaking into your vehicle. Make sure you clear any leaves from around the edge of your bonnet, as well as under it.
- Carry a Phone Charger
If you break down, the last thing you want is to find that your mobile phone is low on battery. Keep a portable charger in your glovebox, plus a charger that can be plugged in via your cigarette lighter/USB port.
- Pack a Winter Survival Kit
Every driver should be prepared in case of an emergency, but this is especially important if you are driving at night. A torch/head torch is very useful if you suffer a breakdown and need to inspect your car’s engine or change a tyre. Pack a blanket, warm clothes, waterproof jacket, torch, first-aid kit, warning triangle and high vis jacket in the boot. This may seem a bit extreme but could come in extremely handy if your vehicle breaks down and you find yourself stranded.
You should also write your breakdown provider’s number on a piece of paper in the glovebox, as well as having it saved on your phone.
Tony Buckingham, Managing Director of Buckingham Insurance says, “Driving during the darker and colder Autumn and Winter months is difficult, even for experienced drivers. Make sure you leave adequate room between you and the vehicle in front, as it is more difficult to judge distance and speed in the dark. Schedule plenty of time for your journey so you are not rushing and putting extra pressure on yourself. Unfortunately, statistics show that more car accidents happen at this time of year. If you do have an accident, we have 24 hours a day, 365 days a year Claims Service. If you would like to discuss your car insurance policy and to make sure you have adequate cover, please contact us or telephone one of our friendly staff on 01246 575 625 (Clowne) or 01773 748 627 (Ripley). They will be more than happy to answer any questions you may have.”