Get ready for winter: how to prepare your car for cold weather

Be prepared

Winter driving tips

JUST AS lots of people will roll up at work an hour early on Monday because they didn’t realise the clocks went back over the weekend, so an equal number will at some point this autumn and winter find themselves stuck in a traffic jam or broken down at the side of the road, cursing themselves for forgetting to pack a warm jacket, a flask of coffee or even a humble shovel.

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Each winter, websites such as ours and motoring organisations such as the AA warn drivers against the perils of setting out unprepared for the weather and everything it can throw at you, from snow to hold-ups. And every winter, too many drivers get caught out.

Andy Smith of the AA’s special response unit is trained to fix cars and help motorists in adverse weather conditions. He’s seen it all and says motorists’ biggest mistake is to think the nice weather of the past six months will continue into winter.

“People get into the habit of driving in their shirt sleeves or a light top but that’s not going to help you when the weather turns nasty, as it surely will,” he says.

From all his years of experience, Smith reckons just two things are absolutely essential if motorists are to stay comfortable in a crisis this winter: an old coat and a cheap shovel.

“I’ve lost count of the number of times I have been to the aid of a motorist and found them cold, wet and utterly miserable,” he says. “The best advice when you break down is to get away from the car, but if it’s winter and you haven’t got a coat or jacket, you’re going to get very cold. If you’ve got an old coat knocking around the house, put it in the car’s boot.”

He’s also a fan of the trusty shovel. Hill says he goes to the aid of many motorists stuck in snow for want of a £5.99 spade.

“Of course we’ll come to their rescue but they’ll be waiting a long time because we’ll have been clearing the snow away for other members who forgot their shovels, too.”


10 winter driving tips

1 Take snacks and a hot drink

Certainly one to consider for a long journey, miles from home. You don’t know how long you’ll be stuck in a jam, but a word of advice, before you fill up with hot beverages, make sure you answered the call of nature before you set out.

2 Know where you’re going

If you’re going some distance, at least have an idea about how to get there and major points such as towns along the way. That way, if the sat nav does try to guide you down an unclassified road to a five-bar gate (Andy Smith rescued a driver in just such a situation), you’ll know it’s out to lunch.

3 Wrap up

Before you take those old gloves, scarf and coat to the charity shop ask yourself if they could be better off in your boot, there for a rainy, or more likely, snowy day. Sitting by a wind-blow, rain-drenched road in your shirt sleeves is a sure-fire way to get hypothermia.

4 Pack a shovel

It might be blue skies when you leave but you can bet that if you haven’t packed a shovel, it’ll be snowing when you arrive. Depending where you are, it only takes a few flurries to trap a car, especially if it’s rear-wheel drive. A shovel will get you up and running in no time.

5 Check the battery

A failing battery will rarely give you prior warning. One day you can start your car; the next, you can’t. In cold weather it has to work particularly hard and it can fail anywhere, any time. So if it’s five years old, think about changing it, or at least have it checked.

6 Check the antifreeze

We’re used to our cars having sealed-for-life components that rarely need checking; your anti-freeze bottle is not one of them. Its level and antifreeze concentrations can fall over time, so if yours hasn’t been changed at its annual service, check there’s enough and that it’s viable.

7 Top-up the screenwash

Road salt quickly smears and reduces vision through the windscreen, so check and if necessary top-up your car’s screenwash bottle with pre-mixed winter fluid.

8 Fit winter tyres

Not everyone can afford cold-weather tyres (CWT), or winter tyres as they are popularly known, but they do provide much better grip on snow and ice, and you can always swap them with your standard tyres at the end of the season.

9 Clear away the snow

Clearing a little patch of the windscreen isn’t enough. Even if you don’t care about your safety, give some thought to the safety of others and clear all the windows. And while you’re at it, clear it off the bonnet, the boot and the roof to prevent stray lumps flying into other road users.

10 Check the fuel

You want to aim to keep your tank at least a quarter full to allow for any long delays or even longer diversions. There’s nothing quite so terrifying as a flashing low-fuel warning light on a motorway, or an unfamiliar road miles from anywhere.


It’s the little things…

Your winter driving packing list:

  • Ice scraper and de-icer
  • Torch (that works)
  • Wellies
  • Blanket
  • Tow rope
  • Warning triangle (place it far enough way to give other road users plenty of notice)
  • Road atlas (useful when you’re diverted)
  • Mobile phone with plenty of juice


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Article originally published on Oct 25, 2013.