Picture it. It’s the hard shoulder of the M6, or maybe the M8 on the way down to Cork. It’s getting dark and it’s already cold. The passing HGVs are kicking up swirling clouds of freezing spray and you’re standing there, behind the car that up to a few minutes ago was a dependable family friend. And now it’s broken, issuing steam or smoke from some unseen, unexpected malady and your plans for the week have now been ruined.
It’s going to be an unpleasantly familiar sight over the next few weeks and months as the colder, wetter weather sets in and starts putting more strain on our cars. You’ll hear a plethora of adverts on the radio now for car companies and dealers offering winter checkups, and you know what – they’re not just marketing efforts; it really does make sense to get your car ready for winter.
So what’s to do first? Well, how about getting it serviced? You really should bring your car in once a year for a decent check up, no matter what the mileage or service indicator says. A decent, competent garage will easily pick up on anything that needs to be done ahead of the incoming cold fronts, and make sure you ask them to top up things like anti-freeze, power steering fluid, brake fluid and gearbox oil. All fluids, of any description, get affected by the cold, so it’s best to have them as fresh as possible.
Once that’s take care of, have a think about tyres. I know we’ve had a mild enough autumn and early winter so far, but the temperatures are dropping now, and once the average gets below about 8-degrees celsius then your standard tyres are going to become less efficient. It’s well worth considering investing in a set of winter rubber, or maybe some of the new all-season tyres that are on the market. The difference in braking distance alone could keep you out of a nasty accident.
Now, what about the breakdowns? Well, having the anti-freeze topped up to winter-appropriate levels will certainly help, and will ease the strain on the engine. It’s probably not worth changing the oil to a winter grade – Ireland rarely if ever gets that cold, but it is worth having some fresh oil in the engine just to keep things smooth.
It’s also worth having the heating and demisting systems checked, and get the air conditioning gas, if your car has aircon, topped off because one of the hardest jobs in winter is just keeping all your screens clear. Have the vents on the outside of the car where the air for the heating system is drawn in checked for any debris or leaves building up that could obstruct and overwhelm the system.
Then it’s time to have a look at the electronics of the car. Check and make sure every button and electrical system is working as it should do. If even one item is not working properly, no matter how trivial it may seem, get an expert to check the whole system – one failure can be indicative of an entire system in trouble.
Speaking of electrics, maybe it’s time to replace the battery? With cold starts putting the electrical system under ever greater strain, it’s always good to make sure your volts are topped up, just like the oil. According to the AA, the most common reason for a breakdown is actually due to a flat battery, so if you’re someone who only usually drives for short hopes around town, it’s a good idea to plug your car into a battery conditioner once in a while. Even simple, old-school solutions like covering the battery terminals in a layer of grease or petroleum jelly can make the difference between a healthy car and a breakdown waiting to happen.
While you’re at that, have a good walk around the car and make sure all the bulbs for lights, sidelights, fogs and indicators are working properly. It’s only a quick and affordable trip to the likes of Halfords to get any broken ones replaced and they can be actual life savers in our long, dark winter motoring
Other things to consider
Starter motors and alternators are also under more strain when the weather’s bad, and while there’s little you can do to predict any failures there, a car that’s sluggish to start or has inconsistent lighting problems (dim headlights etc) is probably having trouble with one or the other. A trip to the garage for that one…
Then of course, there are those of you who will be buying second hand between now and Christmas. As a good way of checking into a car’s provenance, why not ask the current owner about all of the above? If the answers are all in the affirmative then there’s a good chance that the car your looking at has been cared for properly and is likely to be in good condition.
Certainly, it’s a pretty good rule of thumb for backing up your Motorcheck history report…