With frost now starting to creep across the UK, drivers should be taking steps to ensure their vehicles are safe, roadworthy and winter ready. Trust My Garage has some top tips for looking after your motor in the winter weather – read on to find out what you can do to keep rolling through the chilly season!
Do I need Antifreeze?
In short; yes! Antifreeze is clever stuff that stops the water in your engine’s cooling system from freezing! It also does several other important jobs, making it a vital car fluid to keep your engine running smoothly.
As well as preventing water from freezing, antifreeze raises the boiling point of engine coolant to prevent overheating. The stuff also protects your engine from internal corrosion, aids heat transfer, and prevents scale from building up internally.
How do you use it?
There’s the concentrated form, or the ready mixed with water kind. The latter version is commonly referred to as engine coolant and can normally be used straightaway for top-ups and replacements. The concentrated form needs to be diluted with water, usually at a level of around 50% antifreeze and 50% water. Always check the pack’s instructions for the right ratio to use, as well your vehicle’s Owner’s Manual to make sure you use the correct variety for your car, as recommended by the manufacturer.
Brakes are an essential part of any car and therefore should be regularly checked and well maintained. This is especially important during winter months, but how can you tell your brakes are in tip top condition?
It’s a case of making sure you have them checked regularly, as the winter months can be very wet and sometimes puddles can be difficult to avoid. When driving through a puddle, make sure you test your brakes afterwards by driving at a slow speed and gently applying pressure.
Listen out for warning signs, as brakes will let you know when there is a problem – whether this is through grinding or squeaking. Sometimes your car will act like it has a mind of its own and pull you to one side while driving, which could indicate a fault or imbalance with the braking system. Vibrations and temperamental pedals are also a sign you need to take give your car some attention – so look out for the signs and don’t ignore them.
Don’t ignore any warning lights that may appear on your dashboard! If you are unsure of their meaning either consult your Owner’s Manual or visit your local Trust My Garage member, who will be able to advise of any issues with your car.
Heading on a trip? Plan your route
The further the distance you’re travelling, the more chance there is for issues such as traffic to occur. We’re getting close to Christmas, which is a peak time for driving as many people visit their families over the festive period, so try and ensure you give yourself adequate travelling time.
Here are some of the routes identified by motoring organisations as traffic hotspots over Christmas:
- The M1, A1 and A1(M) northbound
- The M4 westbound to Wales and around Heathrow
- The M3, A303 and M5 heading to the West Country
- The M23 to Gatwick and the M11 to Stansted
- The M62 over the Pennines is often affected by snow, as is the A1079 between Hull and York
It’s also worth noting that many main roads and motorways will be gritted in the case of snow and ice, but this won’t necessarily happen in areas that don’t see as much traffic. It’s worth taking some extra time by using main roads to get to your destination instead of taking shortcuts that often require drivers to travel on country lanes, as these may be more dangerous in poor weather.
With the onset of dark evenings after the clock’s go back an hour it’s important to make sure all your lights are working properly. With poorer weather conditions it’s also wise to make sure your motor’s wiper blades are in good condition and your screen wash level is topped up with a good quality fluid – this will help prevent your washers from freezing in the lower temperatures.
Check your tyres
To learn all you need to know about ensuring your vehicle’s tyre are ready for the road, regardless of the time of year, read our “What to do when… you need to check your vehicle’s tyres” post. In winter, it can also be advisable to equip winter tyres to your vehicle – but how are they beneficial to you?
Winter tyres are designed to offer optimum traction and grip in cold conditions. They have a softer compound, along with deeper grooves and narrow cuts – called sipes – built into the tread. These features help disperse water and snow, and allow the rubber to move around, which improves contact with the road. You can identify a winter tyre by the snowflake symbol on the sidewall. Tyres without the snowflake symbol but marked ‘M+S’ (Mud and Snow) are not necessarily proper winter tyres.
Winter tyres work best at temperatures below 7°C. Indeed, they outperform conventional ‘summer’ tyres for traction, cornering grip and braking in such conditions – regardless of whether there is snow or ice.
Winter tyres aren’t mandatory in the UK. Only a small percentage of drivers choose to fit them, many of whom live in more remote areas – such as the Scottish Highlands – however, it’s a different story in much of mainland Europe. If you travel abroad with your car over the winter season, check the requirements and laws for each country you visit to avoid a fine.
The price of winter tyres varies widely, dependent on your car and wheel size. On average, they are slightly more expensive than an equivalent summer tyre in the UK.
However, while the cost of four winter tyres is significant, remember that your summer tyres will last longer as a result. Thus, while you may have a fairly high initial outlay, the longer-term cost of winter tyres is relatively low.
Before setting off on a journey, turn on your vehicle’s lights and either walk around the vehicle to conduct a check or ask a passenger to check all your lights are working correctly – be sure to press the brake too and check that all three lights are working.
If any lights are dim or aren’t working, including fog lights and number plate lights, you should get them replaced as soon as possible.
If you do suffer the unfortunate experience of a breakdown it’s important to keep some essentials in the car – a fully charged mobile phone, a torch, warm clothes, comfortable and waterproof shoes, hot drinks and snacks (Telegraph). That way, when you’re waiting for some roadside assistance or a recovery vehicle you can stay warm, full and safe while trying to stave off the boredom.
If you’re on the motorway in the event of your vehicle developing a problem, the Highway Code says to leave at the next exit or pull into a service area. If you can’t do so, you should pull onto the hard shoulder and stop as far to the left as possible, with your vehicle’s wheels turned to the left.
Once you have safely pulled over, switched off the engine and removed the key from the vehicle, exit it as soon as possible. You should leave the vehicle by the passenger side doors if at all possible, so that you’re not at risk of oncoming traffic. Make sure all passengers do the same, and that they keep far away from the carriageway – be sure to stay behind the roadside barriers where possible.
Put the hazard lights on, and, if it’s dark, put your side lights on too. If it’s foggy, put the fog lights on if you can do so with the vehicle switched off. Generally, if you can’t see for more than 100 metres, the visibility is poor and that’s when your fog lights should be used.
Emergency snow kit
- Warning triangle – let other drivers know your situation to avoid stress and confusion
- Cat litter or sand – to put under the wheel to help traction in slippery conditions
- Snow shovel or spade
- Ice scraper
- Warm clothes and footwear
- Snacks and water
- Mobile phone
- Blanket or sleeping bag
- Jump leads
- High visibility jacket
- First aid kit
- Heat pad – If you are stranded in the snow and the exhaust pipe is covered, it can be dangerous to run the engine. These help you stay warm.
TMG member garages are located all over the UK, so no matter where you are, we’re here to help you. If you want to see where your nearest garage is, pop in your post code and take a look!
Remember, you’re never far from a Trust My Garage member who can help you out with any problems that you might experience on the road. All of our members are Trading Standards approved and are here to get you back on track quickly and safely.
What is Trust My Garage?
Trust My Garage is a collection of Britain’s best local garages – every one different and every one dedicated to the highest standards of skill and personal service. All the garages in Trust My Garage are members of the Independent Garage Association – which is part of the RMI, one of Britain’s oldest motor trade organisations. IGA members are true professionals who have to comply with a strict code of practice.
Each and every customer of all Trust My Garage members can rely on using a nationally recognised brand.
For more information about Trust My Garage or to locate your nearest TMG member visit www.trustmygarage.co.uk.