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Top 12 winter motoring tips

Motorists advised to prepare their cars for the months ahead with a set of simple checks.

We’ve teamed up with automotive expert Trevor Eastman of Haynes Car Manuals to offer a list of top tips to help you stay out of trouble on the roads this winter.

“There are some really simple DIY checks that you can carry out to ensure that your vehicle is as safe as possible to drive this winter,” says Trevor.

“We all know that as winter sets in, dark nights, fog, rain and snow can add to the dangers of driving.

“In fact, 50% of all reported night time road traffic accidents occur in wet conditions and after dark a motorist is nine times more likely to be involved in an accident if it is wet.

“Layer in hail, sleet and snow and these are just the conditions that are likely to bring the most car breakdowns or accidents.

“Many of these incidents could have been avoided had drivers taken more precautions before setting off on their journey, reiterating why taking extra time to make some essential checks before drivers set off on a journey is key.”

Trevor’s top tips

1. Check your lights
Whether you’re driving in mist and fog, heavy rain or snow, day or night, it’s really important that you can be seen on the road. Check the operation of all exterior lights and keep them clean. Replacing failed bulbs or fuses is usually straightforward.

2. Clean your windscreen and windows
The low winter sun can often be a real driving hazard – especially when combined with heavy rain on the roads. You should always take care when driving in this sort of condition, so regularly cleaning your windscreen and windows, inside and out, can help with visibility. Only use a cleaner intended for car glass.

Clean the wiping edges of wiper blades with a tissue dipped in neat screen wash additive. This will help stop smearing and prolong their life.

Easy to replace if needed, check the condition of your wiper blades and stop them freezing to the screen by propping them up on slices cut from a cork when you park for the night.

Also, keep the washer reservoir topped up and use an additive with antifreeze properties (not engine antifreeze though!).

In the morning, you can use warm (not boiling!) water for defrosting windows, but watch where it runs – it could form an ice slick when it freezes.

3. Tyre check
Each week and before embarking on long journeys, check the tyre pressures (including the spare wheel). Also check the tread depth – 1.6mm is the legal minimum but for good grip on wet roads, it’s best to replace tyres once the tread depth is 2.0mm.

If you expect to frequently drive on snow-covered roads, consider buying a spare set of wheels with tyres especially designed for these conditions. Some tyre retailers will actually store the summer tyres for you in winter, and vice versa!

4. Under the bonnet
Check the level in the coolant reservoir and top up as necessary with a water/antifreeze solution. The coolant (with antifreeze) should be changed every two to three years.

Also make sure the antifreeze concentration in the cooling system is adequate – if there has been a leak and you’ve been topping up with plain water it may not be. A garage can test it for you, or you can buy a tester from a car accessory shop.

Whilst you’re under the bonnet, also ensure the battery terminals are tight and not corroded. You may get a free battery and charging system at a car accessory shop or fast-fit specialist. Don’t wait for your battery to fail – replace it in good time.

Lastly, make things easier for the battery by not switching on headlights, heater blower or heated rear window until the engine is running. Similarly, switch off lights etc before stopping the engine. Switch off the heated rear window as soon as the screen is clear.

5. Fuel
Winter grade diesel can cope with temperatures down to -15°C. If lower temperatures are expected, use an anti-waxing additive in the fuel tank (or stay at home).

6. In case of emergency
Always carry an emergency kit in your car which includes spare fuses, bulbs, jump leads, a torch, water dispersant spray and de-icer.

7. Air con
If your car has air conditioning, run it for 10 minutes or so once a month to stop the seals drying out. And use it to demist the windscreen even if you don’t need the cooling effect.

8. Parking up
When parking overnight in freezing conditions, leave your car in gear with the handbrake off if it is safe to do so. This will prevent the handbrake freezing in the ‘on’ position.

9. Iced up door lock?
There’s no point leaving lock de-icer in the car if you can’t actually access it! Frozen door locks can sometimes be freed by blowing into them – but be careful not to get your lips stuck to the car!

10. Driving
On slippery roads, drive slowly, smoothly and gently. Accelerate gradually, steer gently and brake smoothly. Arrange tuition on a skid-pan through your local driving school or the Institute of Advanced Motorists.

11. Be prepared
If you own a second-hand motor, carry the relevant Haynes Manual in your car for more top tips on maintaining your car while on the move!

12. Common sense
Use your common sense – before you set off on a journey in icy or snowy, consider if it is really essential to travel, or can it wait. It’s better to be safe than sorry.

Having sold over 200 million manuals worldwide over more than 50 years, Haynes is the industry leader in automotive manuals, helping everyday motorists to save money on costly garage bills. Haynes Car Manuals are also available to download from the website.

About Gareth Herincx

Gareth is a versatile journalist, copywriter and digital editor who's worked across the media in newspapers, magazines, TV, teletext, radio and online. After long stints at the BBC, GMTV and ITV, he now specialises in motoring.

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