Family sat on a car bumper looking out at the snow

Winter car checklist: 10 top tips

How can you make sure your car is ready for winter? Here are our top 10 ways to help you and your car through colder weather.

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By Cazoo editorial team

It’s sensible to service your car whatever the season but cold weather will put extra strain on it so it’s particularly important to make sure it’s in good condition before the temperature dips – and that you’ve got everything you need to make your winter journeys as comfortable and safe as possible.

Here are our top 10 tips to help you get your car winter-ready.

1. Book a winter car check

If you know your car is due to be serviced during the winter months, it’s a good idea to schedule it before the chill factor sets in and the garages fill up. Winter is tough on cars, but a lot of potential problems and breakdowns can be avoided with regular maintenance.

Even if your car’s not due a regularly scheduled checkup, it’s worth thinking about booking a winter car check before the temperatures drop. Many garages offer free or discounted winter car checks. These involve a thorough inspection of your car’s battery, tyres, lights, windscreen wipers and fluid levels to make sure that everything works as it should.

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2. Check your tyres

Tyres are the only part of your car that actually makes contact with the road, so it’s vital to make sure they are in good condition.

You should check that all your car’s tyres have plenty of tread depth (how deep the grooves go in the tyres’ surface). The legal minimum tread depth is 1.6mm deep across the central ¾ of the tyre’s width, around its entire circumference. You shouldn’t wait until this point, however – most experts recommend not letting the tread drop below 2.5mm of tread. An easy way of checking is to pop a 20p piece into one of the ruts – as long as you can’t see the outer band of the coin, they’re ok.

The pressure in your tyres is important too, so you should check this on a regular basis. Your owner’s handbook will tell you what amount of pressure is right for your car. It’s also worth taking a good look at your car’s tyres – check for any cuts, cracks, nails or broken glass that could cause a problem.

3. Check fluid levels

Your engine needs coolant for the radiator system, and oil for the engine, in order to run properly. If these levels are low, your car should display a warning light to let you know.

But you shouldn’t allow your car to get to this point because damage can be done to the engine and cooling system before the fluid levels drop to the point where a warning light will come on. Instead, get into the habit of checking your car’s oil and coolant levels on a regular basis without waiting to see that warning light.

Read more about how to check your car’s fluid levels.

4. Look after the battery

Colder weather combined with increased use of your car’s heater and lights can put a big strain on a battery, so it’s worth getting the condition of your battery checked and replacing it if necessary.

As a precaution, it could also be worth investing in a portable jump-start pack to reduce the risk of being stranded with a drained battery.

Leaving your car unused for long periods during poor weather can leave its battery low on charge. A drive of at least 30 minutes every couple of weeks should boost the charge to a healthier level. If you know you won’t be driving your car regularly you might consider buying a trickle-charger that will top up the battery and help maintain its condition while it’s stationary.

5. Keep your windscreen clear

Wind, rain, salt, snow and general grime means your car’s windscreen is often dirtier in winter than at any other time of year. To clear your windscreen effectively you need to make sure there’s plenty of life in the blades of your wipers. If the rubber strips are worn too low, the wipers won’t remove water effectively, leaving streaks that make it hard to see clearly ahead.

During the winter you should make sure that you regularly top up your windscreen’s washer fluid so that you don’t run out while on the road. You should always use good-quality washer fluid (you can buy this as a concentrated fluid or as a ready-mixed bottle) instead of just water, which can freeze if it’s very cold.

6. Keep your lights and number plates clean

It’s easy to let road grime, salt and dirt build up on your car during winter, but even if you don’t give the entire car a wash it's crucial that you at least keep your lights and number plates clear and visible at all times.

Dirty headlights will stop you from seeing things as clearly at night or in bad weather and you’ll also be less visible to other drivers. Your car’s number plates need to be kept clean and legible, too. If they’re not readable by police or automatic camera systems you could be liable for a hefty fine.

7. Check your brakes

Being able to stop efficiently is always important and never more so than in winter when road conditions are more likely to be slippery from rain or ice.

This is why you need to make sure your brakes are in good condition. To an extent, you can do this with a visual inspection. Have a look behind the wheels at the brake discs: If there’s any scoring or signs of corrosion then you might consider replacing your discs or pads. If in doubt, book your car in for a winter check.

8. Pack an emergency kit

There’s never a good time of year to break down or get stuck in traffic, but it can be even worse in cold, wet weather so it’s a good idea to have a box or a bag of emergency equipment in your car that’s winter-ready. This should include a blanket, a torch, a shovel, a basic first-aid kit, an ice scraper, de-icer and a high-visibility vest, as well as a portable jump-start pack if you have one.

It’s also worth storing some long-lasting food and drinks in case you are stranded in a snow-drift (this happens more often than you might think!) or can’t be reached quickly by breakdown services. Making sure you always have a well-charged mobile phone and a charging lead with you is another sensible precaution.

9. Don’t forget to wash!

It’s a very satisfying feeling to have a clean car, but there’s a practical reason for keeping your car clean – dirt is bad for it.

The salt that’s spread on winter roads is quite corrosive and can damage your car’s bodywork, but even regular road grime and mud can speed up the development of rust. This is especially true in rural areas, so it’s worth braving the cold and getting busy with a bucket and sponge, or visiting your local car wash.

How clean is the average UK car? We found out…

10. Make sure you’ve got plenty of fuel (or battery charge)

It’s a good idea to keep at least a quarter of a tank of fuel in your car so you have a reserve in case there isn’t a petrol station nearby if you start to run low. Or, if you have an electric car, to make sure you maintain a healthy battery charge level. This is a wise practice at any time of year, but especially so in winter when there’s a possibility of getting stuck because of bad weather. If that happens you’ll want to be able to keep the engine (or electric motor) running to keep the heater on and your phone fully charged.

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