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Winter driving checklist, and how to prepare - Winter Driver's Guide

We provide a comprehensive guide to help you prepare your car – and yourself – for driving in wintery conditions

As part of our Winter Driver's Guide, we look at the preparation required before making a car journey this winter

As part of our Winter Driver's Guide, we look at the preparation required before making a car journey this winter

Arnold Clark Winter Drivers Guide

We don't need to tell you that driving in the UK throughout the winter months can be pretty treacherous. Thanks to the unpredictable and disruptive weather conditions, vehicle breakdowns are more common, so it’s very important to take some time to prepare yourself and your car for the cold weather and tricky driving conditions. Arnold Clark has produced a series of articles – a Winter Driver's Guide – so you know what equipment you need, what you ought to check, and how best to drive in winter weather conditions.

Unless we have an unseasonably warm December, we are likely to see some snow, ice, rain, low fog, and temperatures as low as -20°C, as well as darker mornings and evenings, and low sun during the day. In winter, you will need to consider:

Before you set off, make sure you have checked your route (major roads are more likely to have been cleared and gritted than smaller roads), traffic reports, weather reports and, of course, your car. Don’t forget to charge your phone, and pack the essential supplies.

TIP: You can use WD40 to prevent your door locks freezing shut.
No matter how tempted you may be at a Christmas party or mulled wine market stall, DON'T drink and drive.

Give yourself extra time

It's tricky when the mornings are dark and dreary, but you probably need to start getting up a little earlier. You need to leave yourself enough time to heat up your car, scrape your windows, and clear snow from the roof of your car (as it can fall on to the windscreen while you are driving). Any moisture will condense and freeze, so don’t pour water over your windscreen, or breathe on locks to warm them up.

TIP: You can be fined for not displaying your registration so make sure this part of your car is cleared too!
However, DON’T walk away and leave the keys in the ignition: car thieves have been known to make the most of such an opportunity.

Remember: arriving safely is more important than arriving on time! Inform someone at your destination that you are on your way and how long you expect to be, so they can alert the emergency services if you don’t show up.

Winter car window snow

Check your lights

Are the bulbs in your headlights working? Are the lenses clean? Make sure that mucky roads haven’t affected the lights, and that snow is cleared from them as well as other parts of the car. Not being able to light your way and make yourself visible to other road users could lead to serious problems.

Look after your engine

  • Using the right antifreeze could save you having to fix or replace a broken engine (at considerable expense). Use a half and half mix of antifreeze and water in the cooling system, to protect you when temperatures are as low as -34°C. Antifreeze may need to be replaced every 2 years, depending on the type used (check your manufacturer handbook for the correct type to use, and the service schedule for the replacement times). We're offering 1 litre of antifreeze for just £3.99.

  • Does your engine squeal for a while when you start your car? This could be the fan belt slipping on the pulley, which would suggest the water pump is frozen, and the cylinder block could be frozen too. Stop the engine and allow it to thaw – this may take several days (or less time in a warm garage.)

    TIP: Keep your windows and windscreens clean to improve visibility and reduce additional dazzle from sunlight catching on dirt.

  • If the radiator freezes, the car will begin to overheat when you drive, as the coolant has been prevented from circulating. Is your car overheating? Stop as soon as it's safe to do so.

  • Ensure that engine coolant is between the minimum and maximum markers.

Top up your screenwash

Make sure you use winter strength screenwash with a freeze-resistant additive. Ordinary screenwash can damage paintwork in the winter weather. Visit Arnold Clark for 1 litre of screenwash for just £1.99.

Check your battery

Flat batteries are the most common reason why cars break down in winter. Using your lights, heating and wipers more frequently will naturally put the car’s battery under pressure. Don’t wait until it fails on you completely, making you late for an important meeting – keep your battery charged and try to replace it before it's too late. The average battery lasts around 5 years.

TIP: Keep wipers in the off position when parked, in case they freeze to your windscreen. Wipers should be replaced once a year.

To save power, avoid over-heating your car, give it a trickle charge over the weekends, and start the engine in short, five second bursts. If it doesn’t start, leave it for thirty seconds to allow the battery to recover. The RAC recommends that you check your battery at least once a week and charge when required.

Check your tyres

Find out more in our Winter Tyre Safety Guide.

Fix your air conditioning

Remember, you can use your air conditioning in winter months to keep your car warm and cosy – and it's also the best way to clear mist from your windscreen and windows. A re-gas and service will remove the nasty bacteria from your AC unit and we’re giving you 25% off this service at any Arnold Clark branch. Simply mention 'Winter Driver's Guide' when you book.

You could also take your car to your local Arnold Clark Service Centre and get your FREE winter health check. Visit your nearest branch, or book a service online.

During the winter health check, Arnold Clark service staff will:

  • Check antifreeze levels
  • Charge battery
  • Check tyre pressure & tyre depth
  • Check and top up screenwash and oil
  • Check wiper blades
  • Check lights
  • Visually check brakes & clutch

So book your car in at any of our 150 Service Centres across the UK to make sure your car is ready to tackle winter.

About the Author

Kirsty Cooke

Content Editor at Arnold Clark