There may be very little evidence yet but those few weeks of breezy weather and the early start last week when you needed to put the lights on in the house while you got ready, well they are a polite reality check. Winter is coming and like night follows day there is nothing you can do to change this but preparing yourself or more specifically your car is easy.
Now is the time to do this and a couple of moments to consider Halloween and the instant jump from this distraction to Christmas fever and the next thing you will know is a traffic stop because your lights are defective or God forbid, you sit in your car on some frigid cold morning, a really important interview in 90 minutes time and your battery is stone dead!
We’re going to give you a list of things to check on the car which are winter biased but are in fact jobs you should keep on top of all year. Why winter biased you ask? Well some of these are related to the way cold affects our cars, others the misery that is Irish winter weather, cold, wet, mucky and just not where you want to find yourself stranded calling a friend.
From a safety standpoint, the first few items on the list are really important but the rest of the list shouldn’t be skipped. Completely aside from the nuisance and discomfort of a breakdown or even poor performance from your car, penalty points are at stake should you fail to satisfy a Garda that your car is safe and with motor insurance premiums at record high levels this is all bad.
So what should we be checking:
Lights: While many new cars are fitted with LED daytime running lights we are heading in to the time of the year when your lights will be on for each and every journey. Your car may offer you a dashboard warning when a bulb fails and you shouldn’t ignore this. An oncoming car with a failed light in the centre of the road can be the ingredient for a head-on collision. Similarly you may drive off a rural road or collect an obstacle if you can’t see where you are going! With your car parked safely with the hand-brake applied and engine running turn on all your lights and hazard warning lights and walk a lap of the car. Turn on your high-beam and walk a second lap of the car. If all is well, return to the main-beam setting and turn on your fog lights, front and rear and do a final lap of the car. If you know how to replace failed bulbs, do it now. If you don’t then drop in to your service garage and have these changed. Our top tip is to replace bulbs in pairs when one fails, keeping the remaining working bulb in the tool kit or glove box for an emergency change.
Tyres: Tyre checks will be two-fold. The tread depth must be above the legal minimum but really should be above 3mm in tread depth. You do not want to aquaplane in standing water, the result could be a serious accident! Check that wear is even across the tyre tread on front and rear tyres and that tyre pressures are correct. Check for a label in the driver’s door opening or on the inside of the fuel filler flap.
Fluids: Anti-freeze is very important as even in Ireland we regularly see overnight temperatures in late January and February that can damage your engine. There will be a reservoir in the engine compartment which will be half filled with anti-freeze, the remainder of the reservoir is used to allow for expansion of this fluid. If the anti-freeze is completely clear like water or is a rusty sludge then you are flirting with engine damage. The anti-freeze is usually a strong pink, yellow, green or blue colour and the level should be clearly visible through this expansion reservoir. If you have had any over-heating issues over the summer months and have topped up with water then you are again in the danger zone. Don’t forget, do it now!
While you are checking your fluids, be sure that your brake fluid is within the marks on the fluid reservoir. If you or your mechanic haven’t changed your brake fluid in the last 12-24 months then you should arrange this now. The fluid is very hygroscopic meaning it becomes damp with water like a sponge. This water dissolved in the fluid damages your brake parts from the inside and is the single biggest cause of brake caliper/cylinder failure.
Check that you have sufficient windscreen washer fluid in the tank and put in an additive in the winter. You will need your washer jets from the start of many winter journeys to clear salty road spray from your windscreen so pick an additive with a detergent and an anti-freeze. You will be glad you did!
Wipers: Your wipers take a serious and regular punishment all winter and you will curse them when you can’t see through your screen. Any slight damage on your wiper blades will very quickly escalate into failure in the winter. The duty cycle will be 10-20 times what you are used to currently so you will have very little time to react and replace the wiper blades if they fail. Picture the scenario where a damaged blade freezes to the screen and fails completely as you turn the wipers on before starting an important journey. Do it now!
Battery: So you remember just a little bit from the chemistry class when you started your secondary education. The little bit about temperature affecting chemical reactions? Well your battery is a chemical energy store and the chemistry of your battery changes as you charge and discharge. Everything slows down inside your battery in winter time due to the cold. Our tip to you is to change your battery right now if you have had even the slightest hint of weak starts. Your battery will always fail after it has been left overnight to cool down in winter weather. If it is wearing out and becoming weak it will not have taken a full charge and it’s potency will crash as it cools to sub-zero temperature. If you have ever had to take a jump start you are very likely to be let down by your battery on a cold morning, not a wise gamble in our book.
Breakdown Equipment: Carrying basic safety equipment is not tempting fate! Even the best prepared motorist can find themselves let down by their car. It can be a completely random failure and may not have anything to do with preventative maintenance but finding yourself on the side of the road, possibly in a rural area and with no control over weather can be a harrowing experience. Be sure you have a mobile phone with ample battery to call for help. Have some form of charger/adapter with you to be sure. Have a high visibility vest, jacket or at least a sash in your tool kit. An emergency tyre inflater can be a life saver if you are not able to change a punctured wheel and may be essential if your car does not have a spare wheel. You should know how you will react if this happens. Have a warning triangle in the car so that you can protect yourself should you break down on a busy road. Be aware that others may not be remotely aware at all, could be distracted by mobile phones or just tired so early warning could avoid a bad accident.
Fuel: Winter often changes the playing field without warning where an hour long commute to work can be matched with a 4-5 hour commute home if the weather turns really bad. Urban roads seize completely as soon as we see snow and flash flooding can leave even national routes impassable. Don’t find yourself at the wrong end of a long tail-back on a freezing cold and dark evening with the orange fuel warning light on. You may not make it to the forecourt even if it is only a few kilometres away!
Don’t take chances unless you are prepared to live with the consequences. Early and easy intervention normally makes for a much easier solution. Come in to see us at the in the shop at any one of our four branches. We carry all automotive bulbs, every type of fluid and additives you could need and a comprehensive range of safety items and of course our staff know how to prepare your car so come on in and ask us!