What you need to know about getting your car ready for cold and wet weather.
If you live somewhere that regularly gets metres of snow, such as in northern Europe, preparing your car for winter can be a brutally expensive and time-consuming endeavour. Here in Australia it’s generally a lot easier, but it’s still a good idea to take certain precautions.
It’s important to make sure your car is in good condition at all times of the year, but in winter when the roads are wet, it’s dark for longer and driving is generally more hazardous, it can be particularly important.
Check your tyres
Tyre performance is largely at the whim of the weather, and if you haven’t checked them recently it’s quite possible that a particularly cold day, or the first wet weather you’ve had in a while, will mean that your tyres are suddenly performing well below par. It’s generally recommended to check your tyre pressure monthly in hot weather, and every two weeks in cold weather.
- Tyre pressure. In general, low tyre pressure means poor handling and significantly worse fuel efficiency. Pressure is higher in hot weather and lower in cold weather which means it’s especially important to pay attention to it in winter. Find out how to check your tyre pressure.
- Tyre condition and tread depth. Rubber can degrade faster in hot weather and it’s possible that summer did a number on your tyres without you knowing about it. Treads are specifically designed to help pump water away from the tyre-road contact points so worn tyres are especially dangerous on wet roads. Once the tread depth gets to 3mm it’s time to start thinking about replacement, and once it gets to 1.6mm you cannot legally drive the car. Most car insurance policies will not cover punctures, rips and similar unless you have tyre and rim insurance. You can find coupons for tyre discounts here.
Check your windscreen wipers
In Australia it’s fairly easy to go for weeks, or even months, without using your windscreen wipers. There’s nothing like turning them on for a long ride in wet weather only to be greeted with several hours of squeaky wiper blades. Avoid this horrific fate by checking your wiper blades ahead of time and swapping them out if needed.
- See how to replace your wiper blades
Check your battery
When was the last time you looked at your car battery? According to RAA car insurance, the number of calls received for roadside assistance increases by more than 50% in cold or wet weather, and over 40% are for battery or electrical problems. In preparation for winter, pop the hood and check your battery.
Top it up with distilled water if needed, but avoid using tap water which may speed up corrosion.
Look for corrosion
This is the greeny white coloured crud that can gather around the terminals.
- Try to wipe it away if possible. If it’s too thick to simply wipe away, you might try making some bicarbonate soda paste (bicarbonate of soda plus water) and then using that as a cleaning agent.
- Brush it onto the terminals and rinse it off with hot water. Take care not to get it on your lawn or driveway. It’ll kill the grass and stain the concrete.
If you can’t get rid of the corrosion, or if it’s been three or four years since you last replaced the battery, then it may be time for a new one.
Check your headlights
It’s easy to drive on well-lit roads without even realising that your headlights are out, and with the darker days in winter it’s a good time to check that they’re in working order. Simply turn the lights on and check each one.
- Are they faded or yellowing? You don’t necessarily need to replace the covers. As long as they’re not truly decrepit, there’s a good chance that car wax can help clean them right up, restoring their clarity and delivering a protective coating for good measure.
- Do the bulbs need replacing? Both headlights and tail lights can burn out like other light bulbs and will need replacing when this happens. You don’t need a mechanic to do it, and this can often be a fairly simple DIY job.
Try to park under cover
Parking under cover, ideally in a lockable garage, is a good idea for many reasons. It protects your car from hail, windblown debris and assorted dastardly neighbourhood kids, but can also get you a discount on car insurance.
Even if you can’t always park under cover, try not to park overnight on the grass during winter if you can help it, in order to avoid rust, deterioration and all-around unpleasantness.
Tangentially, you might also want to review your car insurance. Prices tend to rise over time (not unlike overnight lawn condensation) and you might be paying more than you need to.