How to avoid hefty car repair bills this winter
Breakdowns are more common during winter months as freezing temperatures make for more difficult driving conditions and put the car’s parts under more strain. However, a few important checks could prevent drivers from forking out money on repairs.
Many problems can be avoided or spotted early through regular maintenance. Ensuring your car has its annual service and regularly carrying out basic checks allows drivers to address common faults which could lead to a breakdown. Some garages offer winter check deals which may save you money in the long run.
There are some simple things you can do to make sure you and your car are prepared for winter.
Check your battery
Battery issues are one of the biggest causes of breakdowns year-round, but especially in winter months.
Batteries typically last around five years, but it is always worth checking how yours is functioning, as they are under extra pressure in the winter. Cold temperatures reduce the battery’s input, while at the same time extra demands are being made on it through added use of the heating, lights and wipers.
Drivers should anticipate the battery potentially encountering problems and get it checked by a mechanic. If it is showing signs of failing, consider getting it replaced to avoid it failing while you’re out and about.
If possible, keep your car in a garage where the temperatures will not be as low. This may help avoid the all-too-common problem of going to start your car in the morning, only to find the engine will not turn on.
You can also avoid over-stressing the battery by only using the starter in short, five-second bursts and waiting 30 seconds between attempts if the engine does not come on straight away.
If you don’t make long journeys very often, your battery won’t have had much chance to charge. You can sort this out by trickle charging it overnight, every two weeks or so. That way, you’ll be able to keep it running longer.
Ensure tyres are in good condition and have enough tread
Tyre issues are another major cause of breakdowns and one that often can be avoided. The legal limit for cars is 1.6mm of tread on the tyres, but we recommend at least 3mm of tread for winter as this provides better grip.
As well as tread depth, check the condition of the tyres, looking out for any cuts, bulges or foreign objects. Tyres are the only thing keeping the car in contact with the road so damaged or worn tyres can be extremely dangerous, particularly in wet and slippery conditions.
To be extra prepared, you could consider investing in some winter or all-season tyres which are made from a special rubber which provides better grip in cold, wet conditions. Winter tyres are not compulsory, and may not offer everyone value for money depending on where they live and how often they expect to use their car in snow or ice. However, they can prove very useful in remote areas, where conditions may be worse for longer.
Ensure you have the correct pressure in your tyres by comparing the handbook requirements with the tyre readings. Never let air out of your tyres, as this can affect your car’s handling and can make driving unsafe.
Engine coolant is a mix of water and antifreeze, which protects the engine to around -34 degrees celsius. However, this mix can become diluted if the driver adds only water over the rest of the year. Antifreeze only costs a few pounds, but a frozen and cracked engine will cost hundreds to repair. Always ensure you have the correct antifreeze for your car, and check how often it requires changing, as some last only two years. If you are unsure, it is best to have the concentration checked by a garage.
Ensure wipers are not stuck to the windscreen
Windscreen wipers can get stuck to the glass in freezing conditions and drivers can cause damage to the wiper motor or blades, or even blow a fuse which controls other systems, if they try to operate them in this situation. Auto wipers can also cause damage if they are left in automatic mode so if it’s due to freeze overnight, turn the wipers off when you park so that they don’t come on as soon as you start the car in the morning. You can also consider lifting the wipers off the windscreen so they don’t freeze to the glass. Leave enough time for the car to warm up and always clear your windscreen fully before driving.
You should also check your screen wash levels, as this is particularly important in winter when there is more mud and salt on the roads. Make sure your additive works at low temperatures so it does not freeze.
As the days and evenings are darker for longer it is essential that all your vehicle’s lights are working properly. It is a legal requirement to have a full set of working lights, so make sure you check each light to ensure there are no bulbs that need changing. It is also important to regularly make sure the lights are clean – dirt and salt quickly build up during winter and it makes it more difficult for you to see and be seen when the lights are obscured.
Leave extra time
Before you even get into your car, it is worth bearing in mind that your journey may take you longer than normal if weather conditions or visibility are poor, so always leave some extra travel time. You may also need to set aside time to check the car over, clear snow or ice away and warm it up – though it is important never to leave the vehicle running unattended.
Generally, cars burn a tenth of their engine capacity in fuel every 10 minutes when it is idle, and if you get stuck with little fuel, you may run out. It is therefore always worth keeping at least a quarter of a tank of fuel in case there are any unexpected delays owing to road conditions and congestion.
Carry a breakdown kit
Don’t forget to pack some other winter essentials when you are out and about in the cold, particularly in difficult driving conditions. To be prepared for all circumstances, it is always worth putting a blanket in the boot, along with a shovel, an ice scraper and de-icer, a torch with spare batteries or wind-up torch, some snacks and screenwash.
If there is a forecast for severe weather, warm clothes and sturdy footwear are essential, and a flask of hot drink does not hurt either. It is also recommended to pack some hi-vis clothing and a warning triangle just in case your car does break down and ensure you have a fully-charged mobile phone so you can get help if you need it.
Always get breakdown cover, so if the worst does happen, a qualified mechanic can provide assistance.
James Fairclough is chief executive of AA Cars