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A winter driving survival checklist

Autumn is a good time to ready your car for the freezing temperatures and wintry conditions ahead. The winter months have the highest proportion of breakdowns, so make sure you are well prepared by carrying out some basic checks and stocking up on a few essentials for your car.

Winter car checks

Top up the radiator with the correct mixture of antifreeze and water. While you are doing this a quick check of the oil won’t go amiss! Windows are likely to get dirty in winter from road and vehicle spray, so ensure you use a good quality screen wash which won’t freeze. One of the most common causes of breakdown in winter is an old battery, so check the age and replace it if necessary.

Year-round car maintenance

There are some checks that should be done regularly whatever the season. Tyres need to be checked every few weeks to make sure they are at the recommended pressure and that the tread is above 3mm. Your car should be equipped with items like a warning triangle, jump leads, torch, high visibility jacket and spare light bulbs, but it is worth checking these are still in place. Although vehicle First Aid Kits are not mandatory in the UK (unlike some parts of Europe) it is well worth having one for the benefit to yourself and other road users. If you have a kit, check that it doesn’t have out-of-date items. If you have breakdown cover make sure the membership card or details are in the car ready for a roadside emergency.

Handy items at home

If you know that there are likely to be freezing temperatures the night before you need your car, allow more time the next day for cleaning ice and warming up the car’s heater. Have some WD40 handy for possible frozen locks – this is much better than using hot water which can freeze in the lock. Also have ready a windscreen scraper or some de-icer – avoid de-icing using hot water as it can freeze on the glass or even crack the window. If a heavy snowfall is predicted then some grit (or salt) and a shovel would be handy items to have ready and waiting in the garage.

Items for you and your passengers

If there is the likelihood of wintry conditions before a long journey then as well as your ‘year round checks’ you need to make sure you and your passengers have winter coats, boots, gloves and blankets in the car. A small shovel would also be a good precaution. Ideally take some hot drinks and food with you as well as a few boredom prevention items (magazine, games etc) just in case your gets stuck for a while! With worse case scenarios in mind you might also want to make sure you have any personal medications with you plus your mobile phone.

For more detailed information on winter driving, including an extensive checklist and advice on driving to suit conditions, visit the travel and transport section of the DirectGov website.

Richard Bloomfield is the website editor at