Driving can become a complete nightmare when the weather turns on you (Photo: Getty)
IF you’re planning on visiting family and friends over the next few weeks you need to make sure your car is in tip-top condition to avoid getting stranded in the cold this Christmas.
Breakdowns are commonplace in the winter, with batteries and engines more likely to freeze as temperatures plummet – plus the nights are darker.
While ice and heavy snow are a big concern, wind, rain, storms floods can also cause major problems on the roads.
In fact, new findings from insurer, Axa show that car insurance claims increase by 12% in the months between November and February – with weather playing a big part.
With this in mind, it’s worth making sure your car is ready for the winter.
Give your car the once-over
"potentially widespread snow showers will occur during the early part of November"
If you are heading off to visit loved ones over the festive period, it is well worth giving your car a winter service before you go.
This will ensure your vehicle is in the best condition before starting your journey – reducing the likelihood of a breakdown.
Here are some of the basic checks you need to carry out:
Check your anti-freeze levels.
Make sure you are carrying de-icer and an ice scraper.
Check your tyres to ensure you have at least the minimum legal limit of 1.6mm. Consider changing to winter tyres with thicker 3mm tread for winter driving, as this gives you better grip.
Clean your lights and check they are working properly, as grime from winter roads can prevent them from glowing as they should.
Check your lights and wipers, and top up your oil and windscreen washer fluid.
Ensure your battery is in good condition and fully charged.
Check the condition of your brakes, as road surfaces become more treacherous at this time of year.
If you need a bit of help, Halfords is offering free winter car checks, comprising car batteries, lights, wiper blades, oil levels, free screen-wash top-up and a windscreen chip check, at more than 700 sites across the UK.
A woman uses a satellite navigation device in a car
Darker nights, frosty mornings and icy roads can make driving difficult for even the most experienced motorist.
To make you are safe when embarking on a longer journey, download a satnav app on your phone and check the weather forecast, travel news and safest routes.
Also allow a little extra journey time, just in case there are delays, and remember to plan the best places for rest stops along the way.
Make sure your fuel tank is topped up, in case you end up stuck in traffic – or forced to take a longer, alternative route to your destination.
Tell people of the route you are planning to take, just in case you run into any problems.
Pack a winter breakdown kit
Bristol has Britain’s rudest drivers
If you expecting to make any long journeys at this time of year, it is worth packing an emergency kit for your car.
This should include items such as a torch, blanket, warm jumper, shovel, first aid kit, jump-start cables, mobile charger, high-visibility vest, reflective warning sign – as well as some chocolate and other snacks.
Halfords stocks this handy AA Emergency Winter Car Kit for £39.99 all year round.
Driving in wintry conditions
Snow in The North York moors, January
If there is ice on the road, you need to drive extremely carefully. Black ice can’t easily be seen, so drive gently and allow plenty of space between you and the car in front. Remember that stopping distances can be longer in ice and snow.
If you do skid, steer in the direction of the skid, and try not to brake or accelerate until you are back in control.
Dropping gears instead of braking can help prevent skidding.
Check you have breakdown cover in place
As well as winter-proofing your vehicle and packing an emergency kit, one of the most important things you need to do before hitting the road this winter is check that breakdown cover is provided by your insurer.
New findings from analyst, Defaqto, show that only 17% of motor insurance policies include breakdown cover as standard, while 30% do not include it at all.
Further research shows there is a shift towards offering this cover as an “add-on” instead, with 53% of policies now taking this approach – compared to 47% three years ago.
Brian Brown from Defaqto, says: “Drivers should not presume they are covered for breakdown, as most insurance companies offer this cover as an additional extra – and some don’t offer it at all.
"Motorists also need to be aware that add-ons can be expensive – so you need to check what you are getting for your money, and be prepared to shop around."
One option you may want to consider is buying breakdown cover separately from a standalone provider.
Whatever you decide, make sure you check what is included as standard within the cover alongside roadside assistance. Ask for details of the recovery service, and check if you are covered if you take your car abroad and break down overseas.
Take care when defrosting your car
Man scraping snow off car windshield
At this time of year, many drivers leave themselves open to vehicle theft by leaving their cars ticking over to warm up – and to get rid of frost or fog – while they keep themselves warm indoors.
In fact, research from Axa Insurance shows “theft of vehicles that are ultimately recovered” increases by 24% during the winter.
“Leaving your car running unattended is a thief’s dream,” says Jyoti Bird from Axa. “Instead, spend those five minutes in the car doing something practical – like writing a ‘to-do’ list.”
In recent days, the AA has also reported a spike in the number of drivers who have reported that cars have disappeared off their drives while they were defrosting it.
Michael Lloyd from the AA, says: “It may be tempting, in icy conditions, to start the car and then pop back indoors for a last cuppa, but opportunist car thieves will be ready to pounce while the keys are in and the car is gently warming up. While some cars are recovered, many are not, as they are often out of the country within hours, either to be re-sold or broken for spares.”
Unfortunately for the owner, it is highly unlikely that any insurer will pay out for a car stolen in this way.
“Every insurance policy includes a ‘duty of care’ on the part of the car’s owner which means they should not do anything that could avoidably lead to loss or damage,” adds Lloyd. “Most will also include specific terms including claims where keys were left in the car.”
The message is simple: if you are going to warm up your car by using the engine, you must remain with it all the time so that it is you who drives away in it, and not a thief.
Top 3 tips to protect your car from frost
Cover the car windscreen with an old blanket or cardboard to help prevent frost settling.
Clear frosted windows with de-icer and a scraper. Also clear headlights and mirrors.
Avoid pouring warm water over your glass, as if there is already a chip, the temperature change shock could lead to a crack developing.
Remember, warm water evaporates more quickly in the cold and can leave a residue of solid ice on your windscreen which is even more difficult to remove with a scraper. Also be aware that water which runs on to your driveway will quickly turn into an icy slip hazard.