16:19 30 October 2012
It's around this time of year I start getting nervous about the reliability of my car. I'm the first to admit I don't look after it nearly as well as I should, but I'm also the first to complain about big repair bills.
The temperatures are already dropping and the nights are drawing in, making it more likely your car will fail you if you don't take proper care of it. In December last year, for example, the AA had 26% more call outs than in June last year.
With that in mind, here are some things you (and I) should do to keep our vehicles ticking over until the spring.
Tyres - check the treads
For the next few months the roads are going to be awash with rain, mud and possibly even snow, so you need to make sure your tyres are up to the challenge of whatever the weather throws at them.
The legal minimum tread you must have on your tyres is 1.6mm across the central three quarters of each tyre's surface. The AA however, recommends at least 3mm for winter driving and certainly no less than 2mm.
If conditions get particularly dicey this winter, you can always switch to all-season tyres which are made so that they don't harden at lower temperatures and lose grip.
Brakes - check for wear
If there are only two things you check before winter arrives it should be tyres and brakes. Check your brakes for any visible signs of rust, scoring or excessive wear and listen out for any squeaking sounds when you apply the brakes.
You should also check your brake fluid level. If you feel uncomfortable doing this, take your vehicle to a garage for a brake check-up.
Lights - check the bulbs
Between darker evenings and inclement weather, you need to make sure you're visible on the roads, so make sure your lights are in full working order.
Be sure to check your sidelights, main headlights, fog lights, indicators, brake lights and reverse lights. The lights above your number plates should also be in full working order.
Also, there's no point having working lights if you're going to drive off in the morning with snow or ice-covered lenses. When you de-ice your vehicle, make sure you also scrape the lights if necessary.
Battery - check the remaining charge
Your car's electrics will be getting more use over the next few months than the rest of the year.
Your lights, heaters and wipers all put extra strain on your battery. What's more, as your engine's temperature drops in cold weather, it takes more energy to get going - which requires a decent battery.
You can buy car battery testers for £30 or less. If you find your battery is on the lower side, now is the time to replace it, rather than finding yourself late for work one cold, dark December morning because the car won't start.
Short journeys to work on cold mornings are the biggest drain on your vehicle's battery, so avoid using heaters for longer than necessary and if it's struggling to start, turn the ignition for short five-second bursts followed by resting periods of 30 seconds.
Fluids - check your levels
Make sure you've got enough antifreeze in your car's system, because frozen engine parts can cause all sorts of problems.
Without antifreeze, the cylinder block could freeze and then crack once you start the car and it heats up. Your radiator could also freeze and stop coolant from circulating, causing your vehicle to overheat.
Antifreeze is pretty cheap, but it's important to get the right type for your car. Check your handbook or ask at a garage. In winter you should have a 50/50 mix of water and antifreeze in the car's cooling system, and glycol-based antifreeze should be changed every two years.
Checking your oil level and topping it up if necessary only takes a couple of minutes. It's also best to check the oil levels when your car is warm. Your vehicle's handbook will tell you what kind of oil is best. If your car runs low on oil, your engine will seize, potentially landing you with a big repair bill.
Windshields regularly freeze up during the colder months, and your wiper blades also freeze to the glass. Trying to clear snow from the windshield before it thaws can tear the rubber blades, rendering them useless.
Check your blades for splits and tears, or if they feel brittle. If so, you need to replace them. Remember to check your screenwash levels as windshields tend to get very mucky at this time of year. When topping up, use a screenwash with antifreeze so that your pipes feeding the pump don't freeze up.
Finally, make sure you've got a breakdown survival kit in the boot with extra clothes, non-perishable food, gloves and a hat, a torch and possibly a spare mobile phone battery - all of which would be very useful if you broke down.
You should also consider joining a breakdown and rescue service. You can find out more about what's on offer here.
Winter driving tips
Once your car is up to scratch, you'll need to adjust your driving habits to suit the bad weather. Here are a few tips:
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