Preparing your car for winter: Your winter car maintenance checklist


Driving in wintry weather presents a varied set of challenges, with icy roads and limited visibility making your trip trickier. But our experts are here to help.

To keep you safe on the roads, we’ve asked a Which? Trusted Trader who specialises in car servicing and MOT testing to put together a winter car maintenance checklist to get you through the chilly months.

Our tips cover tyre care, battery checks, essential driving accessories and more.

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Andrew Petrou

Andrew Petrou, Andrew’s Auto Repairs Co Ltd

The team at Andrew’s Auto Repairs, based in Manchester, has more than 50 years of experience in the industry. Its qualified mechanics work on car servicing, MOTs and diagnostics.

1. Look after your tyres

Why is it important? Tyre pressure can drop in colder conditions, limiting the amount of control you have on the road.

While doing basic tyre checks can’t prevent punctures, they can give you peace of mind that your tyres are in good condition. Andrew told us:

‘The winter can take a toll on your tyres. Most manufacturers put the car’s recommended tyre pressure in the handbook or on the door, so it’s good to make a note of what it is.’

Checking tyres in winter

Having under or over-inflated tyres can upset the car’s handling, as well as affecting your fuel economy. Automatic pumps at petrol stations and garages are normally the easiest way to inflate your tyres. You can find more tips in our simple step-by-step guide on how to change a car tyre.

Andrew adds: ‘You should also monitor your tyre tread depth. While the minimum legal tread depth in the UK is 1.6mm, I always say you should aim to keep it above at least the 3mm mark for winter to drain the water better from your tyres – especially if it snows or the roads are wet.’

You can buy a tyre depth gauge online or in-store at car part retailers including Halfords, but you can use something as simple as a coin. Slot a 20p coin into the tread grooves – if the outer band on the coin is obscured, your tyres are above the legal limit.

Winter tyres can improve traction in slippery conditions – but are they worth the extra cost? See our advice for more details: Should I buy winter tyres?

2. Keep your windscreen clear

Why is it important? Peering through a makeshift porthole is dangerous and illegal.

Take time to clear your windscreen thoroughly of ice, snow and condensation before each journey, using a scraper and de-icer if necessary.

If your vehicle has automatic windscreen wipers, make sure they’re switched off before you turn on the engine. If your wipers are frozen to the screen or blocked by snow, it could result in the blades snapping or causing damage to the wiper transmission, such as a blown fuse. Andrew told us:

‘Turning your windscreen wipers off before you start clearing your windscreen is one of the most important pieces of advice I give to people.’

Stay safe on the road with our advice on how to drive in winter conditions and snow.

3. Check the condition of your battery

Why is it important? Car batteries are one of the most common causes of winter breakdowns.

You can check your battery’s age by looking for a sticker or an engraved code on the battery – that will tell you the month and year of manufacture. Age doesn’t tell the whole story, however, and a mechanic will be able to assess its ability to retain charge, which is far more important.

For drivers who need to buy a new battery, Andrew suggests looking for one with a warranty of up to five years.

Testing car battery

When we quizzed Andrew on ways to prolong a car battery, he told us:

‘If you’re doing lots of short journeys, you’re not giving your car a chance to recharge and you risk your battery going flat. Try to take it for a longer run-out so it has time to recharge. Also make sure you switch off the lights, radio, heaters and wipers before turning off the engine to help the battery.’

It’s good to be prepared before you head out on the road, so consult our advice on how to care for and jump start your car battery.

4. Manage your coolant levels

Why is it important? Doing so can prevent the engine from overheating.

Antifreeze is a liquid that prevents water in your engine’s cooling system from freezing. When diluted, it’s known as coolant. The coolant levels should be checked during your annual service. But keep an eye on the levels yourself.

The coolant tank (also known as an expansion tank) is a large, clear plastic container under your car bonnet. If you’re not unfamiliar with it, check your manual so you don’t confuse it with one of the other engine fluids, such as the brake fluid reservoir.

Using antifreeze

Don’t attempt to unscrew the coolant tank’s lid if you’ve just switched off the engine – the sudden release of pressure could mean you end up getting sprayed with hot water. Wait for it to cool down. The level of coolant should be between the minimum and maximum marks on the side of the tank. Check your manual to find what mixture of water and antifreeze to use.

If you don’t feel confident about checking coolant levels, ask if your local garage. Andrew told us:

‘It’s always good to get a winter check at the garage and several garages – including ours – do them for free.’

5. Check the brightness and angle of your headlights

Why is it important? Issues with your headlights can impact other drivers and limit their visibility.

One problem for drivers during winter is other vehicles’ headlights. Too bright or not on at all is the general focus of the complaints – and rightly so, as both extremes can cause danger on the roads. Andrew says:

‘I recommend you check your headlights every week. Make sure they work and are positioned correctly, so other road users aren’t dazzled.

‘Modern cars have LED lights, which are fairly reliable, but the bulbs on older vehicles can be an issue. If the full beam comes on automatically and doesn’t always go off when it should, then switch off the automatic setting and control it manually.’

Glasses with yellow lenses are touted as helping to reduce dazzle from headlights at night, but are night driving glasses safe to wear?

6. Prepare a winter car kit

Why is it important? Having a kit on hand means you’re prepared in the event of an incident or harsh weather conditions.

Using an ice scraper

Andrew explained to us the importance of keeping certain items in the car at all times. These include:

  • Ice scraper and deicer
  • Torch – see our reviews of the best torches
  • Charged phone (in case your car battery dies). If you’re anxious about your phone’s battery life, see our reviews of the best cheap power banks for 2024 or read our tips on how to improve battery life
  • Blanket
  • Sunglasses (in case of glare from the low winter sun)
  • Contact details for a car breakdown provider

‘You can keep all sorts of things in your car for safety reasons, but I would say these are the most important things.

‘It’s also good to have a camera with you, such as the one on your phone, in case you need to take pictures in the event of an accident.’

Our research shows that top breakdown providers will almost always get to you in under an hour. For more details, see our guide to the best car breakdown providers.

7. Keep your car clean

Why is it important? You’ll protect the paint on your car and ensure you aren’t stopped by police.

Cleaning your car in winter can feel like a pointless task because of the muddy roads, but it’s still important. Andrew says:

‘Salt on the roads can corrode unpainted metal on your car, so wash your car regularly. Plus, the police can pull you over if your lights and number plates aren’t visible.’

We’ve independently tested top cars for 2024 and sorted top-scoring models by class. For all the details, see our guide to the best cars.


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