Ready for winter? Here are a few tips for preparing your car for winter, with a checklist and list of kit you need to make it through the worst of the bad weather
SEE RELATED: Ten great 4x4 performance cars
General servicing & winter car check
Whether you carry out the work yourself or outsource it, the annual servicing of your car should be scheduled to coincide with the beginning of winter; any potential issues will hopefully be picked up during a winter car check, and replacing fluids and checking rubber hoses and belts for cracks can help prevent an unplanned roadside stop.
Classics: Older cars may need lower viscosity oils to cope with the lower temperatures, don’t forget to check the gearbox oil and diff oil too. HT leads and electrical wiring is generally more exposed in older cars so check them for signs of damage and keep some duct tape in the car for impromptu repairs. The manual choke should also be working correctly, with a well lubricated mechanism. Automatic chokes can cause issues if not correctly set-up, so ensure everything is in good shape.
If snow and slush are a common occurrence in your part of the country then winter tyres are highly recommended, as their tread design provides extra traction and grip in these scenarios. The driven wheels should get the best tyres if you are rotating an older set. Don’t forget to check the condition and pressure of the spare too. It’s not all about snow however. Winter tyres are also more effective in colder temperatures, using a softer compound that works better below 7deg C.
Classics: Older cars tend to have skinnier tyres and these actually cope better with snow and muddy conditions as the reduced surface area allows the wheels to sink down closer to the road surface. Good tread depth is essential, but a set of winter tyres to fit your classic might actually be less than you think, while a spare set of steel wheels should keep any particularly nice alloys from being destroyed by the road salt.
Protecting the bodywork
The rubber insulation around doors and boot lids can freeze to the bodywork in extreme conditions and can tear when opened. A number of products can be bought to lubricate them; Vaseline is a decent substitute as well. Giving the car a good coat of wax, or even a professional detailing session ahead of the worst months will make keeping the car clean a lot easier. Do you have a good set of mats? Considering the amount of dirt that can be trampled into your carpets throughout winter, rubber or carpeted mats make a sound investment. A pressure washer will also come in handy, and will speed up the cleaning process.
Classics: Older cars with exposed bonnet and door hinges should be lubricated at these points to avoid corrosion. Spraying locks with lubricant will prevent them from freezing or seizing. Hosing out the undercarriage, removing road debris and drying off the panels should be done regularly, which should help to prevent rust from taking hold. You should also consider a professional rust prevention treatment, such as Dinitrol or Waxoil, which is sprayed into the car’s most susceptible areas.
Windscreen and glass
Check your washer fluid level and ensure that you top it up with a strong good quality washer fluid, so that it can more efficiently cut through salt, road grime and frost on the windscreen. It should also stop it freezing in the bottle and causing damage. For ice, a De-Icer spray works better than a conventional scraper – and you won’t run the risk of cracking your windscreen by using hot or warm water. Wiper blades should be replaced if necessary, and kept folded back overnight so they don’t stick to the windscreen in colder areas. Check the washer nozzles for clogging as well. Glass should be polished and cleaned on the inside, which will make the wipers (replace if necessary) more effective and reduce demist times.
Classics: Some older cars will have headlight wiper and washer systems, so don’t forget to make sure these are functioning correctly. As the headlights tend to be less efficient on classics make sure that all bulbs are working correctly and polish out murky plastic headlight covers. Demisting the glass inside an older car with patchy heating can be a pain; it can be made a lot easier by having a chamois or paper towel handy.
Batteries and electrical systems
Cold weather puts extra strain on a car's battery, as starting can take longer and more auxiliary devices such as lights and heating systems are being used. Most modern cars have sealed units so get them tested while a service is being done.
Classics: Make sure your alternator is working correctly as the battery can get drained quickly if it is not being charged effectively. Older batteries can be topped up with distilled water; a dab of grease on the terminals will also prevent corrosion which can damage the paintwork. A battery conditioner can be used if the car is garaged and left for more than a few days between use.
Breaking down in the summer is one thing, grinding to a halt in sub-zero temperatures is something else. A foldable deckchair and a six pack of beer may be all that is needed in August, but things get a lot more serious in January so it's a good idea to arm yourself with the following items:
Phone charger – Your first port of call in an emergency will be a friend or the AA, a lot easier with a fully charged phone
With a little preparation, you can continue using your performance car throughout the winter months without fear of damaging it or getting stranded on a deserted stretch of road. Becoming a member of a reputable breakdown company is highly recommended, and should add additional peace of mind. Classic cars require a bit more effort, as well as mechanical understanding, but if you prepare well there’s still a lot of motoring fun to be had!
Words: John Tallodi