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Winter driving: How to protect your car and prepare for the cold weather

Winter driving: How to protect your car and prepare for the cold weather Classic and Performance Car

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

‘Winter is coming’, promises our favourite throne chasing TV show year after year. For those of us living in the UK it has finally arrived, with it the prospect of freezing temperatures and icy roads on the horizon. While many precious classic and performance cars go into hibernation during the winter months, it’s a luxury that can’t be afforded by everyone, so we’ve put together a winter car checklist. Read on to see what basic steps you can do to prepare your car for winter. Classic cars require a great deal more care, attention and mechanical sympathy throughout the coldest months, so we have included a few key points in this guide too.

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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.

Winter tyres?

Winter tyres

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

snow foam

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

Frozen Caterham

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

Battery tester

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.

Breakdown preparation

Toyota Celica breakdown

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
Tow rope + jumper cables – Don’t assume that someone else will have them. Chances are they won’t
Emergency warning triangle – Helps warn other motorists and keep you safe on the side of the road
Torch – Essential for fiddling under the bonnet or changing a spare wheel in the dark
Snow shovel – Not essential, but makes digging your way out of deep snow much easier
Water and snacks – For car and driver
First-aid kit – Plasters, flares and various bandages
Classics: Depending on your classic car's age, spare spark plugs, belts and some extra engine oil and coolant may be a good idea to have on hand too. Don’t forget to pack a few basic tools to effect any roadside repairs.

Final preparation


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

Lamborghini Murcielago Classifieds

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