How to prepare your car for winter

Winter car checklist: Essential tips

You don’t have to be an ice road trucker to know that traversing winter roads can be risky.

It’s important to carry the essentials in your car, so you can stay safe and get where you need to go, even in the harshest temperatures.

We’ve put together a comprehensive checklist to help ensure you’re prepared for every eventuality on the road this winter. Our list includes everyday necessities and emergency supplies that you hopefully won’t need - but could get you out of a jam!

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Your winter car essentials

  • An ice scraper and de-icer: It’s illegal to drive with snow or ice on your windows, roof, or number plate. So, make sure you have the tools to keep them clear. You could put yourself in danger and incur a fine or points on your licence if you don’t!

  • A torch and spare batteries (for visibility in the dark): A torch is handy to have when you’re getting in and out of your car on dark mornings and evenings - and essential when waiting for roadside assistance. Keeping spare batteries for your torch will ensure it is usable whenever you need it. We suggest avoiding wind-up torches, as they can go completely flat.

  • A fully charged mobile phone and an in-car charger: Make sure your mobile phone is fully charged before travel and keep a charger in the car so you can top it up if needed. This way, you can get in touch with friends, family, roadside assistance or, if the worst happens, the emergency services.

  • Sat nav and a printed route map: Getting lost is bad enough at the best of times, but much worse on a dark, snowy night. So, do what you can to avoid this by setting up your sat nav and following it carefully. It’s also a good idea to print out a route map before setting off, just in case your sat nav fails.

  • Road atlas: Road closures are more likely to occur in winter, due to heavy snowfall, ice on the roads or traffic accidents. If your planned route suddenly turns out to be a no-go, a road atlas can help you find a way around the diversion if your sat nav can’t.

  • Sunglasses: When the sun is low in the sky and its rays bounce off white snow and icy surfaces, this can create a blinding glare. The flickering effect created by bright sunshine striking the trees can hurt visibility even more, making it dangerous to drive. Luckily, a simple pair of sunglasses can effectively combat the glare of the low winter sun.

  • A first aid kit for minor emergencies: A basic first aid kit containing plasters, sterile wipes, disposable gloves, bandages and scissors is a must-have in case you or any of your passengers get a small wound or injury that needs patching up.

  • An empty fuel can: Keeping an empty fuel can in the boot could get you back on the road if you run out of fuel within walking distance of a petrol station.

  • Warm clothes, sturdy footwear and waterproofs: If your car breaks down, you may not be able to rely on its heater to keep you warm. In certain situations, it might not be safe to stay in your car at all, which means you’ll be left standing outside in the cold. Either way, you’ll need warm clothes, waterproof outerwear and a good pair of wellies.

  • A drinking flask and snacks: A Thermos flask filled with coffee can keep you warm and energised in an emergency. You should also keep a supply of high-calorie, high-carb snacks such as energy bars, nuts, biscuits and chocolate in your car.

  • Hi-vis jacket and a warning triangle: Whilst not a legal requirement in the UK, it’s a good idea to keep reflective warning triangles in your car, so that you can notify other drivers if you break down. You should place one at least 45 metres in front of your car and the other around the same distance behind it. Wearing a hi-vis jacket will make sure you’re seen by other road users.

  • Jump leads and shovel for self-rescue: Sometimes, you won’t need to wait for assistance; you can simply get yourself back on the road. For example, if your car has broken down because of a flat battery, you can get a jump start from another driver. So, make sure you keep a set of jump leads in your car. A sturdy shovel is another handy self-help tool that you can use to dig your car out of deep snow.

Regular car maintenance

Booking your car in for a health check or service before the cold weather hits can help you avoid any potential problems.

It’s worth asking around, as many garages will carry out these checks for free or at a reduced price. The mechanic should inspect the following areas:

  • Brakes
  • Lights.
  • The car’s battery.
  • Tyre pressure and tread depth.
  • Windscreen wiper blades and washer fluid.
  • Oil.
  • Antifreeze.
  • Coolant levels.

Additional winter driving tips

  • Driving in snow and ice can be dangerous, but if you’re careful, you can keep control of your car.
  • Keep it slow and smooth (no speeding or sudden manoeuvres) - and allow more space between yourself and other drivers.
  • If you find yourself skidding, try not to panic and don’t slam on the brakes. Just ease off the accelerator and steer in the direction of the skid until you regain traction.
  • If you have an anti-lock braking system (ABS), bear in mind that it won’t perform as well in winter conditions. Whilst your ABS will stop your wheels from locking up, it won’t reduce your stopping distance - and may actually increase it!
  • If you do need to stop suddenly, push firmly down on the brake and focus on steering.
  • When the snow and ice start to melt, you may end up aquaplaning. This occurs when your tyres lose grip because there’s a layer of water between them and the road surface - and can cause you to lose control of your car altogether.
  • Driving slowly, avoiding standing water, and making sure your tyres have the right pressure and tread depth are all key to staying safe when driving in winter.