Global warming may be melting the polar ice caps but UK winters still bring dark nights, fog, rain, snow - and danger.
In fact about 50% of all reported nighttime road traffic accidents occur in wet conditions; however in the UK it is wet on average only one night in ten. Or, to put it another way, after dark a motorist is nine times more likely to be involved in an accident if it's wet. Add in hail, sleet and snow and these are just the conditions which are likely to bring the most car breakdowns. The AA expects to attend to more than 10, 000 breakdowns a day in January!
Unless you intend to hibernate, you should prepare your car and yourself for bad weather. There are some simple DIY checks to ensure your vehicle is a safe as possible this winter. They are some of the many 'single spanner rated' DIY tasks covered by Haynes Manuals. Haynes is the world's leading publisher of automotive repair manuals and is renowned for teaching millions of car owners how to carry out routine maintenance and repairs. Haynes publishes manuals for more than 500 cars and vans.
One-spanner jobs are easy and can be done by a novice with little experience. Overhauling the air conditioning system - now that's a five-spanner task best left to an expert in DIY car maintenance or a professional in overalls.
Here are some of the things you can do quickly and easily:
Check the operation of all exterior lights and keep them clean. Replacing failed bulbs or fuses is usually straightforward.
Clean the windscreen and windows, inside and out, regularly. Use a cleaner intended for car glass - household window cleaners can leave a smeary film.
Check the condition of wiper blades (which are simple to replace) and stop them freezing to the screen by propping them up on slices cut from a cork when you park for the night. Keep the washer reservoir topped up and use an additive with antifreeze properties (not engine antifreeze). More on windscreen wipers ...
Each week and before long journeys, check the tyre pressures (including the spare wheel). Check also the tread depth - 1.6mm is the legal minimum but for good grip on wet roads, it's better to replace tyres once the tread depth is 2.0mm.
If you expect to do a lot of driving on snow-covered roads, consider buying a spare set of wheels with tyres especially designed for these conditions. Some tyre retailers will store the summer tyres for you in winter, and vice versa. More on winter tyres ...
Check the level in the coolant reservoir and top up as necessary with a water/antifreeze solution. The coolant (with antifreeze) should be changed every two or three years.
Make sure the antifreeze concentration in the cooling system is adequate - if there has been a leak and you've been topping up with plain water it may not be. A garage can test it for you, or you can buy a tester from a car accessory shop.
Winter grade diesel can cope with temperatures down to -15º C. If lower temperatures are expected, use an anti-waxing additive in the fuel tank (or stay at home!)
Ensure the battery terminals are tight and not corroded. You may get a free battery and charging system check at a car accessory shop or fast-fit specialist. Don't wait for your battery to fail - replace it in good time.
Carry an emergency kit - spare fuses and bulbs, jump leads, a torch, water dispersant spray and de-icer.
If your car has air conditioning, run it for 10 minutes or so once a month to stop the seals drying out. And use it to demist the windscreen even if you don't need the cooling effect.
When parking overnight in freezing conditions, leave your car in gear with the handbrake off if it is safe to do so. This will prevent the handbrake freezing in the 'on' position.
In the morning you can use warm (not boiling!) water for defrosting windows, but watch where it runs - it could form an ice slick when it freezes.
There's no point in keeping lock de-icer inside the car. Frozen door locks can sometimes be freed by blowing into them - but be careful not to get your lips stuck to the car!
Make things easier for the battery by not switching on headlights, heater blower or heated rear window until the engine is running. Similarly, switch off lights etc before stopping the engine. Switch off the heated rear window as soon as the screen is clear.
On slippery roads, drive slowly, smoothly and gently. Accelerate gradually, steer gently and brake smoothly. Arrange tuition on a skid-pan through your local driving school or the Institute of Advanced Motorists.
Now here's a tip, similar to the many useful Haynes Hints in the Haynes Owners Workshop Manuals. Clean the wiping edges of wiper blades with a tissue dipped in neat screen wash additive. This will help stop smearing and prolong their life.
For more advice on model-specific procedures, please refer to the appropriate Haynes Service and Repair Manual. Haynes Manuals are available from this website and all good car accessory retailers and bookshops including: Halfords, Motor World and WH Smith. Please use our comprehensive Stockist Locator in the left margin of this page.
Working with the motor industry and others concerned with the production and use of motor vehicles, RoadSafe's mission is to reduce road deaths and injuries through partnerships between the motor industry and related companies, traffic engineers, the police and road safety professionals, promoting the safe design and use of vehicles and roads and encouraging improved education and innovation. www.roadsafe.com