It's so cold as you step out of your house and onto the drive … thank goodness you'll soon be in your lovely warm car with the heating right up. If winter hasn't flattened the battery, frozen the engine and iced up the wipers, of course. Here's our winter car advice for keeping your car running smoothly through the cold season so it doesn't get too frosty to function.
Ever started your car, driven it a few metres, switched the engine off, then found it won't start again shortly afterwards? This might be down to a problem known as fuel flooding, which usually affects petrol engines of less than 1.4 litres as the weather gets cold. It's a particular problem in cars made in the early part of this decade. The car knows it’s cold, so makes it easier to start the engine by temporarily increasing the proportion of petrol in the petrol-air mix injected into the cylinders. But if you turn the engine off before the ratio goes back to normal, there’s nowhere for that unburned fuel to go – and it can wet the spark plugs and stop them igniting.
It's best not to let this happen in the first place, but if it does, pushing the accelerator down and letting the engine run for five to 10 seconds, then releasing the throttle and starting it normally should work. You can try this up to three times, but more than that can flatten the battery or damage the starter motor. And don't do it in a car with a rotary engine, such as a Mazda RX-8, as you could cause damage.
Flat batteries are the number one cause of breakdown callouts in the UK during the winter, according to Auto Express. During hot weather the liquid in batteries can dry out, meaning the battery loses charge more quickly; then in the winter, when you need more current to start the engine, the battery can struggle.
There are various things you can do, including buying a battery charger, depressing the clutch as you're starting the engine (it reduces the strain on the battery), or having the alternator and starting and charging systems checked by a mechanic. If you have a garage, keep the car in it, as warmer temperatures are better for batteries. Finally, keep up to date with your servicing so that any faults which might put a strain on the battery are fixed.
Engine coolant is a mixture of water and antifreeze which flows through your engine and stops it overheating - or freezing when the temperature outside drops below zero. It's bad news if this stops working – bits of the engine can get so hot they start welding themselves together – but this can happen if there's a leak, or simply over time as the antifreeze becomes less effective.
Your car manual should tell you where the coolant tank is, so you just need to lift the bonnet and make sure it's above the minimum level. If not, remove the cap and top up the coolant. Don't just use water unless it's a very small top-up, or you will dilute the antifreeze below the point where it is effective.
Windscreen wiper and washer-related faults almost double in the winter, according to insurers Green Flag – which isn't surprising, as this is the time of year when they're most used. Wipers are only designed to last for between six months and a year, so if they're squeaking, smearing or shuddering, you may need to replace them. You can check the rubber yourself for cracks and splits. Keeping your screen wash topped up will help the wipers last longer; buy good quality screen wash, as it will not only do a better job of cleaning, but is less likely to freeze.
If you need advice on winter car care, we at Carwise Group carry out servicing and repairs – so our experts are well placed to offer tips on how to look after your car in winter. You can also see our huge range of quality used cars for sale at our dealerships in Maidstone and Harlow online – we even offer a range of car finance deals so you can pay in the way that's most manageable for you.