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Is Your Car Winter-Ready?

Lake Mountain Road, Vic.

It might not quite be winter yet, but we have passed the autumn Equinox, which means that the time when the sun is up is shorter than the time when it’s down. This means that it’s time to think ahead and get your car ready for winter. Because there’s no point in getting ready for something if it’s already come and too late, right?

One thing we can be thankful for is that we don’t have to go through quite so extensive preparations for winter as they do in, say, Sweden or Canada… especially if you live in the northern bits of Australia when winter comes as welcome relief from the intense summer heat. However, the southern states and territories can get problems with frost and snow from time to time, and everybody gets things wetter and rainier (except in the very far north in places like Darwin, who have their rainy monsoon period during the summer).

As things are going to get wetter, the most important thing you need to do to get your car winter-ready is to check your tyres.  First of all, they need to have plenty of tread on them, as it’s the tread that channels out the water so you still get plenty of grip.  When it comes to tyre styles, there’s a bit of a trade-off, as having lots and lots of channels means that you can pump lots of water out – and a tyre needs to shift about 6 litres per second in average rainfall at open road speeds – but the problem is that lots of little raised bits wear out more quickly when it’s dry… and nobody wants the hassle of changing tyres every time the weather goes from wet to dry and back again.  The best tyres for driving in the wet are the ones with the directional treads (lots of stacked V shapes) and asymmetrical tyres, although you can’t rotate asymmetrical tyres like you can with the directional ones.  Directional ones look nicer, too!

Tyre pressure is also important to check when the weather goes from hot to cold. This is because air temperature affects tyre pressure, so when the mercury goes down, a tyre that was just right may now be underinflated.  If you remember your high school physics, the hotter a gas gets, the more it expands and the greater the pressure. When the gas cools, then the gas contracts and the pressure decreases.  It’s important to check your tyre pressure at all times, but if the temperature’s changed (or if we’ve had a cold snap), then it pays to check.

The next thing that’s important to deal with is to check the windscreen wipers.  Winter means more rain for everybody except the far north folk, and this means that your wipers are going to see a lot of action. They won’t shift the water and keep your visibility decent if they are in bad condition.  New wiper blades don’t cost the earth and changing them is a job that you can easily do yourself, so there’s no excuses.

While you’re looking at the windscreen and the wipers, this might be a good time to ensure that your windscreen is nice and clean. The angle of the sun will be that little bit lower in the evenings and the mornings, especially the further south you go, so sunstrike and glare can be a problem, especially if your windscreen is filthy. Give it a good clean and top up the fluid for your window wiper fluid.

The next thing is your lights. It’s going to be darker, especially if your state does the Daylight Savings thing (and consider yourself lucky if it doesn’t because it’s a pain). Make sure that all of your lights are working well, including the fog lights. Check that the angles of your headlights on dip and on full beam are angled correctly.

The last thing to get the car mechanically ready for winter is to check the battery.  Your battery is going to get more of a workout, what with the extra demands of heating and lighting.  Top it up with distilled water if needed (tap water is often chlorinated or have other minerals that don’t play nicely with battery acid, so don’t use this).  Check the terminals for corrosion and clean off any greenish bits around the terminals caused by the acid. The best way to do this is with baking soda (which neutralises the acid and will fizz), an old toothbrush and rubber gloves to protect your hands, followed by a good rinse with warm water.  If your battery is getting on the ancient side, then change it. Few things are as miserable as waiting in a freezing cold car on a nasty day for the breakdown guys to come and jump-start your battery.

These steps will help keep your car winter-ready, but don’t forget you and your passengers when preparing your car for winter.  Having the right items stashed away can make a real difference, especially if you have to wait in a parked car for ages for any reason on a nasty cold day, or if some idiot who DIDN’T check their tyre condition skids into your rear end, meaning you have to wait for the breakdown team.  Most modern cars have plenty of useful storage space for all sorts of odds and ends – one particularly useful one is found on the Skoda Superb , which has a special compartment for an umbrella that allows it to drain when wet.  If you own one of these sedans, make the most of this feature!

Here’s the list of things that I’d have in my car to make sure that I can cope, even when the weather swings wildly or gets nasty and cold (on top of other staples like hand sanitiser, snacks and a first aid kit).

  • A chamois leather or microfibre cloth for wiping down the inside of the windscreen. Sometimes, the demister just doesn’t work fast enough or there’s grime on the inside of the windscreen that is causing visibility problems with the lower angle of the sun. Rather than using your sleeve and getting wet (which I have done in emergencies), use a nice soft cloth kept for the purpose.
  • Something to keep the rain off. This could be an umbrella or a raincoat – you can get some nice little compact ones that tuck away in a little bag. This stops you getting all soggy if a downpour decides to descend just as you’re pulling up at the petrol pump and there’s no shelter between your car, the pump and/or where you have to pay (been there, done that).
  • It can take the heaters a while to get going on a cold morning, as they use excess engine heat to heat the cabin. Cold fingers are stiffer and less responsive, so keep your little pinkies warm until the heater sorts its life out.  The obvious place to keep them is… the glovebox.
  • A polar fleece or jumper. It was a nice day when you started out but a southerly buster has roared in.  Or you have to turn the heaters off thanks to that flat battery (or to avoid flattening it).  Keeping half your wardrobe in your car like my husband did when I first met him probably isn’t ideal, but having something to pull on often comes in handy.
  • A blanket or throw. If you have to take kids or passengers who have to wear thinner clothes (formal gowns, dance gear) or who are a bit damp (after sports practice) and cranking up the heater would make things far too hot for you even with a dual-zone climate control, then having a blanket handy for bare knees or off-the-shoulder tops is a nice touch.  A blanket is also more easily washed than your car upholstery in the case of muddy people.  Plus you can use it for impromptu picnics.

Safe and happy driving, no matter what the weather is!

 

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