Winter driving: Help your car cope

02 December 2014

None of us particularly enjoys driving in these winter months but being prepared will make it less stressful, especially for your car. You might not be able to avoid the weather, but you can minimise the chance of a breakdown.

Battery and electrics

Battery failure is the most common cause of winter breakdowns and the extra demand on it from lights, heaters and wipers take its toll.

If you don’t use your car for days at a time, it’s worth a regular overnight trickle charge to give the battery a bit of extra help.

Start the engine before turning on the lights, heaters and wipers and other electrical systems.

Save the battery’s energy  – switch off the rear screen heater if it doesn’t do it automatically and turn off the fan heater once you’ve got the car warmed up and windows are clear.

If the engine doesn’t start first time, try again in short bursts and give the battery a rest of about 30 seconds between each attempt.

How old is your battery? They rarely last longer than five years so if it’s reaching retirement age, best to change it before setting off on a long winter journey.

Six obscure motoring laws you probably don't know.


Most modern cars use a long life antifreeze and it’s important to get the concentration right so if you’re not sure, get advice from your garage because a frozen engine block will cost hundreds of pounds to fix.


Apart from remote, rural areas affected by heavy snow, winter tyres and snow chains are rarely needed in the UK but make sure your normal tyres have at least 3mm of tread.

Check your tyre pressure every couple of weeks, when the car and engine is cold, for a more accurate reading before the air has expanded and don’t be tempted to reduce pressure for better grip.

Read our guide to winter tyres.


Don’t let it get under a quarter of a tank – your journey may take longer than expected in winter.

Locks  & doors 

A smear of polish or Vaseline on rubber door seals will stop them freezing shut and  a squirt of WD40 works on locks. 


Allow extra time for windscreens to clear properly and scrape snow and ice off wing mirrors, roofs and windows before setting off;  keep an ice scraper in the car. You can be fined for driving while your vision is obscured.

Lights are not just so you can see but so you can be seen too. Make sure your lights are clean and carry spare bulbs.

Low winter sun can be blinding so don’t forget your sunglasses. 

Keep the windscreen clean inside and out. The constant use of wipers on snow and slush makes it smeary; replace wiper blades if necessary.

Don’t leave wipers in the ‘on’ position when you turn off the engine – if they freeze to the screen it can cause damage.

Use screen wash. Normally use a 50-50 mix and always keep some extra in the car when travelling.  

Keep your car in good condition all year round with our simple maintenance tips. 

Use common sense 

It makes sense to anticipate delays in bad weather, possible diversions and, if you do break down perhaps a longer wait for help.  

Along with the usual essentials such as a first aid kit, warning triangle, high visibility vest, mobile phone and torch,  some extra winter help may come in handy. 

An old carpet or thick cardboard in case you get stuck and need a bit of extra traction under the wheels along with a tow rope and battery jump leads.

It’s sensible to take bottled water, snacks and a flask of hot tea or coffee and obviously warm, waterproof clothes and sturdy shoes - even if you’re en route to a cocktail party!

What should you have in your car maintenance toolbox?


Stopping distances are ten times longer in ice and snow. 

Pulling away in second gear gently will help avoid wheel spin but if you have an automatic, check the handbook for advice on which mode to select for winter driving when you don’t want to rely on the brakes so much. 

Slow and steady is the safest way – particularly up and down hills where you don’t want to stop-start.

Apply the brakes gently and if the car starts to slide, take your foot off the brake immediately.

Read our winter driving tips. 

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The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated.

The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.