Want to avoid a scare this winter? Then make sure you clear the cobwebs from your de-icer and ready-mixed washer fluid and get your vehicle up to scratch for the bitterly cold weather we’re experiencing. To help you with this, Tim Shallcross, IAM RoadSmart’s head of technical policy, has put together five top tips:
Months of air conditioning and dust builds up a grimy layer on the inside of the windscreen, so spend a couple of minutes getting it really clean. Use a window cleaning fluid or a microfiber cloth. A squeaky clean surface will eliminate glare from the low autumn sun and greatly reduce the likelihood of the screen misting up. Carefully clean the rear screen so that you don’t damage the heater elements and you’ll save having to put the heated rear window on so much, which can cost two or three mpg while it’s on, says Tim.
If you get that horrible squeaking noise, it’s time to change the wiper blades. When the new blades sweep the screen in efficient, rain clearing silence, you’ll be grateful you did. On icy days always check that your wipers are not frozen to the glass. Attempting to get them moving can blow a fuse or damage the motors, just adding to your woes. The same problem can sometimes affect electric wing mirrors. If really low temperatures are forecast don’t fold them in the night before.
Ready-mixed washer fluid can be an expensive convenience; it’s typically £5 or so for five litres – more at motorway service areas – and most of it is just tap water. Many supermarkets sell concentrated fluid which will dilute to make at least 20 litres for less cost, even more when the weather’s mild and there’s no risk of the washers freezing. Alternatively shop online, but don’t be tempted by hi-tech sounding premium priced products or the very expensive “specially developed for X make of car.” On cold days, don’t use the washers until you feel warm air coming out of the heater, otherwise the spray may freeze on your windscreen leaving you driving blind.
Frost and ice
If there’s no magic windscreen defrost switch in your car, buy a custom made ice blanket or just cover the screen the night before with a sheet. Do not use newspapers for this as they tend to disintegrate into a soggy mush. Invest in a good quality ice scraper and a few tins of de-icing spray and, most importantly give yourself that extra ten minutes to get the car ready to go. Clear the whole screen, not just a letter box area in front of the driver. A badly cleared screen is dangerous and is an offence. Three points and a hefty fine can be the reward for skimping.
While you scrape and spray you can have the engine running with the heater set to maximum demist. But cars are at their most polluting and wasteful when cold, so you won’t be doing the environment or your wallet any good. As soon as the windows are clear, drive off. It is illegal to leave a car running unattended as well as being a huge temptation for the casual thief. Most insurance companies may not pay out if you make it easy for someone to steal your vehicle.
Clear damp or snowy boots and coats out of the car when you get home – if you leave them in overnight the water will evaporate and condense on the inside of all the windows. It’ll take ages to clear and the car will feel damp and miserable for your morning commute. Even leaving them in the boot will make the windows wet and foggy, so get them indoors where they’ll dry out properly.
And remember to drive carefully and alter your driving to weather conditions and situations on the road. If you’d like to learn about the skills and techniques needed to become an advanced driver, take a look at our advanced driving course.