Make sure your car starts in freezing weather… how to keep your engine turning as temperatures tumble

New or old, all cars need plenty of extra care and attention during cold snaps. Here’s how to ensure yours doesn’t let you down as the temperatures tumble.

Why your car hates the cold weather… and might refuse to start

Don't let freezing weather put the skids on your motoring. Source: Thinkstock

Don’t let freezing weather put the skids on your motoring. Source: Thinkstock

Cold weather will result in your car’s oil thickening, which, in turn, makes it harder for the battery to crank it over.

This is bad news because batteries also hate cold weather – it hinders the internal chemical process that keeps them healthy.

Combine a weakened battery with thickened oil and it could result in a refusal as you turn your car’s key.

Along with the battery, there are many other element of your car’s eco-system that will impact on its ability to function in freezing conditions.

Here are some of the actions you can take to keep your car running…

All about the battery

Jump leads and discharged battery, cold winter day

Jump leads and discharged battery, cold winter day

The RAC says the majority of winter call-outs it attends are to do with faulty car batteries, getting yours checked ahead of cold weather is an essential precaution.

Don’t think you’ll get any warning; car batteries often fail without any hint of a problem brewing. Here’s how to keep yours in rude health and what to do if it starts to fail.

Get your battery checked

Cut the chances of a non-starting motor by getting your battery checked. Car owners can book a free battery health check at their local Halfords store or Kwik Fit centre. This will indicate if it’s up to the job of winter driving or if it’s time to replace.

Book your free Halfords battery check here

Book your free Kwik Fit battery check here

How to protect a failing battery in cold weather

Don't panic... what to do if the battery warning light makes an appearance this winter

Don’t panic… what to do if the battery warning light makes an appearance this winter. Source: Thinkstock

If your battery is showing signs of failing, the following tips can help ensure it keeps your car running until you can get it replaced.

  1. Switch off ancillary systems, such as lights, heater, wipers and in-car entertainment systems, before turning off the engine at the end of each trip. This will avoid draining the battery ahead of when it next attempts to start the engine. The same applies for these systems before you attempt to start your car.
  1. While driving, keep the use of electrical systems, such as heating, lights and wipers, to a minimum. All the time you’re using them, the battery is losing the ability to charge and retain power.
  2. If possible, park your vehicle in a garage overnight.

What if the battery is dead and won’t start my car?

If you have sufficient cover from a recovery service, such as the AA or RAC, simply give them a call they’ll come along and replace the battery for you.

Alternatively, you can source your own battery. Ordering one online and fitting it yourself is likely be the cheapest option.

An online battery finder tool can be found here. Simply enter your numberplate to get details of the unit your car requires.

How to jump start a car

If you have a second car with a healthy battery, you can use this to jump start your car. Here’s a full guide detailing how to do this safely.

Defrosting your car

Pouring hot water directly onto a frozen screen could crack the glass and land you with a hefty repair bill.

Instead, make sure you use a de-icer spray, or even make your own solution by mixing one part water with two parts rubbing alcohol to create a defrosting spray.

If you don’t have any rubbing alcohol handy, try mixing a solution of water with a teaspoon of salt and pouring it onto the frost-covered areas.

Don’t be tempted to simply start your engine and leave it to defrost the windows. While you pop inside for a cup of tea, you could return to find you’ve been handed a penalty ticket – find out more here.

Stop your car windows frosting in the first place

Creating a solution of three parts white vinegar and one part water, can help avoid the need to scrape your windows in the morning. Simply spray the solution over the window the night before, then spread over with a rag of sponge. This should ensure a frost-free start to the day.

Frozen door locks

Don't just force the frozen lock... it could bring big repair bills. Source Thinkstock

Don’t just force the frozen lock… it could bring big repair bills. Source Thinkstock

Winter temperatures can easily leave your car’s locks frozen. Using a key to force the iced mechanism can result in damage to the lock or key.

Spraying a little WD40 directly into the lock should do the trick and free it off without damaging internal parts.

As always, prevention is better than cure, so routinely spraying a little of the WD40 into locks throughout winter months will displace any moisture and help stop them freezing in the first place.

Do I need to leave my car to warm up before I start driving?

Leaving a modern car to warm up will simply increase emissions and cost you money in wasted fuel

Modern cars do not need a warm-up period before they’re safe to drive. Jumping in your motor and immediately heading off won’t do it any harm – just don’t be too heavy with the throttle for a few miles as the oil circulates and thins.

It is true, however, that cars of more than 20 years old are likely to need a ‘warm-up’ period before being driven.

Do I need to change the car’s oil?

Do you need to change your oil for winter use? Find out the facts here.

Do you need to change your oil for winter use? Find out the facts here.

Old, thick, sludgy oil will put strain on the car’s battery. This could result in the battery failing and leaving you with a motor that won’t start.

Remove the dipstick and feel the oil between your thumb and forefinger. If it’s dark and sludgy or feels like it contains metallic grit, it’s time to get an oil change to ease the pressure. Give your oil a full dipstick health check here.

It’s unlikely you’ll need a winter-specific oil though, while this would have been the case up until the 70s, modern multi-grade oils are suitable for both winter and summer use.

A 10W-30 oil (the W stands for ‘Winter’) remains not too thick in cold weather and not too thin when it’s hot.

Top-up your tyre pressure

There's one torn every minute

Cold weather can cause tyre pressure to tumble

As temperatures fall, so will your tyre pressures. Figures suggest that pressures can drop by up to one pound per square inch. If you’ve not topped up your rubber since the summer, mid-winter could see dangerously low pressures. Check them now.

Coolant and antifreeze

If your coolant is low or leaking, there’s a chance you could be running low on antifreeze. In extremely low temperatures, this could lead to a life-ending injuries to your car’s engine.

Wait until the engine in cool, then take a look at the coolant. If there’s a decent level of antifreeze present, the fluid should be red, green, yellow or blue. If it’s clear, you could well be at risk and need to get the coolant changed asap.

If it look rusty, or has an oily surface, it’s possible that there could be a problem with the head gasket. Get it to the garage asap.

There are also tools for testing the concentration level of antifreeze in your coolant. This cost from just a few pounds but make a useful tool to help ensure your car keeps running.

Antifreeze concentration level checker here


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