Cars have to endure a lot, exposed to the elements so we don’t have to be; they face the worst British weather has to offer. Admittedly they are built for it, and no car is going to crumble in the rain, but years of exposure can begin to take a toll on your vehicle if you don’t regularly maintain it.
With the changing seasons, it’s not just the integrity of your car that can suffer. With the weather capable of changing everything from acceleration to braking time and visibility, driving quality can vary drastically based on the conditions you find yourself in. When the weather is going to be predictably bad (in winter, say), adapting your car can save you from a lot of hassle further down the road.
You can’t outright mitigate the effects of the changing weather, but you can dampen (or should that be dry-en?) the toll it takes on your vehicle and driving.
Winter car kit
Winter can be one of the worst times of the year to drive; shorter days, adverse weather conditions and a generally colder temperature to the rest of the year means that trouble is more likely to occur. Should this happen, it can be handy to have a small selection of items in a winter car kit to help out should a malfunction bring you to a halt on the road.
How much you bring is up to you, but some essentials will make things a lot easier should you find yourself stuck. It’s also worth assessing how your local area is affected by winter; in other words, January in Cornwall is very different from January in the Cairngorms. Your winter car kit should reflect this.
A list of things everyone should consider keeping in their winter car kit in their boot throughout the colder months includes:
- Ice scraper & de-icer: A daily ritual for most drivers every morning throughout the winter months, ditch the improvised scraping tool (an old CD case, high street loyalty card, kitchen utensil, etc.) and invest in a purpose-built tool for speed and efficiency.
- Torch and spare batteries: You could probably use your phone in a pinch but should you find yourself with a low battery and expecting to be in the dark for a while, a torch can be a lifesaver.
- Mobile phone: Suggesting people bring their mobile phones with them in the 2020s is like asking people to remember to bring their shoes. However, one thing that is often left behind is a means to charge said phone. Whether it’s a powerbank or a cable with an adapter for your car, your mobile is useless if it’s not charged.
- Warm clothing or blankets: If you find yourself stuck on the side of the road in winter, you’re going to need some warm clothes as you wait for help. You’ll likely have already brought a coat, but it doesn’t hurt to have something extra to keep you or whoever you’re travelling with toasty.
- Snow shovel and de-icing salt: It doesn’t snow all that often in the UK, but that means you ought to be extra careful when it does happen. If you find your car surrounded by heavy snowfall from the previous night, a snow shovel and salt can come in handy for getting you back on the road.
- Snow chains and boots: When the weather takes a turn for the worse, both you and your vehicle are going to need some extra gripping power. One thing to keep in your winter car kit are chains for your car and boots for yourself, just to make sure neither of you slides in a direction you didn’t intend.
- Hi-vis clothing and emergency warning triangle: Two staples of staying safe at the side of the road whilst broken down, the reflective and hi-vis outfits mean you’re extra visible to passers-by when things get dark.
- Basic recovery kit: Short of fitting an entire garage’s worth of tools in the boot, there are some basics that will get you out of some of the more common jams.
- A tow rope can be used to get you or another driver out of a sticky situation should you need it.
- Jump leads are another helpful thing to have, especially when your battery starts to struggle with the colder weather.
- With the harsh winter wind blowing debris onto the road, punctures become more common in the colder months, which means it really helps to have a tyre inflator in your winter kit and working spare in the boot.
Things to keep in your car in summer
Just like winter, summer brings with it its own set of challenges. Typically here in the UK, the summer weather remains comfortable and never presents too much of an issue when it comes around. In fact, if you were to find yourself stranded at the side of a road in the UK, summer would probably be the best time to be stuck.
However, summers in the UK can also be unpredictable, with storms and heatwaves making regular appearances. In situations like this, it’s better to be safe than sorry, especially if you’re driving with elderly or very young passengers.
- First aid kit: Always good to have, whatever the weather. Knowing you have a first aid kit in your car can provide some peace of mind when you’re out and about, but in the summer, you should make sure your kit includes insect repellent and suncream.
- Water: If you find yourself miles away from the nearest shop in the midday sun, you’re going to need some water while you wait for roadside assistance. You can buy insulated bottles that keep the contents cool or alternatively keep the water in the boot, where it’s out of direct sunlight.
- Sun hat: If you break down at the side of the motorway and have to wait at the side of the road, remaining in the shade would be the best way to stave off dehydration, sunburn or even sunstroke should you have to wait for an extended period of time. However, if you find yourself exposed, a hat will go a long way to keeping the sun off your head and neck.
Winter car check
When setting off in the winter, particularly on a long journey, it’s essential your car is in top working order. With hazards on the road at an all-time high, it’s good to make sure there aren’t any obvious issues with your vehicle.
The RAC recommends the following acronym when remembering to do your winter car checks: FORCES.
The first letter and first check should be fuel, this one may not come as a surprise, but you should ensure you have enough fuel for your journey. The weather in the winter months can cause trips to become extended due to heavier traffic and stop/start conditions, which means you’ll use more fuel than you expected. So if you find yourself running on fumes, it’s best to account for a little extra usage during the colder months.
The oil in your engine helps the whole engine run smoother, providing lubrication for bearing and moving parts. Without the oil, metal grinds on metal and can cause irreversible (read: expensive) damage. Checking your oil is relatively quick and easy and is something you should do pretty regularly to keep your engine working at its best.
For your winter checks, rubber is twofold, encompassing both your tyres and wiper blades.
Well maintained tyres are essential all year round, but in wet and icy conditions, even more so. While the minimum limit for tyre depth in the UK and Europe is 1.6mm, it’s highly recommended that you don’t let your tyres get this worn, especially in the winter. Instead, try to replace them once they dip below 3mm tread depth.
In adverse weather conditions (let’s face it, winter is one long adverse weather condition), your wiper blades are going to be able to keep up with whatever the elements chuck at it. It’s recommended you change your wiper blades every 12 months. You can check your wipers are working by spraying washer fluid onto the screen and cleaning the windscreen before running your finger along the length of the blades to check the rubber hasn’t perished or split.
Coolant, like oil, is something you should regularly check so you can make sure the fluid levels are appropriately high enough and aren’t dropping suddenly, the latter of which could indicate a leak. Necessary to keep the engine from overheating, which is still possible on a cold winter’s day; you should only check the coolant once the engine has cooled down to save you from the risk of scalding yourself.
Another one that’s essential for when you’re out on the road, your lights and indicators need to be in complete working order not just to keep you safe but other road users around you. Car batteries need replacing every few years, so be sure to have yours checked at a car service.
Make sure your screenwash is not only topped up but is mixed with an antifreeze that works to at least -15 degrees Celsius. With all the salt, grit and dirt that accumulates on the roads in winters, you’ll find yourself using your screenwash more frequently than usual.
Winter car protection
In winter, your car’s paintwork needs extra protection from the harsh weather conditions as you drive around. Even when stationary, the elements can begin to take their toll on your vehicle if left outdoors. The main culprit to winter paintwork damage, however, is salt, leaving unsightly marks and causing rust.
When it comes to protecting your car in winter, it’s always good to start with washing your vehicle to remove any preexisting salt and dirt from your car before adding a paint sealant or wax. You can also spray more exposed parts of your vehicle, like the bottom of the body, in an anti-rust spray.
If you have a fabric roof for your convertible, then you should also consider using a hydrophobic roof spray to prevent any unwanted moisture from seeping into your vehicle and damaging the interior.
Best winter tyres
In the UK, we are perpetually underprepared for driving in snow and ice. Every year it comes around, and every year our roads grind to a halt under an amount of snow that wouldn’t make your average Swede reach for their scarf. Winter tyres are gaining recognition in the UK as part of winter preparation, and for a good reason.
It’s worth noting that winter tyres aren’t designed for driving specifically on ice or snow; they’re not studded or chained but are designed to grip the road better, even in dry conditions. That said, if it is snowing or icy on the roads, winter tyres are the best option for driving safely.
When looking for the best winter tyres, you have to take several factors into consideration, specifically how the winter tyre works in comparison to the summer or regular tyre. A winter tyre has more grooves and deeper ones at that, making it better at clinging to slicker surfaces and dispelling water easier.
The best winter tyres will also comprise a material mix that contains more silica, which means they can remain soft and supple even in below-freezing temperatures. Regular tyres can become rigid in very cold conditions encouraging them to slip across surfaces instead of clinging to them.
A winter tyre’s rubber blocks are designed to vibrate as they’re driven on, shaking loose any snow they may have picked up. Whereas a summer tyre will likely become smooth as the snow compacts in the grooves, reducing its grip on the road further.
Can you use winter tyres in summer?
No laws prohibit the use of winter tyres in summer, but it’s still inadvisable. Winter tyres, designed to work best in temperatures below 7C, will wear out much quicker in the warmer months than regular summer tyres.
Winter tyres in summer will also have reduced traction, so to help your braking efficiency and your wallet, it’s best to swap your tyres out with the seasons.
Hot car in summer
On a warm day, there are few things worse than getting into a hot car in summer. Like stepping into a small oven, where every bit of metal feels hot enough to fry an egg on and bare skin sticks to leather seats like chewing gum to pavements.
There are several ways to prevent turning your car into a sweat lodge in the summer; some of our top tips include:
- Park in the shade: This isn’t always possible, especially if options are limited, but the lack of direct sunlight can be beneficial if you’re able.
- Drive at cooler times of the day: If possible, avoid driving in the hottest part of the day, like early mornings or late afternoons.
- Use a windscreen sunshade: A windscreen sunshade can do wonders for keeping your car cool, especially the front two seats, by reflecting the sun’s heat.
- Cover your steering wheel with a spare cloth or towel: When you first put your hand on the steering wheel, you don’t want to have to take a light touch due to the heat coming off of it. By covering it with a cloth, you prevent it from soaking up as much heat as it would when exposed.
- Set off with the windows open: You can lose the worst of the heat by setting off with all the windows down; once you begin to pick up speed, you can roll them up again and start using the aircon.