The seven things every car owner MUST check this winter

The seven things every car owner MUST check this winter (but how many do you do?)

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The arrival of winter means longer nights, colder days, and driving conditions that can make even the shortest of journeys trickier than usual. 

Breakdowns are more common and potentially more dangerous during the winter months, and rain, snow and ice can make roads more difficult to navigate.

That is why FEMAIL has partnered with Kwik Fit, the UK’s largest vehicle maintenance and repair retailer, to reveal the seven things every car owner must check this winter, from your battery to your windscreen wipers. 

For even more advice, you can visit the Kwik Fit website, or you can visit one of the company’s 600 centres across the UK and book in for a free winter safety check with a trained technician.

Read on to find out everything you need to check to make sure your car is ready for the winter months… 

Essential guide: FEMAIL has partnered with Kwik Fit, the UK’s largest vehicle maintenance and repair retailer, to reveal the seven things every car owner must check this winter

1. TYRES  

Tyres are essential in keeping you safe on the roads, especially during the winter months with the risk of snow and ice. There are three main components to check: pressure, tread depth and external damage.

Pressure: Maintaining the correct tyre pressure is important for several reasons, including safety. Tyres that are under-inflated can overheat, and over-inflated tyres can lead to poor vehicle handling. It also makes financial sense: over or under-inflated tyres also need to be replaced more regularly, costing you more money. Finally, maintaining the correct tyre pressure helps maintain optimum fuel efficiency, making it better for the environment.

If in doubt, ask a professional

If you’re worried about your tyres, book in for a free tyre check at Kwik Fit here.

A trained technician will carry out a full inspection of your tyres, ensuring the tread depths meet minimum legal requirements and checking and correcting your tyre pressures based on the manufacturer’s recommended PSI. The findings are written up in a report for your convenience.  

The correct tyre pressures for your car can be found in the vehicle handbook and are often printed either in the sill of the driver’s door or on the inside of the fuel flap. Alternatively use the Kwik Fit tyre pressure finder here. 

Tread depth: When braking, your car relies on the tread on your tyres to grip the road and come to a stop in the shortest possible distance. The legal limit for minimum tread depth in the UK is 1.6mm across the central three quarters of the breadth of the tyre and around the full circumference. However it is recommended you replace tyres when the tread depth reaches 3mm. 

The easiest way to check your tyre tread is to place your finger in the main tread groove, where you should feel a small raised notch. When your tread wears down to the height of this notch, it is time for the tyre to be replaced. You can also use a tread depth indicator to gauge the remaining tread on your tyre. 

External damage: This covers issues like cuts, lumps and bumps which can be caused by driving over or hitting a kerb, pothole, or other object in the road. The best way to check for these is by sight. If you spot any of these problems then it is important to have the tyre checked as quickly as possible by a tyre specialist because this sort of damage can result in sudden tyre failure.  

2. BRAKES  

Safety first: Brakes should be in good working order ahead of winter, when the risk of snow and ice makes roads even more dangerous

With the potential for snow and ice, it is important to make sure your brakes are working properly before heading out on the roads.

What does a Kwik Fit brake check cover?

A comprehensive Kwik Fit brake check begins with a preliminary road test to check the braking system followed by a series of inspections in the following key areas: 

Brake Pedal: A check on the pedal travel and servo operation during a static test.

Pads & Shoes: To measure any wear on the pads or shoes and also check for damage.

Wheel Cylinder: Examination of the cylinder assembly and master cylinder for damage or fluid leaks.

Disc Brake Calipers: Examination of the calipers, hoses and pipes, checking for damage or fluid leaks around each brake unit.

Precision Inspection: To measure the discs or drums for wear as well as reporting any damage.

Handbrake: To report on the condition and operation of the handbrake.

Brake Fluid: To check the quality of the brake fluid to ensure it still lubricates effectively and has not taken in a high level of moisture.

Final Road Test: To check the braking system is working effectively. 

For more information on Kwik Fit’s free brake check click here.    

If you notice any of the symptoms below when driving – or would like your brakes checked before going on a long journey – it is time to book in for a free brake check at Kwik Fit. 

A trained brake technician will complete a free, no-obligation inspection and then provide you with a written brake report and a quote for any work which is required.

Grinding: When the friction material on brake pads are heavily worn, it can result in a grinding noise as the brake pad has worn down to the metal caliper. This will likely damage the brake disc also.

Squeaking: There are many reasons why brakes squeak. It could suggest the brake caliper has stuck and the brakes pad remains partially applied to the disc but some pads have wear indicators that squeal when worn to let the driver know the brakes need changing. Either way, you should get this checked out.

Pulsating: If you feel a continuous pulsating from the brake pedal whenever you apply the brakes, it indicates the brake disc has become warped due to excessive heat. 

Pulsation occurs because the brake disc is distorted and no longer provides a perfectly flat surface when the brake pad makes contact. If this only occurs when you apply the brakes firmly, it could just be the ABS kicking in but you should have this checked out if you are concerned or it happens regularly.

Pulling: If your car pulls to the left or right when you apply the brakes this is usually indicative of a sticking hydraulic or mechanical component such as a seized caliper. An inspection can identify the precise reason for the vehicle pulling to one side.

Sponginess: If the brake pedal feels spongy and the brakes seem unresponsive, it could be a sign that air has entered the brakes lines and is preventing the brake fluid from flowing through this system effectively.

For a full list of tell-tale signs visit the Kwik Fit website here.

3. BATTERY

Greater risk: Battery failure is more common in winter, so make sure yours has a clean bill of health

Battery failure is more common in the winter months for a number of reasons. 

Firstly, the chemical reactions within the battery get slower in cold temperatures, leading to a reduced performance. On cold, frosty mornings, a fully charged battery loses around 35 per cent of its power.

Secondly, drivers are more likely to use electrical components like the heating and lights more frequently in winter, which places more demand on the battery. 

As battery failure is the number one reason for breakdowns in the UK, it is important to make sure your battery is in good health before setting out this winter. No one wants to be stuck on the side of the road on a chilly December day. 

The easiest way to check the state of your battery is to book in for a free battery health check with Kwik Fit here. 

4. COOLANT/ANTI-FREEZE

Keeping the car running: It is important to make sure that the fluid levels in your car are topped up and contain the correct dilution of anti-freeze

As temperatures risk dropping below zero over winter, it is important to make sure that the fluid levels in your car are topped up and contain the correct dilution of anti-freeze. 

Although they have two different names, coolant and anti-freeze are actually the same thing and work together to provide a dual benefit for your car, helping to regulate the temperature of your engine. 

Anti-freeze is given its name because it provides protection from extreme cold temperatures. At the same time coolant properties of anti-freeze prevent the engine from overheating by removing excessive.  

Many modern cars will have a dashboard warning light to let you know if there’s a problem with your coolant. You should get your car checked at a garage if the warning light comes on. 

Coolant/anti-freeze is checked as part of the Kwik Fit winter safety check. 

5. LIGHTS 

Bright idea: Keep your headlights clean to avoid creating glare for other road users

Three bright ideas to keep in mind…

Stay clean: Dirt on the headlamp unit can cause refraction of the light that can lead to glare for other road users. Make sure to keep it clean. 

Stay alert: It is not always immediately obvious when a car bulb blows. If visibility seems poor or other road users flash their lights at you, check your bulbs because they might be trying to warn you. 

Replace in pairs: You should try to replace your bulbs in pairs. If a bulb has blown and it is one of a pair of lights, replacing both will give consistent light output.

With longer nights and shorter days, it is of no surprise we use our vehicle lights more in winter than we do the rest of the year. 

Lights are critically important because they help ensure your own safety and the safety of other road users as it helps you see them and them see you. Not only that, but having a faulty or damaged bulb is illegal.

The easiest way to check your lights are working is by sight: ask a friend, family member or neighbour to help you check brake lights and indicator lights by observing the lights while you apply the brake pedal and indicators, respectively. 

Sound can also be a useful diagnostic tool. If you can hear one of your indicators blinking faster than usual, it means there is a fault or the indicator bulb has blown. 

If you find a bulb does need to be replaced, you can do it at home but this can be a fiddly business, particularly on some vehicle models where the bulb housing is located in close proximity to other engine components. 

A quicker and easier way to fix a broken bulb is to visit your nearest Kwik Fit centre, where a member of staff can supply, fit and align replacement bulbs for you, saving you the hassle. 

6. WIPER BLADES AND WINDSCREEN WASH 

Clear view: Windscreen wipers and a windscreen wash system are crucial for good visibility

Shorter days and bad weather mean visibility is at its worst in winter. Not only this, but dirt from wet and sleety roads can be propelled into your windscreen by passing vehicles, making conditions worse in a short space of time.

It is therefore even more important than ever to make sure your wiper blades and windscreen wash system are in good working order, so you can maintain a good, clear view of the road ahead.  

As a rule of thumb, Kwik Fit recommends replacing windscreen wiper blades every 12 months. This helps combat the problems that arise over time, like cracking, deterioration and loss of flexibility. 

However you might find that you need your wiper blades replaced more frequently than once a year. There are tell-tale signs that could indicate it is time to have your wipers checked and replaced. They include the ‘four S’s’: 

  • Streaking: Wiper blades leave streaks on the windscreen
  • Skipping: Wipers judder and no longer move smoothly over the windscreen
  • Splitting: There are visible cracks and splits in the rubber edge or ‘squeegee’
  • Squeaking: Wipers make a lot of noise when they pass over the windscreen 

For a full list of warning signs, click here. 

If you notice any of these issues, it is a good idea to take your car to your nearest Kwik Fit centre, where a member of staff will be able to source the right blade for your vehicle and replace them for you. He or she will also be able to check the operation of your windscreen wash system and top up your screen wash. 

What services does Kwik Fit offer? 

Kwik Fit offers a full range of products and services for all your vehicle maintenance needs:  

  • Tyres
  • Mobile Tyre Fitting
  • MOT Testing
  • Vehicle Servicing
  • Brakes
  • Exhausts
  • Batteries
  • Air Conditioning

… and much more! Visit the website here for more information.

7. YOUR CAR ESSENTIALS 

Be prepared: Having a pair of jump leads in your car could help you in an emergency

As well as making sure your car is in good working order, it is important to think about what you’re putting inside it, too. Here are a few essentials that you might want to think about keeping in your car over the winter months:  

De-icer and an ice scraper: In the UK, it is a legal requirement to ensure your front and rear windscreens are clear before driving – and this includes being cleasr of snow and ice. De-icer can help speed up this process, while an ice-scraper allows you to manually remove any stubborn ice or snow from your vehicle. 

Jump leads: The battery in your car could fail at any time, but it’s more likely to happen in cold weather. That’s why it’s a good idea to keep a set of jump leads in your car. These cables provide you with a quick and easy way to recharge your car battery if it’s flat. In order for them to work properly, you will need to have access to a car with a fully charged, working battery with the same voltage as yours. To help avoid this scenario, book a free battery check with Kwik Fit here. 

An in-car mobile phone charger: Running out of phone battery is never good, but this is especially true if you get lost or break down while driving. To make sure you don’t run out of battery in your hour of need, keep an extra charger in your vehicle.  

Reflective warning triangles: It is recommended that you carry a warning triangle that you can use to alert other motorists if your vehicle breaks down, helping to avoid a potential collision. Ideally, you should keep two in your car, so in the event that you break down, you can position one at the front of your vehicle and one at the back. These signs should be positioned at least 45 metres away from the car, and it’s important to note that you shouldn’t use them on motorways as it’s not safe to do so.

Warm clothing and blankets: Break down while travelling in the winter and you might have to spend time waiting in chilly temperatures for assistance. To ensure you’re as comfortable as possible, keep a spare blanket or warm jacket in the boot that you can take out if needed. 

For more ideas on what you can pack with you, visit the Kwik Fit website here. 

Keeping up with Kwik Fit: People who make the company great

On the move: Kwik Fit’s Alan Stone

Kwik Fit Technical Training and Development Manager Alan Stone, 36, from Derby.    

Alan knew from a young age that he wanted to work in the motoring industry. He served his apprenticeship with Daimler-Chrysler, working his way up through the workshop and into service team leadership. 

Alan joined Kwik Fit 13 years ago as a technical trainer at the company’s Harlow academy, delivering technical training to centre staff and apprentices. 

He then took up a technical development role in Derby, creating training and other technical materials, before progressing to his current role looking after technical training for the business. 

Explaining why he has stayed with Kwik Fit for more than a decade, Alan said he felt fortunate to work for a company that has a ‘diverse team who specialise across different areas’. He added: ‘I’m fortunate that in my role I get to work with and learn from a lot of them.’

Although he is a ‘self-confessed technophobe’, Alan has enjoyed introducing the hybrid and electric vehicle training programme, describing it as a ‘personal highlight’.  

Away from work, Alan is kept busy as the proud father of a daughter, with another one arriving ‘any day now’. ‘Most of my free time is spent with family, building Lego, out running or cycling, or playing video games,’ he said.  

Asked about the best advice he has ever received, Alan said: ‘We were fortunate to have Cmdr Chris Hadfield at one of our conferences a few years ago, and something that sticks in my mind is the mantra of “What’s the next thing that’s going to kill us?” Obviously not quite the same on Earth, but focusing on the next major task is still valuable advice.’ 

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