Winter is here and as temperatures dip in the northern parts of India, it’s good to be well prepared to avoid any car gremlins that can crop up. Just a little bit of attention to your car can make sure it stays trouble-free through winter and you too have a comfortable time driving during the cold weather.
Here is a list of things you need to check to keep your car in great condition during the cold season.
Get your car battery checked and top up with the required amount of distilled water. If your battery is due for replacement, it would be a good idea to replace it now, as cold starts demand a lot more current from the battery.
If you’re not too sure about the health of your car battery, but don’t want to be left stranded, it would be a good idea to stock a pair of jumper cables with you. These can not only help jump start your car if the battery is dead, you could probably help out a fellow motorist in need. Also read: How to jump start your car
Engine oil and coolant
Check the engine oil of the car. If it’s nearing time for an oil change it’s better to get the oil changed before the actual cold sets in. If possible (and is within manufacturer’s recommendations), use a wider-grade viscosity of oil (like 5W-40 instead of 15W-40 grade) during the really cold months, especially if you live in an area where temperatures dip to 0 deg C. The lower viscosity helps in circulating the oil in a cold engine faster than if the oil is thicker, which will help the engine’s life span.
Check the radiator coolant and add the required amount to top it up. While the coolant serves the purpose of cooling the engine, it also prevents the radiator water from freezing up in extreme temperatures. And coolant also has a role to play in the heating of your car. When you use the car’s heater facility (if equipped), warm coolant from the engine circulates into the passenger cabin, warming the air that’s blown through your AC ducts. Most cars sold in India have this facility, while some higher end cars have an electric heater.
Windshield wipers and washer fluid
On cold mornings, windshield wipers and washer fluid are going to be of constant use to you. Check your wiper blades to see if they are hard or cracked. Replace them before winter or before the rainy season. It’s good practice to replace your wiper blades once a year. Top up your windshield washer tank with filter water. You can add a commercial windshield washer solution to it or just use a drop of dish-wash liquid (don’t use shampoos as some leave an oily film). Make sure the washer nozzles are clean. Use a safety pin to clean and adjust the nozzle direction, so that it sprays directly halfway up the windscreen and not over the roof of the car drenching some poor motorcyclist behind.
Use the AC to demist windscreen
Many tend not to use the AC in the car during the cold season. This can lead to the AC not performing effectively when the summer months come, especially in older cars, as hoses and joints become brittle due to disuse.
It’s a good idea to use the AC to demist the windscreen. Set the temperature knob to a warmer setting (or set a higher temperature in cars with climate control), turn the air-flow knob to the windscreen setting and turn on the AC. The AC helps to dry the air and dehumidify the car, removing mist formation from the windscreen effectively. In general practice, run the AC for 10 minutes in the car every day through winter (you can set the temperature to a warmer setting, but switch on the compressor).
Use fog lamps
Fog lamps, if equipped, should be used for the primary purpose they are there for – in fog. They do not necessarily help you see any better than you can otherwise, but they will help other drivers see you better in fog.
If you don’t have fog lamps drive with the headlamps on in low beam to similar effect. Avoid high beam, as you’ll only blind yourself with the light reflection from the fog. The practice of using yellow lights helps because yellow doesn’t reflect as much white light. Rear fog lamps (a 21-watt bulb in a red lamp) help warn drivers of cars following you of your presence. Avoid using the hazard lights, unless there really is a hazard, as it confuses drivers of other cars as to whether you’re stopped or moving, and it makes it impossible to signal a turn.
Generally fog lamps need to be mounted low on the vehicle, because this causes the least reflection to the driver from the fog and can illuminate the road directly in front of the car for a short distance effectively. Make sure all the lights, especially the brake lamps, in the car are in working condition. Replace bulbs if needed. Carry a set of spare headlamp bulbs.
It’s needless to say tyres need to be properly inflated and have the right amount of tread on them at all times. But this is more so in winter, as it can be quite frustrating to be caught out on a cold morning with a flat tyre.
If you have tubeless tyres, do buy an air pump as well that can run off the 12V power socket in your car. This portable air pump can save you the hassle of having to change a wheel in the biting cold, as it can fill enough air to get you to the nearest tyre repair shop, without dirtying your hands. Those who live in areas that get snow, should consider getting a pair of snow chains for the peak winter months and also carry a small shovel and a little wooden plank in the car to get out of sticky situations.
Essential items to carry
Assuming almost everyone carries a mobile phone these days it’s easy to get help. But do carry some essential spares and emergency supplies in your car, which can bail you out on a cold morning. These include a set of spare fuses, jumper cables, spanner and screwdriver set, tow cable, jack, jack handle, spare wheel, warning triangle, spare bulbs, insulation tape, a bottle of water, soap and a multipurpose spray like WD40.
Some emergency supplies that you should carry with you include enough drinking water, a first aid kit with disinfectant and cotton, a list of emergency contact numbers and helpline numbers, car mobile phone charger, some newspaper, tissues, matches and a torch. Go ahead enjoy the winter! And also share other useful tips you have.