Winter is on its way with temperatures across South Africa showing a gradual decline, into single figures in some places. While people will ensure they are protected against the cold, they forget about their vehicles, and that these valuable assets also need some care against the elements at this time of year.
Here are some tips that may help you, and your car, negotiate the winter months a little better.
Batteries tend to give more problems during winter because of the increased amps drawn by the starter to crank the cold engine. The last thing you want on a cold winter’s day is to be stuck with no power to get you moving. To avoid this, ensure you battery is in good working condition.
- Check the water (electrolyte) level. Make sure the level is not too low (it must cover the fluid plates) and, if necessary, top it up. Use only distilled water (water that is boiled and allowed to cool). Avoid overfilling and clean any spillage.
- Keep the battery clean. Clean the terminals with warm (not hot) soapy water and remove any acid or dirt build-up, which can cause the battery to self-discharge quicker.
- Secure the battery. Make sure the battery is secured properly and not moving around under the bonnet.
- Charge the battery regularly. If you normally drive only short distances, or use your car infrequently, you may need to take a longer (one hour) drive each week to ensure the battery stays charged. Shorter trips, or excessive idling, is not enough to charge the battery, and will shorten its lifespan.
- Switch off before you switch on. Switch all other devices in your vehicle off before your switch the car on. These include the air-conditioner, radio, lights, seat warmers, windscreen wipers, and demisters. In cold weather a fully charged battery provides less than half of the power than in warm weather.
- Alternator belts. Check the belts for fraying or cracking. A loose alternator belt is a common cause of battery failure.
- Service your car. Poor engine condition can overload the battery, so ensuring your car is maintained according to the manufacturer’s specifications will extend the battery’s life.
- Call the AA. If you battery is dying, call us first to replace it. We’ll come to you, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year.
If you struggle to start your vehicle, do not crank the engine continuously as this may damage the starter, battery, and other electronic components.
Always ensure your tyres are in a good condition, and not worn down. Worn tyres are extremely dangerous in all conditions, but this danger can be multiplied in wet, snowy, and icy conditions.
Check that your tyres are inflated to the correct pressure according to the manufacturer’s guidelines, as this will ensure optimal road holding and tyre life.
It is also a good idea to ensure you tyres are in a good condition because the law requires it and you may face stiff penalties if you are stopped and your tyres are found to be sub-standard. The law says your tyres must have at least a one millimetre tread. Some tyres have tread wear indicators in the tread pattern to show when the tread depth is less that 1.6 millimetres. In these cases, if the tread is level with this indicators, the tyre must be replaced as it is considered unroadworthy.
Your insurance policy may also require that your car is roadworthy before you drive it, and worn tyres may void that condition.
Remember your lights
As the days get shorter, and the nights get longer, many motorists will leave for work in the morning while it is still dark outside and they will need to use the car’s headlights. Ensure the car’s headlights are working properly. Also ensure that you switch the headlights off when you reach your destination as you may have left them on after the sun came out during your journey. Park facing a wall if you can, the reflection of the lights will act as a reminder to switch them off.
Windscreens and wipers
If your car is parked outside overnight, you may have a layer of frost on the windscreen. Do not use warm water to clean this layer, your windscreen may crack. Instead use a scrapper (an old credit card will do) to remove the ice. Using the air-conditioner to demist the interior of the car will also help. Make sure it is clear before you drive.
Avoid using the windscreen sprayers when driving in cold conditions as the water from the reservoir will freeze onto the windscreen, and the wipers will not be able to clear the ice.
Importantly, check the condition of your wiper blades and replace them if needed, and avoid cleaning mud and soil from the windscreen with the wipers as these can scratch the glass.
If possible, park your car undercover at night to ensure your windscreen remains clear the next morning.
Automobile Association of South Africa