AdviceTips and advice from our mechanics
Preparing for Winter
You’re more likely to break down in a bad winter – here’s what you need to do this winter to reduce the risk of a breakdown and make sure that you are equipped to deal with the conditions.
Check your car
- Antifreeze – check coolant level regularly and, if required, top-up with a mixture of the correct type of antifreeze. Your garage should check concentration to ensure adequate cold temperature protection.
- Battery – the most common cause of winter breakdowns. A battery more than five years old may struggle in the cold – get it checked and replaced if necessary to avoid the inconvenience of an unplanned failure.
- Fuel – keep at least a quarter of a tank in case of unexpected delay.
- Lights – check and clean all lights regularly to make sure you can see and be seen clearly. Carry spare bulbs.
- Tyres – should have at least 3mm of tread for winter motoring. Consider winter tyres for improved safety. Check pressures at least every fortnight.
- Windscreen – reduce dazzle from the low sun by keeping the screen clean inside and out. Now is a good time to renew worn wiper blades.
- Screen wash – use a 50% mix of a good quality screen wash to reduce the chance of freezing in frosty weather.
- Locks and door seals – stop doors freezing shut with a thin coat of polish or Vaseline on rubber door seals. A squirt of water dispersant (WD-40) in locks will help stop them freezing.
You and your passengers
Prepare for the worst and hope for the best. As well as the things you should be carrying on every journey regardless of the weather, you should make up a winter emergency kit to keep in the boot – hopefully you won’t need it but you will be very glad it’s there if you do.
- Fully-charged mobile phone and in-car charger
- Sunglasses – to deal with glare from the sun or snow
- Personal medication
- Warning triangle
- Spare bulbs
- First aid kit
- Road atlas – in case of diversions
- Sat-nav or printed route for unfamiliar journeys
- Breakdown membership card
Winter emergency kit
- Blanket, rug or sleeping bag
- Bits of carpet or thick cardboard to place under driven wheels to help regain traction on ice or snow
- Salt, sand or cat litter – to help clear snow and ice
- Reflective jacket(s)
- Ice scraper and de-icer
- Torch and batteries
- Tow rope
- Snow chains (if you live in a remote or rural area)
- Battery jump leads
- Bottled water
- Snacks – chocolate or cereal bars
- Extra screen wash
A few routine maintenance and safety checks that you should carry out on your vehicle regularly:
- Lights, indicators, reflectors, and number plates MUST be kept clean and clear
- Windscreens and windows MUST be kept clean and free from obstructions to vision
- Lights MUST be properly adjusted to prevent dazzling other road users. Extra attention needs to be paid to this if the vehicle is heavily loaded
- Exhaust emissions MUST NOT exceed prescribed levels
- Ensure your seat, seat belt, head restraint and mirrors are adjusted correctly before you drive
- Ensure that items of luggage are securely stowed
- Warning displays. Make sure that you understand the meaning of all warning displays on the vehicle instrument panel. Do not ignore warning signs, they could indicate a dangerous fault developing
- Tyres MUST be correctly inflated to the vehicle manufacturer’s specification for the load being carried. Always refer to the vehicle’s handbook or data. Tyres should also be free from certain cuts and other defects
- Cars, light vans and light trailers MUST have a tread depth of at least 1.6 mm across the central three-quarters of the breadth of the tread and around the entire circumference.
- Your brakes and steering will be adversely affected by under-inflated or over-inflated tyres. Excessive or uneven tyre wear may be caused by faults in the braking or suspension systems, or wheels which are out of alignment. Have these faults corrected as soon as possible.
- Fluid levels. Check the fluid levels in your vehicle at least weekly. Low brake fluid may result in brake failure and a crash. Make sure you recognise the low fluid warning lights if your vehicle has them fitted.
If you are unsure about any of the above please feel free to Contact Us
- Regular Servicing – Get the car serviced regularly (according to the manufacturer’s schedule) to maintain engine efficiency.
- Engine oil – Make sure you use the correct specification of engine oil (refer to the handbook)
- Tyre pressures – Check tyre pressures regularly and before long journeys. Under-inflated tyres create more rolling resistance and so use more fuel. Getting tyre pressures right is important for safety too. Refer to the handbook as pressures will normally have to be increased for heavier loads.
Before you go
- Lose weight – Extra weight means extra fuel so if there’s stuff in the boot you don’t need on the journey take it out and leave it at home.
- Streamline – Roof racks/boxes create extra wind resistance and so increase fuel consumption. If you don’t need it take it off, if you do, pack carefully to reduce the extra drag.
- Don’t get lost – Plan unfamiliar journeys to reduce the chance of getting lost – try the AA Route planner or consider a ‘Sat Nav’ if you regularly drive unfamiliar routes. Check the traffic news before you go too.
- Combine short trips – Cold starts are inefficient so it pays to combine errands such as buying the paper, dropping-off the recycling, or collecting the kids into one trip rather than making multiple short trips.
- Consider alternatives – If it’s a short journey (a couple of miles or so) consider walking or cycling rather than taking the car – fuel consumption is worse when the engine’s cold and pollution will be greater too until the emissions control system gets up to normal temperature.
On the Way
- Leave promptly – Don’t start the engine until you’re ready to go. This avoids fuel wastage due to unnecessary idling and ensures that the engine warms up as quickly as possible. (In winter months, scrape ice rather than leave the car idling for a long period to warm up).
- Easy does it – Drive smoothly, accelerate gently and read the road ahead to avoid unnecessary braking.
- Decelerate smoothly – When you have to slow down or to stop, decelerate smoothly by releasing the accelerator in time, leaving the car in gear.
- Rolling – If you can keep the car moving all the time, so much the better. Stopping then starting again uses more fuel than keeping rolling.
- Change up earlier – Change gear as soon as possible without labouring the engine – try changing up at an engine speed of around 2000 rpm in a diesel car or around 2500 rpm in a petrol car. This can make such a difference to fuel consumption that all cars in the future are likely to be fitted with Gear Shift indicators that light a lamp on the dashboard to indicate the most efficient gear change points.
- Cut down on the air-con – Air conditioning increases fuel consumption at low speeds, but at higher speeds the effects are less noticeable. So if it’s a hot day it’s more economical to open the windows around town and save the air conditioning for high speed driving. Don’t leave aircon on all the time – you should run it at least once a week throughout the year though to maintain the system in good condition.
- Turn it off – Any electrical load increases fuel consumption, so turn off your heated rear windscreen, demister blowers and headlights, when you don’t need them.
- Stick to the limits – Drive at or within the speed limit – the faster you go the greater the fuel consumption and the greater the pollution too. According to the Department for Transport driving at 70mph uses up to 9% more fuel than at 60mph and up to 15% more than at 50mph. Cruising at 80mph can use up to 25% more fuel than at 70mph.
- Don’t be idle – If you do get caught in a queue avoid wasting fuel by turning the engine off if it looks like you could be waiting for more than three minutes.
Coasting – does it help save fuel?
Coasting – rolling downhill or approaching a junction with the car out of gear – is inadvisable because the driver doesn’t have full control of the vehicle, though it used to be quite a common practice to save fuel.
- You lose the ability to suddenly accelerate out of tricky situations.
- You lose engine braking which takes some of the load off the brakes on down hill stretches and helps to avoid brake fade – overheated brakes require harder pedal pressures to stop the vehicle.
These days, coasting is still inadvisable and changes in vehicle fuel systems mean it won’t save you fuel either. Old car with carburettor – take your foot off the accelerator pedal with the car in gear and fuel is still drawn through into the engine. Fuel savings could be made by coasting out of gear. Modern car with electronic engine management – fuel and ignition systems are effectively combined and controlled by one Electronic Control Unit (ECU). Take your foot off the accelerator and the ECU cuts the fuel supply to the injectors anyway so there’s nothing to be gained by coasting. Modern diesel engines – these also have the ability to shut off the fuel when you take your foot off the accelerator.
How much can you save?
The aim is to see how much you can improve on your current average fuel consumption or the ‘official’, manufacturer’s figure by following the advice above. If your car has an onboard computer that records fuel economy (miles per gallon / MPG) then take a note of the overall average fuel consumption you’re getting now and then see how much you can improve it by following the ‘eco-driving’ advice above. It should be possible to re-set the computer so it starts recording a new average MPG. With no onboard computer, you’ll first need to find out the official, manufacturer quoted fuel consumption for your car. You may see three different figures quoted, ‘urban’, ‘extra-urban’ and ‘combined’ – it’s the third, ‘combined’ figure that you want. You can look-up fuel consumption data on the Department for Transport’s website www.vcacarfueldata.org.uk/ or can find it with other car specification data in our car buyer’s guide.
Measuring fuel consumption
With no onboard computer you can calculate average fuel consumption over any period by following the steps below.
- Fill the tank and record the mileage
- Keep a record of any subsequent fuel purchases (it’s not necessary to completely fill the tank again until you’re ready to work out your mpg.)
- Ideally go back to the same pump at the same garage you first filled the car and fill the tank again to the same level
- Now divide the total mileage since the first fill by the total number of litres used and then multiply by 4.546 to get miles per gallon (for example if you’ve covered 1000 miles and used 101 litres of fuel, your average mpg = (1000/101)x4.546 = 45mpg)
Rather than compare your new improved fuel consumption with the official combined fuel consumption you could establish a baseline average fuel consumption for your current driving style using the steps above and then another average once you’ve started applying some of the ‘eco-driving’ techniques above.
About the MOT Test
Everyone who uses a vehicle on the road must keep it in a roadworthy condition. The MOT test checks that vehicles meet road safety and environmental standards. The first MOT test for a vehicle is required when it’s three years old. There are different rules if it’s used as a taxi.
The test takes around 45 minutes and can be carried out While you wait. It is your responsibility to ensure your vehicle is examined every 12 months.
Without a current MOT certificate, you will be unable to drive your vehicle lawfully or renew your road fund license.
Recent computerisation of the MOT testing system by VOSA means police and mobile camera units can now check remotely to see if your vehicle has a current MOT. You can have the test up to 28 days before the actual expiry date and the new certificate updated to include any unused days so that no time is lost.
The MOT Certificate
The MOT certificate confirms that at the time of the test, without dismantling it, the vehicle met the minimum acceptable environmental and road safety standards required by law. It doesn’t mean that the vehicle is roadworthy for the length of time the certificate is valid. The MOT certificate is also no guarantee of the general mechanical condition of your vehicle, for example, the test doesn’t cover the condition of the engine, clutch or gearbox. The MOT test is not a substitute for regular maintenance and you should always have your vehicle serviced at the intervals recommended by the manufacturer. Please Contact Us if your vehicle requires maintenance, repairs or a service as we can service all makes and models of vehicle.
When your vehicle is tested at a testing station your test record will be entered on to a secure central database. You’ll then be given either an A4 size MOT (pass) certificate or notification of failure. The certificate is your receipt for the MOT test and shows the information that’s held on the database.
The MOT certificate only relates to the condition of testable items at the time of the test and should not be regarded as:
- evidence of their condition at any other time
- evidence of the general mechanical condition of the vehicle
- evidence that the vehicle fully complies with all aspects of the law on vehicle construction and use
The certificate is no longer proof of an MOT and shouldn’t be relied on as such. Only the computer record can prove a vehicle has a valid MOT. You’ll also be given an Advisory Notice for any recommended repairs for the vehicle at the time of the test.
What the MOT test includes
The MOT looks at some important items on your car to see that they meet key legal requirements at the time of test.
The body and vehicle structure
Is free from excessive corrosion or damage in specific areas and there are no sharp edges likely to cause injury.
The fuel System
Has no leaks and the fuel cap fastens and seals securely. The fuel cap will need to be opened so be sure the key is available.
The exhaust emissions
The vehicle meets the requirements for exhaust emissions, dependant on the age and fuel type of the vehicle.
The exhaust system
Is secure, complete, without serious leaks and silences effectively.
The seat belts
All belts installed are checked for type, condition, operation and security. All compulsory seat belts must be in place.
The front seats are secure. Front and rear backseats can be secured in the upright position.
Components to be inspected
Latch securely in closed position. Front doors should open from inside and outside the vehicle. Rear doors may need to be opened to gain access to testable items.
The minimum numbers are on the vehicle, their condition and security.
Boot or tailgate can be secured in the closed position.
Their condition, operation and performance (efficiency test). Note the removal of the road wheels is not part of the test.
The tyres and wheels
Their condition, security, size, type and tread depth. Spare tyres are not inspected.
The registration plates
Their condition, security, characters correctly formed and spaced.
Their condition, operation and security. Headlamps for aim.
Securely latches in the closed position.
The wipers and washers
Operate to give the driver a clear view ahead.
Its condition and the driver’s view of the road.
Operates correctly and is of a suitable type.
The steering and suspension
Are of a satisfactory condition and operation.
The vehicle identification number (VIN)
Is on vehicles first used on or after 1 August 1980. Not more than one different VIN is displayed except on multistage build vehicles.
MOT test stations have designated test bays where they conduct the test, using a range of equipment that meets the required specification for MOT testing. The standard test procedures are laid out in an inspection manual that the test station should make available on request.
If your vehicle has failed the test, you’ll be given a failure document with reference to this manual. You can watch the test from a designated viewing area but you are not allowed to interrupt the tester while he is working.
All MOT testers have been on a training course with the Vehicle and Operator Services Agency (VOSA) and their test results are checked regularly.