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It feels like we’ve only just had our summer, autumn seems to be flying by and we all know what comes next – the dreaded winter!

Van snowed under

We all know what that means, cold winds, ice and snow. These conditions can make any journey dangerous; one way of making your journeys safer is to make sure that you keep on top of your vehicle maintenance.

Tyres

Your vehicle tyres are possibly one of the first things to check on your van, the legal limit for tyre tread is 1.6mm but the recommendation for tread depth during the winter is 3mm, anything lower than this can dramatically increase the emergency stopping distance of your vehicle.

It is also important to check your tyre pressure as having the incorrect pressure can damage the inflatable tubing that keeps your wheels inflated. It is advisable whenever possible to have winter tyres fitted to your vehicle during the colder months as they will help you gain traction and much needed grip on the slippery road surfaces.

Anti-freeze

Making sure that your van is topped up with adequate amounts of anti-freeze will go a long way towards preventing breakdown caused by water in the engine’s cooling system freezing and damaging the radiator and other components.

Anti-freeze lowers the freezing point of the water and helps to ensure that everything flows smoothly. Don’t be fooled by the name though, anti-freeze also raises the boiling point too! Which helps prevent the engine from overheating – wonderful stuff!

Warning! - be aware that you should never add coolant to a hot engine! If you need to add more liquid, wait until the engine has cooled down and never unscrew the caps on engine when it is hot; if you do, hot coolant may be ejected causing burns.

Oil

I’m sure that most of you know why we need to use the correct oil in our vehicles but for those who aren’t so sure I’ll explain why!

The oil disperses heat caused by friction and reduces wear as it stops the metal surfaces in your engine from grinding together by creating a separate oil film between surfaces, protecting the engine. Plus oil helps to prevent dirt build-up and helps protect against oxidation – that’s ‘rusting’ to you and me.

Besides the above properties different oils have different levels of ‘viscosity’, which is a measure of the liquids thickness or resistance to flow (think of the difference between syrup and water and you get the idea).

Why am I telling you this? Well as you’ll learn in a minute it’s important!

It is possible to use oils with different viscosity levels, so you can have one oil that is ‘thinner’ than another. Going back to the syrup analogy, you know that cold syrup is more ‘gloopy’ than syrup that has been warmed – well it’s the same with the oil in your van, cold oil has greater resistance to movement whereas warm oil moves more freely.

So as you can imagine when it is colder outside the ambient temperature has dropped so thicker oil is harder for your engine components to move, creating more strain on the engine. This is why in the winter is it a good idea to use an oil with a lower viscosity so that it is easier for the engine to move from a cold start.

Batteries

Cold weather can have a debilitating effect on your vehicle’s battery with performance dropping when the weather does the same.

It’s more likely that batteries will die in winter when the cold weather hits with power output dropping, recharge ability reduced and increased demand as headlights, windscreen wipers, internal heating, and other power draws are used more often.

The AA have reported that patrols were called to more than half a million battery breakdowns in 2010 and replaced more than 140,000 batteries. If your battery is more than five years old and has difficulty starting it is advisable to get it replaced as soon as possible to help you in the colder months.

It’s also important to make sure that that everything electrical in the vehicle is turned off when you park the vehicle – for example an interior light, boot light, or radio left on overnight can kill a battery when it's cold.

Anything else?

There are plenty of other preventative actions that can be undertaken to help secure a safer journey and the longevity of your vehicle during the winter months, parking in a garage for example is one such example.

The Royal society for the Prevention of Accidents have a great list of measures that you can use during the colder times for increased winter safety. It is also important to make sure that your van insurance policy is up-to-date. It is also worth knowing that breakdowns needn’t be a nightmare as if you are unfortunate enough to need assistance our van insurance policies come with free RAC breakdown cover included as standard!