Winter warmers: car kit checklist for drivers

From slippery surfaces to relentless rain, wintry driving conditions can feel daunting and prove challenging to navigate. To help you prepare, here are the winter essentials to take with you — and how to check your car is in the right condition to tackle the road ahead.

Written by James Foxall
Written by James Foxall
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Pack a ‘winter survival kit’

Storage box

Recycle a cardboard box or use a plastic container and securely store it in the boot with your winter kit inside. 

Phone charger

Should the roads become impassable, your phone is your lifeline to the outside world. But in cold conditions, the battery can lose its charge surprisingly quickly. Ensure the exhaust is free from obstruction and run the engine for periods to stay warm and charge the phone. Alternatively, phone power packs are inexpensive and don’t rely on a car just ensure they're fully charged before a journey. 

Should you need to make contact, pull over safely or ask a passenger to call on your behalf.

Warm clothing

No extra points for looking good; just make sure it'll keep you warm. A warm coat, hat, scarf and gloves, and heavy-duty footwear are vital to have on-board in case your car becomes stranded in the snow.

A blanket

Anyone who’s unlucky enough to be stuck in their car for hours on end, or perhaps a whole night, will be glad they packed a blanket. It can also be useful for helping comfort those at the scene of an accident.

Ice scraper and de-icer

These two are essential if drivers are to quickly remove ice or snow from their car’s windows without feeling the effects of frostbite on their fingers.

First aid kit

Accidents happen all-year round, so keeping a compact first aid kit in a car is a sensible step. Ready-made packs are available online. The British Standards Institution recommends sterile wipes, plasters, dressings and scissors to treat minor injuries.

Battery charger cables

Not a member of a breakdown company? Then get some battery charger cables or jump leads. A flat battery is the most common cause of cars breaking down in winter weather, according to Green Flag and the RAC. Look out for the red warning light on the dashboard — see our guide to warning lights for more information

High-visibility vest, reflective warning triangle and a torch

If a car becomes stuck in snow or leaves the road, the driver needs to alert other road users to the hazard. A reflective warning triangle provides advance notice to approaching traffic, while the high-visibility vest and torch ensure the wearer stands out in tricky light conditions. Fortunately, many phones have in-built torches which can also be handy if you need to dig into the boot or check a map.

Snacks and drinking water

Staying hydrated and maintaining your energy levels is vital to concentration. Pull over to snack and sip, rather than tucking in on the move or in traffic. It’s worth stretching your legs during this break, too.

Extra screen wash

It’s surprising how much screen wash is consumed to keep a windscreen clean in wet or snowy weather. Keep a ready-mixed bottle handy to top up when needed. Ensure your windscreen wipers are in good condition too, as deterioration will smear dirt.

A shovel and tow rope

These could be used to help free your car or rescue another driver who’s stuck. But ensure they're stored securely in the boot of the car.

Have back-up directions

Sat-navs are a driver’s dream but it’s easy to become reliant. You may get lost on your journey (perhaps due to an unfamiliar route, or darkness or heavy rain throwing you off track) or encounter diversions. So, the last thing you want is to get distracted and flustered fiddling with the sat-nav, or GPS signal cutting out.

Plan your journey properly in advance and find alternative routes. Take a map so you can pull over and re-route if needed, technology-free.

Take a can of spare fuel

Ensure your tank is full before a journey. And if possible, fill a can in advance to store in the boot in case you end up on a long stretch of road without a pit-stop, or simply don’t realise you’re running low on fuel.

Give your car a once-over

Check the tyres

Check all of the tyre pressures and inflate if needed. Tyre tread legally has to be at least 1.6mm thick. If there’s not much more than that left, replacing the tyres could be costly. This is especially vital in colder months to ensure good grip on slippery roads. Consider investing in winter tyres, especially if you live in a rural area that’s affected by ice and snow.

Inspect for damages like bulges and punctures too, calling on a tyre specialist immediately if you spot an issue.

Test the electrics

See that all of the car’s electronically controlled features and fittings are in good working order. The windows, radio, air con, headlights, interior lights, and windscreen wipers should all be functioning correctly.

Look at the fluid levels

Unless you’re a mechanic, you’ll probably need a professional to look at the engine in detail but, if you can, check that the oil, brake and power steering fluid are all filled.

Take a test drive

Try the brakes

Brakes can develop a coating of rust over winter months, especially if exposed to wet conditions or grit. For example, rain hitting the brake discs then drying on its own can chip away at the surface. The longer your car goes unused, the higher the chance of corrosion. If it’s been a while since your last drive, put your car into gear before gently driving a short distance back and forth.

Listen

It might not sound very scientific, but you may be able to hear if the car has an issue. Listen out for any unusual noises that might need further investigation.

Examine the exhaust

Don’t get too close but take a look to check the colour and amount of fumes coming from the exhaust pipe doesn’t look unusual.



Written by James Foxall
James Foxall

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