New Zealand’s winters can test even the most reliable cars, and the safest drivers, on our roads. Cold starts, icy and wet roads, early nightfall and heavy rains all put extra strain on the complex mechanical operations of the modern motor vehicle.
MTA Chief Executive Rob MacGregor says vehicles are more likely to break down when operating under extreme conditions, and motorists can make their winter driving much more enjoyable, safe and hassle-free by performing a few basic car care checks.
“Staying in control on the roads starts before you turn your car on – with fewer mandatory checks, motor vehicle owners are going to have to be a lot more aware of what’s going on with their vehicles,” MacGregor says. “Small issues turn into major problems, if left unfixed; these can range from preventing you from getting where you are going and being expensive to fix and to being downright dangerous, for you and everyone else.”
MTA recommends motorists check the following parts of their vehicles, to keep them safe and working as they’re supposed to, all winter long:
1. Inspect your tyres.
Tread depth and tyre wear and condition have major effects on your vehicle’s stopping distances, and how well you stay on the road. Tyres do not always wear evenly, so check the whole tread – not just the inside edges. Also, get to know your tyre pressures – it’s often on the inside pillar on the driver’s side door – and check it regularly. Most service stations have free air pumps; if you fill your tyres when you fill your gas tank, both will last longer.
2. Check your fluid levels.
Follow the manufacturer’s recommended oil changes intervals: ignoring this can result in catastrophic engine failure. Also, check your coolant and water levels monthly – this protects modern motors from the huge temperature variations they go through, every trip. Finally, top up your windscreen washer fluid – and use a proper windscreen-specific additive; dishwashing liquid can corrode the metal parts of your washing mechanism. All of these are generally covered in a professional service by a good mechanic.
3. Replace your wiper blades.
If you find your windscreen frosts over in the early mornings, keeping an ice scraper in the glove box can be a good idea – and much better for your windscreen than pouring a jug of boiling water on it.
4. Keep your lights bright.
Winter brings fewer daylight hours and earlier nightfall – don’t get caught in the dark. Check all bulbs on your vehicle are working, including your indicators. Also, make sure the laminate in the light housing isn’t cracked, pitted or webbed; this can dramatically diffuse the beams, reducing visibility.
5. Check your brakes.
Does your car stop as well as it should? If your brakes wheeze, squeal or groan, instead of bite, you may need to get them checked. Brake pads convert the moving force of the whole vehicle into heat; it’s a tough and essential job, and they wear out. Replacing worn brake pads is much cheaper than replacing brake pads along with brake drums and rotors – which is what happens if you neglect them.
6. Look after your battery
In colder weather, your motor draws more charge from the battery to turn over. Whenever you open your car’s bonnet, make sure the battery is clean, and test that all connections are tight. If you have any concerns about how much power it has left, most vehicle battery shops will test this for free.