Winter Car Maintenance

Written by AMT Team

29 November, 2019

Dropping temperatures and bad weather mean that the amount of maintenance your car requires is likely to increase throughout winter. Every year it seems as though the forecast gets less predictable, so it’s never been more important to ensure you’re looking after your car during the colder months. Most drivers know that frosty weather can reduce your visibility on the roads, reduce tyre grip and freeze auto fluids, but did you know that electric vehicles (EVs) require extra maintenance in winter too?

Electric cars have seen a substantial rise in popularity over the past five years, as the focus has been placed on reducing emissions, improving fuel economy and investing in forward-thinking tech. As of 2018, there were 3,290,800 battery-powered EVs in use worldwide, while alternative fuelled cars made up 62.3% of new cars sold in the UK last year alone.

 

Every year, 24% of weather-related vehicle accidents occur as a result of bad weather, including snow and ice. So before the winter weather takes full force, our handy guide looks at the top basic winter car maintenance tips for petrol, diesel and alternative fuelled cars, to help you keep your servicing costs down over Christmas.

What happens to electric cars in winter?

Just like traditionally fuelled cars, all-electric and hybrid cars require extra maintenance in winter. Although EVs can be amazing to drive in cold weather due to their innovative tech and comfortable interiors, their batteries struggle in extreme temperatures. The lithium-ion batteries that power EVs and hybrids are sensitive to intense heat and severe cold, and unlike modern cars, an EV doesn’t have the self-generating heat that an internal combustion engine provides in petrol and diesel models. Conventional cars have battery thermal management systems that work to warm or cool a battery to maintain function, but an EV has to find heat elsewhere. This is usually achieved by depleting heat that motors and inverters make or running a heater. Doing so uses energy, meaning there’s less power to move the wheels.

Furthermore, to further protect the battery in adverse weather, the onboard computer may limit how its used in lower temperatures. Generally, an EV will cover around 20% fewer miles in cold weather versus warm as a result of this feature, which also limits the regenerative braking. This in turn means that the car will recoup less power, preventing drivers from relying on one-pedal driving to propel the car. Additionally, the EV’s charging capabilities – especially with rapid connections – will be limited to protect the battery, as cold batteries can’t accept as much heat as warm ones.

Unlike conventional cars, there’s no excess heat from the combustion engine to heat the cabin in an EV, meaning they rely on onboard heating systems to keep warm. These heating systems are generally one of the biggest energy draws for alternative fuelled models – other than the propulsion motor.

Electric car winter maintenance tips

To prevent your electric car suffering in winter, you should always make sure that the battery doesn’t get too low, aiming to always have at least 20% charge. This allows the car to reserve that power to warm the battery up enough to start the charging and acceleration process. If your car has the option to set a time to depart and therefore starting up the battery while it’s still charging, you should use it. A cold battery is not as efficient as a warm one in both EVs and conventional cars, so it’s not unusual that some models may even warm up the cabin as part of the start-up process.

Most EVs have an Eco or power-saving drive setting. If so, activating it will boost the range by levelling your car’s battery efficiency, thereby keeping charge for longer and reducing the output of the electric motor. This will in turn improve traction in snow and ice, while staying at 65mph or less where possible is also recommended to reduce energy use.

You should also use regenerative brakes where you can in cold weather, as these slow down the car without using friction brakes, which waste energy. Regenerative braking also works to put energy back into the battery, which allows it to last longer and charge faster. Effective use of regenerative braking can extend an EV’s range by 10-15%, but you should also look to plug in your car where you can, as you’ll need to account for longer and more frequent charges to combat the cold.

To summarise, the key winter car maintenance tips for your EV are:

 

  • Keep the battery at 20% or higher
  • Charge your car more frequently
  • Use the regenerative brakes
  • Keep speed below 65mph where possible
  • Use the car’s departure settings to prime the battery

What happens to petrol and diesel cars in winter?

It’s not just EVs that require extra TLC in winter. Cold temperatures can take a toll on your car’s engine, as freezing weather can solidify the engine oil, slowing down the chemical process that powers the battery. Batteries are crucial to your car’s ability to function, as cold batteries can’t deliver as much current as they’re supposed to – especially if they’re a couple of years old. Cold temperatures can also reduce the efficiency of auto fluids, including oil, antifreeze, brake, transmission and wiper fluids.

As the cold weather intensifies, the air in your tyres will compress. Maintaining tyre pressure is important for braking, cornering and overall stability – all things which are crucial on icy roads. In addition, most drivers won’t have thought about the issues that driving through grit can cause. Typically dispersed on roads throughout winter, grit provides some traction on slippery roads. However, repeated exposure can lead to rust, and in turn result in corroded exhausts and damaged brake systems. It’s therefore a good idea to protect the underside of your car safe from grit by treating it with an oil spray to repel salt – taking care to avoid the tyres.

Winter car maintenance tips

Preventative maintenance is essential all year round, but taking steps early to combat the harsh effects of cold weather on your car can make all the difference. To keep your car in optimal condition over the colder months, you should:

 

  • Get your car serviced beforehand. Servicing your car before temperatures drop ensures that you catch any potential problems that may be exacerbated by the cold early.

 

  • Check the battery. Be sure to inspect your battery for any signs of corrosion and check the spark plugs. Do a thorough exam regardless of how new the car is – a battery that worked perfectly in summer may still be affected by cold weather.

 

  • Keep the tyres in good condition. Ensure that your tyres have enough tread to deal with icy conditions, and that they’re inflated to a good level. You may want to consider switching to winter tyres.

 

  • Top up coolant with antifreeze. Check your car’s manual before doing so, but mixing a 50/50 solution of water and coolant will work to prevent You could also do this with windscreen wiper fluid.

 

  • Keep your car warm. The best thing you can do through winter is to keep your car in a garage overnight, or somewhere where you can warm it up a little before you start driving.

Winters are notoriously unpredictable in the UK and there’s no telling what the festive season has in store for drivers this year, but following essential winter maintenance tips is the best way to keep your car in top condition until spring rolls around.

 

At AMT, we pride ourselves on delivering a quality service that’s tailored to you. If you’re looking for a new electric vehicle or want to know more about winter maintenance, contact our dedicated team to discuss your requirements on 0113 387 4241.

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