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RAC Editorial

How to prepare your car for the Christmas break

14 Dec 2012 at 14:52

There’s no shortage of information on how to prepare for driving in winter – planning for snow, ice, wind and rain, as well as how to keep your car mechanically sound and in great shape to tackle tough conditions.

However, actually preparing your car for the Christmas holidays is a different matter and brings challenges of its own.

With relatives, presents and more (Santa needs some help carting the presents around, after all…) needing transport, organising your vehicle for Christmas can be more than just ensuring your car’s mechanicals are in good working order.

Intermittent use

It’s very possible that with time off over the festive period – especially if bad weather is forecast – your car will be used infrequently. It’s therefore important to remember some key points.

Cold can hurt mechanical and electrical components, such as starter motors and batteries. If your vehicle is sluggish to start when you come to it, it could be down to a flat battery or sticky starter motor.

There are ways to spot the signs of possible vehicle breakdowns - Top 10 ways to spot a breakdown. If your car’s battery is showing signs of fatigue, think about using a trickle charger or giving it a boost with a full charge to help intermittent cold starting. Carrying jump leads to get a helping hand is worthwhile as well.

When vehicles are left stationary for prolonged periods of time, things can often seize – again, compounded by the bad weather.

Don’t be surprised if it takes more revs to move off, with a clunking sound as your car eventually sets into motion, for example. The brakes or handbrake could have stuck on slightly, requiring a more forceful getaway to free them up.

Bear in mind that cold and metal don’t mix. It can make metallic items brittle, reducing their resistance to failure. Where possible, try and avoid potholes or any terrain that might overly stress or damage your car’s suspension or alloy wheels.

It’s worth remembering engines and gearboxes take much longer to warm up in sub-zero conditions. Try not to use full throttle and limit engine revs until the motor is up to operating temperature and the car’s oil is working to protect its internals. It will prolong engine life and could help you avoid a costly repair bill in the future.

The letter of the law

Police anti-drink-driving campaigns over the festive period reinforce the dangers of being intoxicated at the wheel of a vehicle for us all - Top 10: Christmas driving dangers – and it’s only an unruly minority that choose to take that risk, putting their own and other road users lives at risk. But there are other driving laws that many motorists unknowingly break over the Christmas.

It is illegal to drive on the Queen’s highway with obstructed vision, and according to the Highway Code, if driving in adverse weather conditions you MUST by law:

  • Be able to see, so clear all snow and ice for all your windows
  • Ensure that lights are clean and number plates are clearly visible and legible
  • Make sure the mirrors are clear and the windows are thoroughly demisted
  • Remove all snow that might fall off into the path of other road users
  • Check your planned route is clear of delays and that no further snowfalls or severe weather is predicted

If you don’t adhere to these rules and your vehicle is deemed to be in an un-roadworthy condition, the police can issue you with a ticket at the officer’s discretion. You have been warned…

Keep it clean

Keeping your car clean outside can help keep it in good condition, removing road salt that can cause corrosion on some metallic parts, as well as helping the paint and bodywork.

Over the Christmas break it’s worthwhile keeping your car as clean as possible inside, too – you never know when you might have to give family or friends an impromptu lift, so having a clean interior is important.

It’s also a great safety principle as well. If your cabin is full of clutter, in an accident those trinkets turn into projectiles. They could hit you or your passengers and cause more damage or injury.

With respect to the above, keeping your vehicle’s windows free of dirt and dust can help them remain clean and clear and reduce the time it takes to demist them when condensation does build up. For more information on how to keep your car windscreen clear, read our guide - How to keep your windscreen clear in winter.

Empty coffee cups and water bottles are a hazard, too. If one should fall into the driver’s footwell, it could affect acceleration and braking by becoming wedged under the pedals.

Preparation and concentration

Preparing your vehicle for most eventualities in winter is key to keeping your car going. That means making sure it’s in strong mechanical condition for the most testing time of the year.

If you feel there is something wrong with your vehicle (you can read our top 10 ways to spot a vehicle breakdown guide here) get it booked in for a check or service – if something does go wrong over Christmas, reduced opening hours could mean you won’t get it fixed as quickly as you’d like to, leaving you stranded and without transport.

It’ll help safety, too. Making sure your tyres are in good condition and suitable for the conditions will aid grip, even if you only intend to make a few short journeys over the break. For more information on the importance of tyre safety read our guide here .

Equally, it’s as important to concentrate fully on the road when behind the wheel as it is to make sure your vehicle is in great shape.

There’s generally quite a lot going on over Christmas and you may have plenty on your mind. But with road conditions potentially worse and passengers on board it’s vital to devote your full attention to driving and not get distracted by festive cheer. Modifying your driving to the conditions is also important.

We’re not bah humbugging here – just trying to outline that safety should be the paramount factor whenever or wherever you’re driving.

Another point: while it’s good practice to prepare for driving over Christmas, it’s also important to prepare for not being able to drive.

If the weather should close in around you, it could limit your progress on the roads – make sure you have a survival kit in your car should the worst happen. For more information on staying mobile this winter, take a look at our winter driving guide.

Stay safe

Even if you don’t intend to use your car that much this Christmas, for the odd times you do, it’s imperative to stay safe.

In doing so it can improve comfort for you and your passengers through a cleaner car inside and out, and properly serviced and working mechanical components. It’ll also ensure you reduce the risk of incident on every journey – not to mention keeping you out of the gaze of the police…

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