Expert advice: winter car faults and simple fixes to resolve them

winter car faults

When the weather turns cold you really don’t want this to be you (Picture iStock/Sestovic)

Here in the UK, we might have had an exceptionally warm summer followed by so far, a mild autumn. But winter car faults are just around the corner, waiting to plague our motors and interfere with our best-laid plans.

Every year at Green Flag we see an increase in call outs as the weather gets colder. And it’s always the usual suspects. But if you act now, you can ensure you and your car are prepared for winter’s worst. Here are four popular faults and solutions for them.

Winter car faults 1: Non-start, fuel flooded

I’ve spoken about this fuel flooding fault before as it’s something we’re seeing increasingly. It generally relates to cars with small capacity petrol engines. The usual scenario is the car is started, moved a short distance, then turned off. When the owner goes back to it a few minutes later, the car won’t start.

As the weather gets colder, occurrences of this fault increase by 360 per cent so it is a significant problem. The motors most affected are the country’s best-selling small cars, models such as the Ford Fiesta, Volkswagen Polo, Vauxhall Corsa, Nissan Micra and Toyota Yaris.

Solution: The reason this happens is that the car’s clever electronics know it’s cold so ease starting by increasing the fuel-to-air mixture injected into the engine. When you stop the engine, there’s nowhere for that extra unburnt fuel to go. Try to restart the engine and it won’t fire because it’s flooded with fuel.

If your car suffers this problem, before you call your breakdown service, try the following. Push the accelerator pedal to the floor and turn the engine over for five to 10 seconds. Then release the throttle and try to start it as normal. It should fire. If it doesn’t try it again. Just don’t try too often as you may flatten the battery or damage the starter motor.

Winter car faults 2: Battery

Winter car faults

It only takes a moment for the pros to check how much life a battery has left (Picture iStock/Sumbul)

The battery is a weak point of any car and we see failures increase by more than 60 per cent during the first real cold spell of winter weather. The reason this is so high is that during hot weather the liquid in batteries can dry out. Then when cold weather arrives requiring a battery to give out more charge, the battery isn’t up to the job.

Solution: Batteries usually have a life span of around five years. If you know yours isn’t in the first flush of youth, it’s worth having a full battery, starting and charging system check. If the battery is only a borderline pass, it will more than likely fail during the winter so have it replaced.

Winter car faults 3: Engine coolant

Having coolant checked just as the weather’s getting cooler seems a bit barmy but it’s vital. Engine coolant is made up of water and anti-freeze. It’s a sealed system but leaks do happen. And the ability of anti-freeze to do its job – prevent the engine’s waterways freezing in very cold weather – does diminish over time.

Solution: It’s easy to check that the level of fluid is correct. You just make sure it’s between the minimum and maximum marks. A garage can check the concentration of anti-freeze and ensure you have enough to get you through the winter.

Winter car faults

This is a car’s coolant bottle. Check it’s filled between the min and max markers (Picture iStock/ake1150sb)

Winter car faults 4: Wash/wipe system

We see a 175 per cent increase in wiper and washer related faults in the winter. Obviously your car will work fine with faulty wipers. But you won’t be able to see out properly which is a danger to you and other road users. Many drivers also view screen wash as an optional extra where it should be standard on every car.

Solution: Good quality screen wash in the right concentration doesn’t just help to clean the screen, it also prevents the washer system from freezing during very cold weather. You can check the wipers yourself too. We show you how here. It’s simple: all you do is run your finger along them.

Scott Wilson is vehicle and customer data insight manager for Green Flag

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