winter breakdowns

Winter breakdowns

More winter breakdowns happen than any other time. These are the problems your car could have when the temperature falls, and Winter sets in

Battery faults

Car battery problems are the most common cause of winter breakdowns.

Frozen screen washers

A frozen windscreen washer is not a breakdown, but it could soon become an issue if the pump is continuously run until it burns out.

Use a screen wash additive all year round, and undiluted in winter.

Frozen wipers

If you try to operate, windscreen wipers will stick solidly to the window this can lead to blown fuses, affecting other more vital systems of the car.

When the forecast is for low temperatures, be sure the automatic windscreen wipers are not on, so they don’t try to operate when you turn the on the ignition.

Check the wipers do not stick to the glass before setting off, too.

Frozen engines

Engines can fail to start because of a lack of antifreeze. Make sure you get this checked regularly and topped-up using a mix of the correct type of antifreeze.

Stripped teeth on cam belt causing engine damage

If you try to start your car and the water pump is frozen, you could strip the teeth off the cam belt. A damaged Cam belt leads to expensive internal engine damage.

Frozen door locks and door seals

If car doors get frozen then a squirt of WD40 in the locks will help, as will a light smear of Vaseline or silicone polish on the door seals.

If snow falls, clear it from the car while it is still soft rather than leaving it for days on end – or the car may turn into a block of ice!

Windows frozen to their frame

Windows can become detached from the mechanism inside the door and if you try to power them be can become frozen in the frame. Best left until the car has warmed up, and the ice has melted.

Diesel fuel waxing

In extreme cold, wax crystals form in diesel fuel and can block fuel lines and filters. All diesel sold in the UK between 16 November and 15 March has to meet the ‘Winter diesel standard’ this ensures protection against waxing down to -15° C.

There’s not much you can do to avoid it if the temperature goes low, apart from using a garage overnight if you have one and trying to keep the car warm. Electric fuel filter heaters are available.

Electronic parking brake not releasing

If you don’t have a four-wheel drive car and the “driven wheels” are on an icy road and can’t grip it’s possible that an automatic parking brake won’t release.

Frozen rear drum brakes and handbrake cables

Clean your car regularly throughout the Winter to remove corrosive road salt. But don’t use a hose or pressure washer and blast water inside the disc brakes or drums as the temperature drops.

Taking the car for a drive after cleaning can help, but it’s best to take care when hosing down wheel arches or wheels.

Frozen alternators

Fortunately, this is very rare, but the poor design of under-bonnet drains can lead to water from the windscreen getting into the alternator and freezing the rotor.

A screaming noise from the ‘fan belt’ accompanied by smoke, a burning smell, and a battery warning light on the dash will tell you there’s something wrong.

Useful links for winter breakdowns in your car

Highway Code Driving in icy and snowy weather

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