Winter car woes? Only yourself to blame!

Winter is on its way – or, in some places, here already! – with temperatures in single digits, rain in the Western Cape and frost on the Highveld. Durban, you don’t need to read on except for the stuff about rain and tyres…

Humans will make sure they are dry and warm overnight but tend to forget about their vehicles left outside to freeze or get soaked, according to whether they are on the Highveld or in the Cape.

They’re valuable assets that need some care against the elements at this time of year – especially if not garaged – so here are some tips from the Automobile Association and (more accurately) Carman’s Corner to help your wheels survive until spring.


Without one you’re dead in the water but they also tend to give more problems during winter because of the increased amps drawn by the starter motor to crank the cold engine – it’s not only your joints that get still in winter.

The last thing you want on a cold winter’s day is a dead engine so make sure your battery is in good working condition.

  • Check the water (electrolyte) level in the cells – but only if your battery is the type with screw-off tops. Otherwise, leave the darn thing alone.
  • Make sure the level is not too low (it must just cover the grey plates you can see through the screw holes). If low, top up each cell with DISTILLED water – and boiling your kettle and then using the water is NOT distilled water. Buy a (sealed) bottle from you local garage – avoid overfilling.
  • Keep the battery clean. Clean the terminals with warm (not hot) soapy water on an old cloth and wipe off any acid or dirt build-up.
  • Make sure the battery is properly clamped to its tray.
  • Charge the battery regularly. If you normally drive short distances, or use your car infrequently, take an hour’s steady drive each weekend to ensure a full charge.
  • Simply idling the engine will NOT charge the battery.
  • Invest in a trickle-charger; read the instructions. Buy an Optimate – Carman’s Corner’s boss has had one for years for his motorcycle and it’s never had a hiccup. Cost you about a grand, but that’s cheaper than being late for work and getting fired – not to mention the rescue call-out.
  • Switch off all devices – radio, lights, aircon, wipers, heater/demister etc – before trying to start the cars. On a cold morning even a charged
    battery will provide less than half the power it did in summer.
  • Check the rubber belts for fraying or cracking – the ones somewhere near the radiator. A loose alternator belt is a common cause of battery failure.
  • Have your car serviced. Poor engine condition can overload the battery.
    Call the AA. If your battery is dying they’ll come to you, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year.


Always ensure that your tyres are in good condition – worn tyres can be fatal on a wet road. Make sure the tread is at least 2mm deep – use a matchstick to measure in the centre of the tread. The legal limit is one millimetre but if that’s all you’ve got and you go on the road you must be brain-dead.

Your insurance could very well refuse to pay if you crash on bald tyres though that might not matter because you could well be dead anyway.

Maintain the correct inflation pressures (see the car’s handbook) – have them checked each time you fill up.

If you ride in a kombi taxi, take a walk around it: if any tyre is bald get the next one or you could be more than just brain-dead.


Get a piece of masking tape, write LIGHTS? on it, and stick it on the driver’s door just below the window. As the days get shorter you might set off for work in darkness and arrive in daylight. Hence the reminder.

Make sure your car’s headlights both work – on dip and main. Only one working says ‘motorcycle’ to oncoming traffic and they’ll take a risk. Again, you’re dead.

Windscreens and their wipers

A new set of wipers (unless you drive an expensive car, in which case you probably couldn’t care less) shouldn’t cost more than R150. Fit a new pair now.

Don’t use hot/boiling water to clear ice from your windows. The glass will probably crack, especially the stressed windscreen. Doing so will also also indicate you are brain-dead. Use a plastic scraper from the cutlery drawer then put the car’s heater to ‘demist’ and crank up the fan/heat.

Use your aircon while driving, even if you have the heater on too – it dries the incoming air and you’ll become probably the only person on the road with clear glass all round.

All the others are brain-dead.

If possible, park your car under cover at night to keep the glass clear then you can save yourself all the crap you’ll have do otherwise – see above.


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