Last reviewed 15 November 2023
In this feature Caroline Raine describes some of the winter checks you should be doing on your vehicles, as well as adding some additional considerations for you, your team and vehicles.
To prepare for the winter weather, a winter plan should be put together, along with a risk assessment. This should be carried out well in advance, and revisited and revised throughout the cold period. The winter plan will be part of the suite of contingency plans already in place that outline what could happen in worst-case scenarios, and how these risks are mitigated and managed. Part of the risk assessment will consider maintenance and checks on vehicles.
Maintenance on vehicles is critical to ensure safety, but also to increase the lifetime of the vehicle, and there are several key checks you should make as we start to approach the winter months. As well as outlining the checks, some additional considerations have also been covered. We will look at:
Winter tyres are not mandatory in the UK, but basic checks can ensure they are in good condition for the winter. The following should be checked.
Check the tyre pressure as per the manufacturer’s instructions, you can normally find them listed in the driver’s handbook, or printed inside the door of the vehicle and sometimes they are on the tyre itself. By ensuring you have the correct tyre pressure you can maximise the safety and performance of your vehicle. Incorrectly inflated tyres, either over or under inflated can affect the driving, as well as grip, handling and safety.
There is a legal requirement to ensure that the tyre tread depth meets the minimum depth outlined in the relevant regulations. For cars this is 1.6mm across the central three-quarters of the tyre and around the entire circumference. And for vehicles over 3500kg gross vehicle weight it is a minimum tread depth 1mm over a continuous band covering at least any three-quarters of the breadth of the tread around the entire circumference.
As well as meeting the legal requirement, it is important to note that the deeper the tread the more grip the tyres will have. 3mm is a good depth tread to set as good practice.
Always look at your tyres before you start a journey, do they look flat, are there bulges? Nicks or cracks showing? Any of these can signs could indicate that the tyres either need attention (for example, more or less pressure) or are ageing and need to be replaced.
Get an expert to check the balancing and alignment of your tyres — this can maximise the safety and performance of your vehicle.
The cold weather can cause batteries to either under-perform or stop working entirely.
Check your battery by having it checked and tested, this will ensure it is protected, charged and secured properly.
Batteries that have not been used in a while can often lose charge or function, so be sure to also check those in storage and consider a charging schedule.
To prevent the water used in coolant systems from freezing, antifreeze is added. This helps to ensure the water does not freeze and burst pipes or systems.
Check and/or top up the antifreeze in your vehicles.
Many companies are keen to ensure that they are not causing damage to the environment. There are several environmentally friendly options available — see our Q and A.
Check that your lights are working, remember to check all the bulbs in all the lights, so the headlights, indicators and brake lights, as well as fog lights and internal lights. You will need to ask a colleague to help you check these.
Poor lighting results in poor visibility for the driver, but also means that you may not be seen by others!
Consider carrying a spare set of bulbs. Be aware that this is a legal requirement in some countries.
Salt or grit is often used on the roads to help prevent freezing and to increase the grip on the road. The salt can cause corrosion to the vehicle, so increased washing in winter months will help to remove the salt and reduce the impact of corrosion on the vehicle.
It will also be important to check the condition of windscreen wipers, as well as screen wash and oil levels. Number plates can also get dirty very quickly, so ensure that they are always kept clean. The same is true for placards and marks when transporting dangerous goods. When looking at the list of prohibition notices, the emergency response phone number was found to be non-complaint several times, as it was unreadable.
Windscreens will become dirtier much more quickly which is why it is important to check screen wash levels. Carrying additional water and screen wash and even a cloth for cleaning the windscreen is advisable.
Winter can bring extreme weather conditions, heavy rain or snow, therefore it is worth making sure that you have a blanket, jacket, snow shovel and water in your vehicle when travelling. In the unlikely event that you may become stranded in your vehicle you will at least be able to remain warm and hydrated. Some long-lasting food would also be an added bonus!
An in-vehicle phone charger or battery pack is also a good idea, as well as a torch. A basic first-aid kit, an ice scraper, de-icer and a high-visibility vest, as well as a portable jump-start pack are also good items to have in an emergency travel pack.
Always ensure that you have enough fuel for your journey. And before you start any journey walk around the vehicle and carry out a visual inspection.
Before you leave, ensure that any snow has been removed from the vehicle (roof, lights, mirrors and windows) and that all the windows, (especially the windscreen) and mirrors are all clear so that you have excellent visibility.
Schedule in time for winter checks on your vehicles. Consider additional actions or equipment that you many need to provide. Plan and record your maintenance and ensure that safety is a top priority. Ensure all your winter journeys are safe, but also remember that all the checks mentioned should be done throughout the year. Have a safe winter!