Money saving winter driving tips – the ultimate guide

Money saving winter driving tips – the ultimate guide
With the cold weather fast approaching, and in the midst of a cost of living crisis, we've highlighted some key cash saving ideas for you and your vehicle.

These tips cover a wide range of issues that you could face as a driver this winter season – as well as some extra ideas you might not have thought of.

After you read our guide to cutting costs on winter driving, check out our 30 quick, money-saving tips too.With the cost of living crisis set to continue through the winter months, being aware of your car running costs – and where to make savings – could make all the difference.

Plan ahead

Even before you've left the house, there are a few steps you should take before you venture out into the cold weather.

Plan your journey ahead of time so that you get advance warning about traffic on your route and if there are any alternative roads you can take. Even for routes that you drive often, it can't hurt to have a maps app open which can suggest faster routes if traffic changes whilst your on the road.

Once you're out on the road and want to fill up your car with fuel, it's worth looking for petrol stations near you that are based at supermarkets. They tend to be cheaper than other options, especially motorway services. Knowing how to save fuel can help save a lot of money.

Finally, is driving the only way to get to your destination? Short journeys can be a waste of fuel and money when there is no need to drive. Public transport, ride sharing, or a good old fasioned walk might be decent alternatives.

Avoid idling

Idling your vehicle in the cold could drain fuel unnecessarily. Cars are at their least efficient when they're cold after all.

Today’s engines are designed to operate from the moment you turn the key as well – warming the engine is no longer required, so don't leave your motor idling on the driveway ahead of a trip.

Avoid potholes and rough tracks

Being aware of the road condition ahead can help save money by avoiding unnecessary damage to your vehicle.

Dodging potholes and road surface defects will ensure that you don’t accidentally damage a tyre, wheel, suspension or paintwork.

Also, if you know that you will be heading down country lanes, then it is also important to be wary of what you might have to drive across. Fallen branches, uneven road surfaces and tight gaps can all lead to potential damage to your car.

Claim for repairs if you hit a pothole

Although it's common for road conditions to worsen during the winter months, one key cash saving tip is that you can get compensation should your car get damaged from driving over a pothole.

Knowing how to report a pothole and claim for damage can be a good backup plan, should anything occur when out on the road.

The RAC Guide to the Great British Pothole and Other Road Surface Defects covers everything you may encounter on your journey.

Do simple car checks before a problem develops

There are some very simple vehicle checks you can carry out yourself before the weather turns. Just a quick 5 minute once-over can sometimes mean you snag a small issue before it develops into sometime a mechanic needs to look at.

In order to prevent a breakdown, carry out these 12 essential car maintenance checks and keep your vehicle in tip-top condition.

RAC data shows that less than a fifth of car owners check that their own vehicle is ‘road-ready’ – with 30% also revealing that they never check their car before setting off.

Spending a short amount of time carrying out these checks will save money, reduce the cost of an MOT, and keep you safe behind the wheel.

If you'd prefer a professional to check over your vehicle, then a service is a good option for car owners. Although these come with a cost, they can help uncover issues before they become expensive problems. Visit your nearest garage or contact a mobile mechanic to carry out a service.

Check for animals living under your bonnet

Yes, really. Every winter, you'll see a news article where an unsuspecting driver has found rodents, birds, and even cats living in or under their vehicle.

In colder weather, warm engines may attract animals – who will then potentially cause damage.

Animals seeking shelter could chew through wires, or get stuck within your engine, so make sure you check under the bonnet before setting off.

Even if there aren't any unwelcome residents, it's good practice to check for any potential issues or lack of fluids. Might as well whilst you're there!

Check your fluids

Speaking of... One of the most important tips for any driver during the winter season is to make sure that your various fluids are all topped up.

Perhaps the most important of which during the colder weather is your antifreeze levels. This is because you can damage your radiator and other car components if freezing occurs.

The video below explains how you check your engine coolant and antifreeze.

Coolant is used to maintain the engine’s temperature all year round, and most good quality coolants also contain anti-freeze properties to keep the coolant functioning in sub-zero temperatures.

Antifreeze also helps prevent scale build up and corrosion inside passages.

Also, running low on engine oil can lead to damage to your engine – so make sure it is topped up before the cold weather hits.

The video below shows you how to check and top up your engine oil.

Have you noticed that your car is leaking? Then this guide will help you identify what the liquid dripping from your car is and what to do.

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Avoid damaging wipers… and having to replace them

Windscreen wipers can be an annoying unexpected cost to repair or replace. During the colder, icier weather, they’ll wear out much more quickly – especially if you use them when your windscreen has frozen over.

Never use boiling water or use your windscreen wipers with fluid whilst they're frozen – this can damage the wiper blades. It can also lead to damaging the glass in extreme cases.

Instead, clear the ice from the windscreen with a scraper or de-icer instead. This is a much safer alternative (and you don't need to boil a kettle to use them).

Ice scrapers are cheap to buy and can be stored easily within your vehicle. If you haven’t got a scraper, prices start from as little as £1.

One key piece of advice is to clear all ice from the windscreen before using your windscreen wipers, just in case the rubber is frozen to the windscreen.

Should the worst happen and the rubber is already degraded, then knowing how to change your windscreen wipers is vitally important.

Wash your car

This may be a simple piece of advice – but one that many people ignore.

By regularly washing your vehicle, you will notice any small issues or bits of damage. If you resolve a chipped windscreen, early signs of rust, or a cracking tyre wall now, then you can avoid a hefty bill at a later date.

Give other drivers space

We've all come across inconsiderate drivers, but getting riled up by the behaviour of others can lead to damage or even an accident.

Resist the urge to weave in and out of traffic to save a few seconds, and leave cars in front plenty of space. Don't be a dangerous driver. If there's any loose material on the road surface, you might accidentally put yourself in range of a pebble being lauched up at your paintwork or windscreen.

Just try to remain calm and drive safely; there's no positive outcome from driving aggressively.

It will likely lead to vehicle damage, wasted fuel and potentially put your passengers and other road users in harms way.

Park out of the elements if possible

Where you park your car can make a massive difference when looking to cut costs.

Parking away from other vehicles means you're less likely to have your car hit by another – especially during icy conditions and if you're parked on a tight, city street.

Consider parking in a quieter section of car parks away from the main entrace to the shops. Busier sections might be more prone to dings from trollies or neighbouring car doors.

You're also less likely to suffer frost damage if your vehicle is kept out of the harsh weather in a garage.

In theory, it will also save on your car insurance quote – as your vehicle will be kept in a safer location overnight.

Parking in these areas, coud lead to your getting your car stuck in the mud.

Make sure you have the right tyres

Tyre safety is important all year round – but treacherous driving conditions in the winter months can create extra challenges.

This tyre buying guide gives you all the information you could need to make the best decision. However, if you live in a place where the winter can cause problems – you may need to consider winter tyres.

They are designed to offer optimum traction and grip in cold conditions. Winter tyres have a softer compound, along with deeper grooves and narrow cuts built into the tread.

These tyres disperse water, ice, and snow, allowing the rubber to move around which improves contact with the road. There are pros and cons to winter tyres, but they are a good option if you live in conditions where they suit the roads.

Winter tyres have a snowflake symbol on the sidewall.

However, investing in an all-year, all-purpose is the best way to go in the UK (with the possible exception of Scottish Highlands), as you will be ready for all types of road conditions.

No matter what tyre you currently have, looking after them is the best way to save money. The key is to make your tyres last longer. Checking your tyre tread depth and overall health is vital for the safety of you and other road users – as is having the correct tyre pressure.

The video below shows how you can check for tyre pressure.

Look after your battery

If you don’t drive very often, then you could suffer from a flat battery.

This is because the battery itself will degrade and lose charge. This is more likely in older cars with weaker batteries.

In order to prevent this, consider using a trickle charger to keep the battery topped-up if your car is left in a garage for an extended period of time or a battery conditioner if it appears to hold less charge than usual.

If your battery does go flat, having to jump start a car puts additional strain on the battery and may damage the engine management system and other delicate electronics: a double-whammy of increased wear.

To look after your battery without a trickle charger, you should try to drive your car at least once a week if possible – particularly in winter.

However, should the worse happen and you have a flat battery, this guide will help you.

Check your warning lights immediately

Knowing what your dashboard warning lights mean gives you the opportunity to react accordingly to any issues your car has while out on the road.

However, in winter there are some that appear more commonly than others – such as the 'check engine light', 'brake system warning light', 'low fluid levels warning light' and 'tyre pressure warning light'.

Many vehicles also have a 'winter warning light' – often a snowflake symbol – meaning that driving conditions are treacherous, so take extra care.

Also, in modern cars, there is a notification that will appear stating that temperatures are low and there may be ice on the road.

Dress warmly rather than relying on heating

Layers save litres – and over a winter period, it could end up saving you money.

Instead of using your car’s heating, put on an extra layer of clothing to keep yourself warm.

This means that your fuel is only being used to power the vehicle, rather than operating other systems within the car.

Obviously put the heating on if you're very cold, but do pair it with some nice layers to get the most out the times you do need it running.

Check for rust spots

In wet and cold conditions, rust is more likely to rear its head.

The best course of action is to treat it before it develops into a more serious issue later on.

During the winter months, a gritter truck may have spread salt over main roads to help drivers with traction.

However, a negative side effect of this is that salt can help accelerate the rusting process. Hand wash your car after driving on salted roads to avoid any issues.

This guide on how to remove and prevent rust is a good stating point to help you and your vehicle this winter.

Keep your distance if following a gritter

Following on from the above – if you're out on the roads when the grit truck is spreading, then be careful.

Leave ample room so that the salt doesn’t hit your windscreen or scratch your vehicle.

Here is what you should do if you get tuck behind a gritter.

For EV drivers: preheat your car while it's still on charge

Preheating your electric vehicle (EV) is an important part of driving in winter conditions.

The biggest energy consumption within your EV is your heating system. Therefore, it's important to start preheating the cabin while it's still plugged into the chargepoint.

By doing this, the battery also gets warmed up a little when you start driving, and the car doesn’t have to use electricity to heat it up.

Remember winter FORCES

When it comes to preventing a winter breakdown, remember the acronym FORCES, which stands for Fuel, Oil, Rubber, Coolant, Electrics, Screen wash.

Learn more about how to check for each of these here.

Also, make sure you have your winter breakdown kit in your vehicle.

Winter driving tips

Check out our helpful guides for driving in winter conditions. There are a few extra things to think about when driving in the winter months, so brush up now before more challenging road conditions arrive.

And finally... make sure you have breakdown cover

We obviously hope that you have no problems when driving out on the roads this winter, but the best way to save money if you do have a problem is to take out breakdown cover.

Give yourself peace of mind and get completely prepared by reading this guide for what to include in a winter emergency breakdown kit. It could make all the difference!

Finally, it might also be worth checking out how to get cheap car insurance.

Learn more about saving money on your vehicle with the RAC.

Stay safe and wrap up warm!

RAC Breakdown Cover

RAC Breakdown Cover

With our cover, the difference is in your pocket.

*New customers only. Applies to Extra and Complete cover for 1 vehicle or 1 person. Ends 04/06/24, 7am. ^£7 for new, single vehicle Basic cover. Not in sale.

RAC Breakdown Cover