December 21, 2015 at 4:12 PM
If winter is a testing time for us humans, then this is doubly true for our four-wheeled, panel-sided friends. Even good quality, used vans are not exempt from these difficulties. In winter conditions, any machine is only as good as the care it receives. Here is a list of the key points to keep to you and your van rolling on our icy roads.
No surprises with the first item on the list : antifreeze. If your cooling system freezes, your van will not be going anywhere. In really cold conditions, the frozen coolant can even crack the engine, meaning a huge repair bill. Winter coolant lubricates and protects the whole cooling system, but breaks down over time. If you have not had yours replaced in the last few years, now is the time to do so. A garage can check you have the right amount of antifreeze, while you wait.
Winter places a huge additional load on the battery; cold engine starts require serious amps to turn the engine over. Most modern car batteries have an expected life of only around 5 years. If your van has a battery date stamp approaching this age, it might be wise to replace it. Swapping a battery at your preferred garage will be a lot cheaper, and more convenient, than being towed somewhere else after a breakdown.
Most tyres fitted to European vans have a compound biased towards summer conditions. When the weather get colder, it can be worth swapping to winter tyres. These give far better grip on cold, wet and icy roads. It is usually easier to source a set of cheap second-hand wheels to put them on, as this makes switching compounds something you can do yourself. Bear in mind that some insurers expect you to inform them if you are on full winter tyres.
As most modern vans use remote electronic keys for access, seized door locks are no the daily winter inconvenience they once were. However, it is still worth ensuring that your manual door locks and hinges are well lubricated in case they are needed. You can protect your van's locks with a dedicated, graphite-based lock lubricant, used once at the start of winter. Door hinges can be dealt with at the same time, using a wax spray – garages often use a product very similar to motorcycle chain lube.
The spray from winter salt congeals into a horrible mess on the windscreen that, when combined with low winter sun, can be a real safety hazard. Wipers cannot shift the salt without copious amounts of washer fluid, so it is vital to keep the washer topped up. Winter windscreen washer fluid, mixed with water in the right ratio, contains the correct amount of antifreeze and detergent to do a proper job. Replacing old wiper blades before winter can also make a world of difference when driving in tricky conditions.