Winter car checklist: driving kit and best buys

We round up the essentials for your garage and your glovebox so you can keep moving in the bad weather

The year is drawing to an end and, as the days grow shorter and the weather deteriorates, driving will become even more difficult than usual. As the temperature tumbles, snow and ice will limit the grip available, with dark nights, driving rain and freezing fog regularly reducing visibility.

For most of us, not driving isn’t an option; we have to travel to work and go about our normal lives. So, using our extensive product-testing experience, we’ve selected 18 items that should help you get through to next spring unscathed. Preparations should start in the garage. By ensuring the car is ready before it turns a wheel, you’ll be ahead of the game – setting the right tyre pressures and using windscreen washer additive, for example, could save your life.

• Best all-season tyres on sale

And carrying the right kit in the car will mean any emergencies on the road can be sorted safely in seconds. Prices quoted are from a variety of online sources.

Live and non-live sat-navs 

Planning your journey properly is always important in winter, and knowing how to avoid problems en route even more so. We named the TomTom GO 6200 the best live sat-nav in our test, rating its map zoom and 3D buildings really highly. No rival could match its accuracy in spotting the type of traffic delays and their length.

TomTom GO 6200

Price: £300

But the non-live Garmin also starred with its Real Directions voice guidance and instructions, which included landmarks as cues for directions. We liked the early warnings of hazards and speed cameras, and you can install traffic alerts just by connecting a smartphone.

Garmin Drive 51 LMT-S

Price: £110

Torch and fluorescent vest

In case of a night-time breakdown, you’ll need to see and be seen. A glovebox torch will help you identify any problems, and guide you if you have to walk to get help. Our test choice is the Coast G50, which is dust and water-sealed to the IPX4 standard, due to its tough but light aluminium case. With a searing 355 Lumens on tap, it’s easy to focus for close-up or distance work.

Coast G50 Twist-Focusing LED Torch

Price: £35 approx

But, when all else fails and you end up walking in the dark, you’ll be even safer wearing a reflective vest. The Halfords Waistcoat has EN471-approved reflective strips and is compliant with EU regs.

Halfords Essentials High Visibility Vest

Price: £4.99

Windscreen de-icer and screenwash

Don’t be tempted to skimp on iced-up screens on cold winter mornings; clearing just a ‘hole’ is not only dangerous, but it’s also illegal. Resist the temptation to use boiling water, too, or you’ll crack the glass!

Prestone Extreme Performance Screen Wash

Price: £4 approx

Autoglym’s De-Icer will clear the ice quickly without harming screen, paintwork or plastics, and will work down to -50 degrees Centigrade. For keeping the screen clear on the move, adding test-winning Prestone to your washer bottle will help remove insects, dirt and general grime. It lasted for two and a half hours in our test freezer, so in the right concentration, it shouldn’t ice up in your washer jets.

Autoglym De-Icer

Price: £4.30

Wiper blades and headlamp bulbs 

Headlamp bulbs also lose their efficiency over time and it’s easy to adapt to poor performance. Philips’ RacingVision bulbs topped our recent H7 shootout, winning all but one of our tests and achieving a beam rating of 198 when the next best was 163. Tunnel, hot spot and 75-metre performances were excellent, although they don’t last quite as long as standard bulbs, at around 200 hours.

Philips RacingVision

Price: £28.99 (pair)

Clear vision is essential to safe driving, especially in the mucky road conditions of the winter months. But wiper blades deteriorate gradually, so it’s a good idea to replace them every year. Bosch’s Aerotwins won our latest test, quietly leaving a clean screen, with no streaks or smears and dispersing water perfectly.

Bosch Aerotwin Wiper Blades

Price: £26 (pair)

Snow shovel and emergency grips

Sealey’s Snow Kit is ideal for stowing in the boot as the forecast gets worse. The three-position aluminium shovel is strong enough to do the job, but light enough for anyone to use. As a bonus, there’s also an ice scraper and multi-angle brush with a bag supplied to keep your interior nice and clean.

Sealey Auto Snow Kit SSK3

Price: £22 approx

And whether you’re just digging yourself out of a situation or worse, walking to get help, you’ll appreciate the Ezy Shoes. These are in effect sets of bungees which wrap easily around each shoe, and provide much more grip and reduce the possibility of taking a tumble in the slippery conditions.

Ezy Shoes

Price: £25 approx

Wax

Your car’s paintwork has a hard life during the winter, facing an onslaught of snow, ice and, worst of all, road salt, in addition to the usual airborne detritus.

So some wax protection is essential and, as the name suggests, this product is quick to apply. But more important is its durability; in our tests, double speed-wax was head and shoulders above the rest at beading water away. Better still, it’s great value and comes with a microfibre cloth and sponge applicator.

Bilt-Hamber double speed-wax

Price: £ 14.95 (250ml)

Mini jump starter

When your battery just can’t turn the engine over you need a good Samaritan with jump leads or a breakdown truck. This could mean a long, cold wait, unless you have a lithium jump starter in your glovebox. The top-value 8700mAh MSC effortlessly started our battery-limited test car five times while still registering 100 per cent battery life. As a bonus it’s great for phone/tablet charging with twin USB sockets and cables for USB, cigar lighter and mains charging, plus a flying 12V socket. 

MSC Overland Waterproof Car Jumper & Power Bank

Price: £64.95

Cordless work light

A portable work light is essential in a garage and not having trailing wires to contend with makes it safer and more versatile. Our 2018 choice is this unusual Sealey. The impossibly slim inspection arm features 12 LEDs which can deliver up to 400 Lumens, adjustable on a neat rolling dimmer switch. We found it lasted more than four hours on maximum beam and the neat design means it can be pivoted and twisted to almost any angle, aided by three tough base magnets.

Sealey LED 180

Price: £37 approx

Cordless air compressor 

Tyre pressures remain important in winter, but don’t think that lowering pressures gives extra grip; it doesn’t and could be dangerous. Checking and inflating at home with your own compressor is a great idea, and the Ryobi is our cordless king this year. Its performance was at least equal to that of 12V corded units, and it also worked very well on our pneumatic accessories. It uses the brand’s One+ system, where one type of battery fits a range of products, although the price is for the compressor only.

Ryobi R18I-0 One+ 18V Inflator

Price: £53 (plus £75 approx for battery)

Vinyl and rubber treatment

When your car is left out in sub-zero temperatures, even in the daytime,you could find your car doors freeze shut, even the hatch. In most cases, this is simply the moisture collecting on the rubber seals around the doors and then freezing solid. The simplest way to prevent this is to spend around 10 minutes wiping them over with this Autoglym product, which cleans and seals the surface, forming a barrier to repel the problematic water and ice.

Autoglym Vinyl & Rubber Care

Price: £7.20

Garage heater

Keeping on top of maintenance is more important than ever in the winter, but an icy garage is uninviting and working with numb fingers breeds mistakes. The Draper range of Jet Force propane heaters can really chase the chill away. Even the lowest-capacity 47063 model is rated at 10kW and can heat up to 4,000 cu ft – more than enough for the average double garage. The four-heater range tops out with the 40kW 47105, which is good for those with a vast 23,000 cu ft space to warm.

Draper Jet Force Propane Space Heater Range

Price: £112-£185

Winter driving special


Best winter cars• Hot new SUVs coming soon• Best SUVs to buy now• Best crossovers to buy now• Best small 4x4s to buy nowGet ready for winter on the roads• Winter tyre test• All-season tyre test• Choosing the best tyres for your car• Snow chains in the UK: do you need them?• Winter car checklist and best buys• The best winter driving courses• How to store your car over winter• How to avoid a flat car battery• The world’s coldest roads• Preparing your car for winterTop tips for winter driving• What is all-wheel drive?• Winter driving tips• 10 winter driving myths busted• How to drive in rain and floods• How to drive on ice• How to drive in snow• How to control skids• How to use ABS brakes• What is ESC or ESP?• How to jump start your car

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