Winter is biting financially even without a big freeze

So how has winter been for you so far? I’m tempting fate because we are not out of January yet but it looks as if it will go into the books as a relatively mild one.

We have had just a tiny bit of snow intermittently, with some parts of Munster and the East coast getting the worst. But no sign, mercifully, of any giant freeze events. I wonder if the NRA are actually disappointed as they had loads and loads of road salt ready to go.

It hasn’t been all plain sailing though. Cars suffer in the winter for various reasons and they certainly break down more. Last weekend saw some snow in Dublin and on that Monday morning we dealt with twice the normal workload of breakdown call-outs. It doesn’t take much to set them off.

This in turn can mean a few nasty car-based expenses coming up which is never much fun in January. Battery failures are much more common because the demands on them are greater in Winter. They generally need to be changed every 3-5 years and will cost normally between €90 & €120.

If your battery is struggling remember to be gentle with it. On icy mornings we tend to switch on all the electrics – demisters, heaters, wipers, lights, radio – before starting the car. This puts a huge demand on the battery. Start the car FIRST and don’t switch on other electrics until after it has started.

Tyres are also very important on grotty winter roads. The bad weather doesn’t make them any worse but it does highlight their deficiencies. If you have a set of tyres that is worn or due to be changed your handling and braking will be much less effective. Changing the tyres will cost in the range of €90-€140 per tyre depending on the car, so €400-€500 for a set of four is normal.

If you find yourself broken down on the road side just be careful who is providing your breakdown service and what is included. If the car breaks down it is typical for the cost to be about €150 for a call out (and possibly more depending on what’s wrong with the car ), with another €1 or so per mile if you need to be towed.

AA membership covers this but others won’t. Excuse the plug but you should check what cover you have. Breakdown cover via an insurance freebie will often exclude ‘self-inflicted’ incidents. This means that wheel changes, flat batteries or minor collision damage (very common reasons for call out ) may not be covered.

AA has a short checklist of items that you should have in the car if you are out and about. Remember that any breakdown could see you freezing on the roadside for a time, so be prepared.

This includes items like an ice scraper and de-icer, torch, warm coat and boots and a tow rope. The most important item of all is a fully charged mobile phone.

Here’s a strange one that seems common this year: the mis-use of snow socks. Back in the freeze of 2010 they were all the rage, and hard to find. Afterwards lots of drivers bought a set and in the last weeks they have been digging them out of their sheds to give them a go.

You almost certainly don’t need them so I would say leave them in the shed. They are only to be used on a temporary basis to get you out of situations when there is thick snow and ice lying on the ground. Any recent snowfall has not been bad enough for that at the moment with only a few local exceptions. DO NOT drive above 50 kph, DO not take them on long journeys, DO NOT take them on motorways.

They can shred and cause damage, and if you damage your own car your motor insurance will probably not cover it if you have used them inappropriately.

The best money-saving device of all is the driver’s right foot... slow down! It will reduce the likelihood of a minor collision and make any collision less serious and less expensive.


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