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Winter is upon us (or will be very soon) as the autumnal hazy days turn into foggy, rainy and freezing ones. But it's not just us that suffer the biting cold, the slushy splashbacks and the soaking rain, sleet and hail - your car does too

And not just on the outside either. Under the bonnet and inside the cabin are just as important to make sure that all runs smoothly just as it does with us - although a warm towel, piping hot soup with crusty bread and a warm fire in front of the telly isn't quite what you can use when it comes to that!

So what can you do to make sure that your best metal friend is as clean and reliable as possible during the harsh days ahead?

To be honest, there are no miracle cures out there; no magic dust to sprinkle over the outside to keep it clean and protected; no miracle liquid to spray around to protect against spills, spillages and splashes; and no wizard's or witch's words to check tyre pressures, oil levels and the like - it's all down to good old elbow grease and allowance of time.

It's regular, proper care and maintenance that keep cars happy and ready for action, and that doesn't happen without input from the driver who is entrusted with the task of looking after the vehicle. Obviously there is help available (Check out Nationwide Vehicle Contract's Maintenance Guide here for example) but let's take a quick look at what you can do to make sure that your vehicle is in tip-top condition all the time.

Under the bonnet

When the real secret to getting a vehicle to last a long time is maintenance, it's a good start to begin with the engine and its various components that make up the powertrain. And this is especially true as Winter approaches- as you can see below and in our Winter Care Guide

  • Oil is essential to your engine, and checking oil levels is an essential part of car maintenance. On top of this, a complete oil change after three months or 3,000 miles is also essential to keep your car in good shape. Be aware that oil change times and oil usage are affected by your driving habits, with towing vehicles, driving in dusty conditions, driving short trips and driving frequently in stop-and-go traffic.
  • It is advisable to also flush the cooling system and to change the coolant once a year - so why not now? A 50/50 mix of coolant and distilled water is the best mixture to help keep the cooling system in good condition by helping to prevent corrosion and deposits from building up inside it.
  • Change out the transmission fluid and differential oils, usually at the required service intervals - and always use transmission fluid or gear oil that is of the recommended type and viscosity.
  • Grease is the word when it comes to moving parts, so make sure that anywhere that needs grease has it - and in plentiful supply. We are talking ball joints, Driveline components such as u-joints, and wheel bearings that need inspecting, cleaning and repacking at regular intervals (again in keeping with service times.)
  • Check the brake fluid too, because brake fluid is hygroscopic - it attracts moisture - meaning that the components are more likely to corrode and fail. It is generally acknowledged that brake fluid should be replaced once a year, which is when the system should be bled too. Replacing brake fluid will save you having to replace the much more expensive calipers, hoses, and sensors that are all affected if the fluid isn't in place.
  • You should also check that the battery is fully charged and not corroded at all, has connections secured, and is itself secure in place (so that it doesn't wobble about.)

Underneath the car

There is a lot of metal under there, all of which can be affected by weather and roads, so this is just as important to get checked out as the engine itself. Besides keeping it clean and free from grime and road muck, there are other things you can do too.

  • Your emission system hangs from the bottom of your vehicle and runs almost the entire length of your vehicle. And although its main job is to move exhaust away from the engine and passenger cabin, it also analyzes the gases, refines them into water vapour and less-harmful gases, and directs them through dampers to reduce noise. All of this is important, so there is equal importance attached to the fact that you should have your emission system inspected every year.
  • Underneath is where you will find the brakes and all its components, so besides checking up on the brake fluid, you also need to check out the disc brakes in the front and drum brakes in back with the brake pads or a brake shoes getting particular attention when it comes to calipers and cylinders. And when you are driving listen out for squeals and other noises from the brakes when used, and also use your feel when using the brake pedal to detect any changes. At the very least, you should have your brakes inspected every year.

On the outside

A clean car is a much more admirable piece of machinery when it looks good - and by that we means clean and shiny. (Unless of course you drive a 4x4 and want to advertise the fact that you spent the weekend off-roading, and wear the badge of dirt and splashes of river with pride!) So let's see what we can do to make the car you drive the car you got all those years/months ago. Cleaning a car also keeps rust away from the vehicle - and if you want to know what causes rust on your car check out our Rust Avoidance Guide here

  1. Rule Number One (and the Main Rule): Quite simple; Keep it clean. Wash everything off of the outside, especially corrosive winter salt and road grime as well as snow and slush marks. Remember to wash underneath too as almost everything that you go over can get itself stuck to the underside of a vehicle.
  2. Keeping paint looking good is a bright way to feeling good as you drive, and a good coat of quality wax applied every six months will keep that shine protected.
  3. Try and avoid parking under trees because not only will falling leaves cover your vehicle but birds are visitors to the wooden hotel branches - and you know what birds tend to deliver when seated!
  4. Besides looking good, you also need to drive safely; so a check of your tyres is also a priority when it comes to vehicle maintenance. Check out our guide to Tyre Maintenance here

On the inside

A clean mind is said to be a tidy mind. A clean desk is a tidy desk when it comes to work; so why not keep the car clean inside so that any distractions or possible interference is negated?

  • Tidy away all the wrappers from fast food visits, put CDs and the like in the many storage places that you can find in your car, and get everything off of the floor in case it interferes with your footwork. After all, you wouldn't look good in court trying to explain that a superhero figure under your brake pedal caused a collision (or at least failed to prevent it!)
  • Protect any interior plastic by parking your vehicle in the shade, and it's also a good idea to use a window deflector screen along with a UV protectant to protect the inside too.
  • Besides tidying up the inside of your car, you also need to keep it clean. Although doing it is a real pain, you will feel better when you drive in it afterwards. 
  • Make sure you clean the inside before you clean the outside to avoid bringing the dirt and dust in from outside.
  • Vacuum and shampoo the carpets using the same materials you would use in your house to help getrid of stains from the mud or road salt that may have been picked up.
  • Then clean the seats by vacuuming first then using a specialist car seat cleaner before treating seating with a spray-on fabric protector. By vacuuming, you remove any dirt that can collect more dirt and then you seal in the clean. For leather seats use leather restoring cream and a clean towel to clean off.
  • For vinyl upholstery, as well as the dashboard and trim items, it is advisable to clean these with a spray-on product that is specifically designed to be used on plastic and rubber surfaces. And to give it that really new and finished look, use a cotton swab to clean in the seams and vents.
  • Clean interior (and exterior) glass with the same product you would use at home on glass, and for tinted windows you could maybe use a mixture of white vinegar and water.
  • And maybe ban eating in the car in future!

If you are leasing a car, it makes good sense to keep the car in the very best condition because it is leased, and not your property. At the end of the leasing term, the car is returned to the leasing company, and an agreement reached as to whether or not any payment is due for wear and tear. When leasing a car from Nationwide Vehicle Leasing, here is our Leasing Wear and Tear Guide.