Porsche Cayenne driving through a snowy forest.

Prepare Your Vehicle for the New Zealand Winter

New Zealand roads can be treacherous in any season, but become particularly difficult in winter. With windy, mountain roads, slippery conditions, and the occasional white out experience, it takes skill and experience to expertly handle winter roads. Unfortunately, many of us don’t have the opportunity to become fully comfortable driving in winter’s snow and ice, so we’re thrown into the depths while we’re slowly climbing a ski field or caught in a blustery mess on a trip to Queenstown. Without preparation, things can get tricky.

The good news is, there are plenty of ways drivers can prepare for the roads before winter hits. Between the low temperatures, icy surfaces, and diminished traction, it’s time get your car in tip-top shape to take on the winter roads. Here is our expert advice on how to prepare your vehicle for the New Zealand winter.

Audi driving in winter conditions.

Inspect Your Tyres

Tyres are one of the first things to start feeling the cold on your vehicle, making them vulnerable and suspectible to slippage. Grip on the road worsens as temperatures dip below 7°C, due to rubber compounds hardening and diminishing traction.

The best place to start is by checking your tread depth, something every motorist should monitor, as this can affect driving capabilities in any weather condition. The legal minimum tread depth in New Zealand is 1.5mm, but we wouldn’t recommend letting your tyres go this low, especially in winter. If you notice your tyres wearing, it’s worth booking a tyre rotation or replacing them altogether.

If you live in a snowy area, it’s worth investing in winter tyres. Though they’re overkill for most New Zealanders, they can come in handy if the road you frequently drive are susceptible to weather conditions. Winter tyres provide superior grip in ice, snow, and cold weather, but they aren’t as grippy in non-winter conditions. To learn more about winter tyres, you can check out NZTA’s guide, here.

Finally, check the tyre pressure and make sure it’s up to standard. Temperature changes can cause fluctuations in PSI levels, so be sure yours are at the appropriate level.

Close up of a tyre

Check Your Fluids

Topping up on your oil before winter hits helps keep your vehicle running smooth. Cold weather makes liquids move slower, so if you have low oil levels, it’ll be more difficult for your engine to remain properly lubricated. Check your coolant, too, as this will help keep your radiator functioning. Coolant helps regulate the temperature of the engine, and if the engine is running too hot, it potentially won’t run at all.

Check the Windscreen

Your windscreen is one of the most important aspects of a safe drive. Check your windscreen wipers and make sure they’re not worn down, causing streaky windshields. It’s recommend to replace your windshield wipers every eight months, so if they’re overdue, replace them now. Carry extra windscreen washer fluid in the boot, as you’ll likely be using it more as cars splash slushy, dirty snow onto your windscreen.

If you live in an area prone to snow, consider raising your windscreen wipers to prevent them from freezing under snow while you’re parked. Alternatively, you can cover your whole windscreen with a secure cover. Above all, make sure you have an ice scraper in your vehicle for times the windscreen ices over.

Inspect the Battery

If your battery is already struggling, replace it before the winter hits. Winter temperatures and conditions decrease the power of a battery, so you’ll want to make sure yours is in good condition. Test your battery regularly and carry jumper cables in case a breakdown happens.

Toyota service technician checking off a list while standing in front of a vehicle with its hood up.

Check the Lights

Before tough conditions impede your ability to see the road, you’ll want to make sure your vehicle’s vital lights are functioning. Put your vehicle in park and have someone sit in the drivers’ seat, testing out the right and left indicator, brakes, and high beams. Check to make sure they’re shining bright and replace any that are faded.

Pack for Emergencies

Even the most prepared drivers can end up in emergencies. To avoid being caught in tough weather, pack the following items to help you wait out the situation or go for help:

  • Snow chains. If you’re heading to mountainous areas, pack the appropriate snow chains for your vehicle. If you only have one pair of snow chains, fit them to the wheels with power. For 4WD vehicles, fit them to the front wheels to help with steering.
  • container of sand can help give a slipping vehicle some traction.
  • full tank of petrol (or diesel) before you head out can be the difference between being able to get out of a tough situation and needing to call for help. Be sure to keep your tank at least half full during winter months.
  • It’s not uncommon for sections of New Zealand roads to become unpassable, so keep warm clothes and blankets in the boot to help you and passengers stay comfortable and safe while roads are repaired or conditions lighten. Non-perishable food and water can also help in these situations.
  • phone charger is essential. Phones tend to loose battery power faster in cold weather, so a charger helps maintain enough battery to make emergency phone calls and get yourself out of danger.
  • torch comes in handy on dark nights or if you need to inspect hard-to-reach places in your vehicle. Although most smartphones come equipped with a torch, you’ll want to use your phone for other things (like emergency calls), so it’s best to not drain the battery.
ŠKODA SUPERB SCOUT driving through a snowy field.

Adjust Your Driving

Winter conditions mean adjusting your driving. Pay attention to how close you’re following other vehicles – if conditions are slick, leave at least a vehicle’s length in front of you, and even more if visibility is low. While it can be unsafe to drive under the speed limit, low visibility, icy roads, or snow can mean it’s necessary to slow down. Slow braking is crucial to safe driving, and braking further in advance when approaching a stop can help avoid an accident. Jerky, fast movements in icy situations can lead to spinning out of control, so keep your movements calm, slow down, and anticipate issues.

If visibility becomes low and you’re feeling uncomfortable, search for a safe place to pull over and wait out the weather. It’s unsafe to pull over on the side of the road, especially in white out conditions, so use this option in emergencies only. The best option is to look for a roadside petrol station or café to wait out the storm. If your life is on the line, there’s no need to rush.

Book a Service

If it’s been a while since your last service, it pays to book one before winter. Any one of our workshops will be able to test your battery, fluids, brakes, and other troublesome spots to make sure you’re driving at optimal performance. You can find your nearest workshop below.

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