Don’t get caught out this winter

Don't get caught out this winter

Road safety organisation GEM Motoring Assist is offering basic tips for drivers to ensure trouble-free journeys this winter.

A study into 13 popular models on sale today by What Car? found headlight repair bills vary by several hundred pounds depending on whether the models have halogen or HID or LED bulbs. Of the vehicles examined, four came with High Intensity Discharge (HID) bulbs on some or all trim levels and three had LED bulbs.

HID and LED bulbs are far brighter than halogen lights and can last up to 10 times as long, but replacements can cost close to £1,000. The complexity of HID and LED bulbs is partly to blame for the higher costs but in many instances manufacturers have also switched to sealed headlight designs, which cannot be opened up like a normal unit to allow for bulb replacement. As a result, customers have to buy a complete headlight unit to fix a blown bulb.

The cost of replacing a traditional halogen bulb on a Volkswagen Polo costs owners just £18. However, buyers who choose the high-spec GTI model face a £846 repair bill for the car's LED sealed headlight unit.

Similarly, Suzuki Swift owners with SZ3 or SZT trim levels only have to pay £4 to replace a blown bulb, while those with a high-spec Swift SZ5 will have to pay £684 for a replacement HID unit.

Even if the headlight unit isn't sealed, HID bulbs are still far more expensive to replace than normal halogen items. The HID bulb for a Vauxhall Corsa Elite costs £317, while a halogen bulb for a lower spec version is just £17. Audi A1 SE trim owners will pay £18 for a new halogen bulb, but those with S-Line Nav models have to pay £211 for a new HID bulb and control unit.

Claire Evans, What Car? consumer editor, said: "The longevity of HID bulbs makes them a viable option on a new car. However, if you are buying a used car as a second household vehicle or as a first car for a son or daughter, you – and they – could be landed with a massive repair bill for a blown bulb that could even render the car a write-off due to it being uneconomical to repair."

Giving some attention now to batteries, tyres, antifreeze, wipers, lights and other vehicle essentials is the best way of ensuring reliability in the months to come, says GEM.

GEM road safety officer Neil Worth commented, 'Last week's cold weather managed to catch some drivers by surprise, judging by the rise in calls to our breakdown control centre for help with flat batteries.

'The last thing anyone needs is to break down on a chilly morning. Prevention is always better than cure, so by paying some attention to a few winter maintenance needs, you will greatly reduce the risk of a breakdown in the coming months.'

Here are GEM's five simple steps for reducing the chance of a breakdown or malfunction this winter:

1 Get the battery and charging system checked to ensure best performance. A number of winter calls to GEM's breakdown control centre relate to flat batteries. Cold weather puts a lot of strain on tired batteries, so consider changing it now to avoid the inconvenience of a breakdown.

If your battery seems to be turning over more slowly than usual, get it checked straight away. Similarly, if the red battery warning symbol illuminates on the dashboard, do get the battery checked.

2 Ensure your car's cooling system has the correct levels of anti-freeze, which is vital to prevent the water in your engine's cooling system from freezing. GEM recommends you consult your local dealer or a qualified mechanic to ensure this is done correctly.

3 Make sure all the lights on your car, inside and out, are working properly. Clean them regularly to ensure they are free of dirt, so that you can see, and others can see you.

4 Check tyres for tread depth and pressure weekly through the winter. Good tyres will ensure the safety systems on your car are as effective as possible. GEM recommends a minimum tread depth of 3mm (the legal minimum is 1.6mm), as this will disperse much more water from the road and will minimise your risk of skidding and losing control.

5 Check your windscreen wipers, front and rear. Make sure they are working properly, and top up your screenwash regularly using cold weather washer fluid. Do not use the windscreen wipers to clear ice, as this will very quickly lead to damage.

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