A white Volkswagen Amarok drives through snow during winter

How To Prepare Your Vehicle for a New Zealand Winter

Winter is nearly in full swing and along with the excitement of hitting the slopes, we usher in low temperatures, icy surfaces, and diminished traction. Here are some tips on how to prepare your vehicle properly for the hazards of winter.

A Volkswagen Amarok ute driving through mud

Check Your Tyres and Fluids

From your tyres’ perspective, winter starts as soon as the temperature falls below 7°C. Grip on the road gets significantly worse as the temperature drops because the rubber compounds become hard and traction is diminished.

Start by checking that your tread depth is adequate. The legal minimum tread depth in New Zealand is 1.5mm, but the more tread you have the better the grip. For reference, a new tyre will be around 8mm. The NZTA has a great resource on choosing and fitting tyres.

Depending on conditions and the types of roads you drive on, it may be worth considering winter tyres. These provide better grip than traditional summer tyres in ice, snow, and cold weather. Be aware that they will provide less grip than summer tyres in non-wintry conditions, so if you’re considering winter tyres, check out this guide first.

Oil thickens as the weather gets colder, which means it’s less effective in lubricating your engine. To check the oil, make sure the engine has cooled and check. Rub a small amount of oil between your fingers and if it leaves a smudge, it’s time for a change. If the oil feels thick and sludgy, then change immediately.

The headlights on a Kia Sportage SUV shine through rain

Keep Windscreens Clear and Protected

With dark mornings and evenings, wet and cold conditions, and glare from lights, keeping your windscreen clear and protected is especially important during colder months. If your wiper blades are worn down, replace them immediately to avoid streaky windshields.

It’s smart to carry extra windscreen washer fluid in the boot. When passing cars splash slushy, dirty snow on your windscreen, you don’t want to have an empty windscreen fluid reservoir. If you’re expecting really low temperatures, you’ll want to use a winter mixture that won’t freeze down to −20°C.

Consider raising your windscreen wipers to their upper-most position overnight to help prevent them from freezing under snow, and consider covering your windscreen with a secure cover. Many vehicles come with their own ice scraper.


Batteries can often be overexerted in the winter, which can cause premature failures. Test your battery to make sure it’s in good working order and replace it if necessary. It’s also a good idea to carry a set of jumper cables in case of a breakdown.

A man fits snow chains to a car tyre

Snow Chains

If you plan on driving in mountainous areas (or at lower altitudes when the weather is at its worst) consider keeping snow chains on hand.

Note that if you have just one pair of snow chains, fit these to the wheels that are driving power to the road (in most 2WD Volkswagen, Nissan and Kia vehicles, this would be the front pair of wheels). If you have a 4WD vehicle and just one pair of snow chains, fit these to the front wheels to help with steering.

Winter Driving Tips - Volkswagen

Before You Drive Off

If it snowed overnight, don’t forget to clean your roof in the morning as well as your windscreens, bonnet, and boot. Otherwise, chunks of snow could fly off your roof onto other cars, obscuring the views of other drivers.

You should pay attention to your lights, too. It is always a good idea to brush them off a little before driving. Consider whether your car is sufficiently visible during harsh winter conditions when visibility is low.

You can avoid having your windscreen steam up from the inside if you keep the inside surface as clean as possible. Less moisture condenses on clean glass. If the windscreen does steam up, turn on your front windscreen, rear window, and wing mirror heating if available.

Before setting out, take off your heavy coat so it won’t restrict your movements or slow your reactions.

As You're Driving - Nissan X-Trail in Snow

As You’re Driving

While you’re driving, pay attention to how close you’re following other cars. If the conditions seem slick, it’s best to leave at least the length of a vehicle in front of you, more if it’s icy or snowy. Watch speeds in rough conditions as well and slow down should you need to. New Zealand’s roads, especially around the South Island, can be particularly dangerous around the Southern Alps, so allow yourself plenty of time to arrive safely at your destination.

Make sure to brake slowly and further in advance when approaching a stop, and if you do hit an icy patch, turn the wheel smoothly. Jerky, fast movements in icy situations can exacerbate spinning out of control, so keep your movements slow and remain calm.

If visibility becomes low and conditions are out of your comfort zone, try to find a safe place to pull over and wait out the storm. The best option is to avoid the side of the road and find a roadside petrol station or cafe to wait out the storm in. After all, you’re in no hurry when your life is on the line.

Prepare for Winter Emergencies

To avoid unpleasant surprises in winter during emergency situations, it pays to carry several important items with you and to keep them close at hand.

  • A container of sand is a lifesaver on icy surfaces. Even a couple of handfuls of sand tossed down in front of your tyres before leaving a parking space can save a lot of time.
  • In certain situations, a small snow shovel can save the day, plus warm clothes and additional blankets prepared in the boot will come in handy for you and your passengers if you get caught out on the road due to an accident or impassable section of road. These situations can sometimes last several hours and you’ll need to stay warm.
  • Always carry a phone charger in your car during winter. Mobile phones can lose their battery charge more quickly during colder weather and you don’t want to risk being far away from home without having use of a phone. In many modern vehicles, this is simply a case of carrying a charge cable with you that you can plug into your vehicle’s USB port.
  • Finally, consider carrying spare fuel in an approved container. Not just for cases where you may run out while driving, but to help you feel more comfortable about running your car’s engine to keep warm should you get stuck.
Prepare for Winter Emergencies

Above all, drive safely and enjoy! If you happen to take some awesome photos of your Volkswagen, Nissan or Kia in wintry conditions, be sure to share them with us on our Facebook Page!

Note: it’s a good idea before the beginning of the winter season to take your car in for a comprehensive service check. Skilled technicians will examine your brakes, lights, wipers, battery, and the levels of all your fluids. You’ll drive away feeling reassured that you are fully prepared for winter.

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