James Walker: Take extra care when the temperature drops

Beware keys-in-the-car thefts when it turns cold
Beware keys-in-the-car thefts when it turns cold
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As the leaves are finally falling from the trees and winter lurks around the corner, a decidedly cold snap has reminded the country it’s time to turn the heating on and dust off the warmer jackets.

I made the fatal mistake I make every year when I turned on my boiler. After a day it began switching itself off and despite many attempts to repressurise it, fiddle with the thermostat and bleed radiators, it kept packing in. Then I remembered. I changed the battery in the thermostat and voila! Heating all round.

Here are some other tips to bear in mind, from heating to driving, when the mercury drops.

Warm your pipes. If you’ve been frugal, have an old house or just get unlucky, you might find that your pipes have cracked or blocked – or the dreaded boiler packs in. Having some cash available for emergency callouts is essential at this time of year. If you’ve been affected, check your home insurance first. You may have some emergency cover for burst pipes or boilers.

Of course, it’s better to avoid problems by easing up the heating by a notch or two before turning them on full blast and bleeding radiators. If you’re going to be away for more than a few weeks, speak to your home insurer too – they may have some requirements about having the heating on a timer during the winter months.

Keys in the car. It’s a cold morning and the car has frosted up. You pop outside, slip the keys in the ignition and leave the engine running while you watch the car through the window. Only to hear the sound of your car being driven off. “Keys in car” thefts occur outside the home, shops, post boxes, by cash machines, even at petrol stations. And when it comes to making an insurance claim, you might find you get a frosty response. All isn’t lost though. While most insurers include clauses in their contracts about leaving your car unattended with the keys in (or even open) you can still appeal if your claim is turned down.

If you’ve left the car unattended on the road, your case is shaky, but if it’s on your driveway, it’s by no means straightforward. Factors like whether you have a gate, if your driveway is visible and how close you were to your car can all help you stand a better chance when it comes to making a claim. As soon as you’ve reported the matter to the police, note down as much as you can about what happened. The more information you give, the better your chance of winning.

Bumps and scrapes. It won’t surprise you to learn that frosty weather always results in insurance claims going through the roof. If you have a bump – or worse – your insurer will be taking a much closer look at what went wrong. So keep your distance and drive carefully. If you hit black ice, the experts recommend taking your foot off the accelerator, not braking and gently guiding the steering wheel in the direction you want to go. I get loads of people contacting me about no claims bonuses after winter crashes. What can be particularly annoying is if you mention a claimable incident to your insurer but opt not to claim. The fact that an accident has occurred makes you more of a risk in the eyes of the insurer so this can have an impact on your no claims bonus.