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A guide to winter drivingBack

WinterDrivingWinter is here, and with it comes the cold and hazardous weather. Prior to Christmas, traffic on the roads increases in volume, at a time when the weather can be at its all time worst. This can lead to accidents and break downs.

If you’re thinking about embarking on any journey, long or small, this winter, it’s important to be prepared for every eventuality to avoid getting caught out. Trusted Dealers has put together a short guide below on how to stay safe on the roads this winter.

Stock up

Before you actually set foot in your car, there is lots of preparation you can do to help make your journey as comfortable, safe and stress free as possible. It is essential to have an emergency kit in your car in case you get stuck in remote weather conditions, especially if you are planning a long journey. We would recommend you gather a few winter essentials at the start of the winter season and keep them in your car for when you might need them. Items you should include in your emergency winter kit are:

  • An ice scraper
  • A can of de-icer
  • A torch
  • A tow rope
  • A warm fleece
  • A couple of blankets
  • Wellington boots
  • A first aid kit
  • Jump leads
  • A 2 litre bottle of water
  • A few tins of food and a can opener
  • A snow shovel
  • A road atlas
  • A spare mobile phone charger

OilChecksSimple checks

Make sure you car is in full working order by performing some simple checks. For example, check that the lights are clean and working, your car battery is fully charged, your windscreen wiper blades and windows are clean, your oil is at the right level and your washer bottle is filled with screen wash. Check the tread, depth and pressure on your tyres and make sure you have a spare to hand should you need it, and check your brakes are working well. It is also a good idea to get stocked up with de-icer, windscreen wash and oil and anti-freeze.

Plan your journey

Before you set off, it’s well worth spending some time planning your journey. Check that there are no hazards along the route that could cause you long delays such as road maintenance, an accident, heavy traffic or bad weather conditions.  You can also check live travel and weather updates via your sat nav or local and national radio traffic update stations. It is also advisable to let relatives and friends know your intended route, particularly if you’re travelling alone.

Maintaining your vehicle

There are a number of ways you can look after your vehicle during the winter months to ensure you get the very best from your motor, even in cold and icy conditions. Here are some suggestions below on how to maintain your car during winter.

Be mindful of your battery and electrics – Using your heater, lights and windscreen wipers frequently in the winter will put pressure on your car battery, particularly if most of your driving occurs during rush hour. Eventually your battery will give out – they rarely last more than 5 years. Make a note of when your battery was last changed, and when it comes up to the five year marker, replace it with a new one – it could save you a lot of time and inconvenience.

Save power on the move – There are many ways you can preserve your battery for longer such as avoiding running electrical systems for too long, turning your car heater or your fan down and switching off any heated windows once they are clear.

Power up your battery regularly – If your car stands still for long periods of time such as at the weekend, give the engine a short burst of power every evening to give the battery a chance to revive itself. Remember to turn off any electrical devices first before starting the engine. If the engine struggles to start, use the starter in short five-second bursts and leave 30 seconds between attempts.

SnowAgainEquipment can freeze – In very cold weather, certain elements under your bonnet may freeze over, for example, a squealing noise when the engine starts could mean your water pump is frozen or the cylinder block is frozen. If this happens, stop your car immediately and allow the parts to thaw out – this could take up to several days unless the car can be moved indoors to a heated garage. If the car starts to overheat, it is likely the radiator is frozen, again your must stop straight away and allow for it to thaw.

Use antifreeze regularly – Antifreeze is a cheap product so it’s important you buy the right type for your vehicle. Most modern cars use long-life antifreeze but you can check your car handbook or ask your nearest Trusted Dealer for more advice. Please note that some types of antifreeze may need to be changed after just 2 years. Put a 50-50 mix of antifreeze and water into the cooling system for the winter to provide maximum protection down to -34 degrees.

Visibility – Poor visibility can result in accidents, so it’s important to adhere to a few rules to help maximise your driving vision in the winter months. Keeping your windows and windscreen clean and smear free before you set off is essential. The low winter sun can be blinding and marks and dirt on your windows can worsen the dazzling effect. If your windscreen mists up, use your air conditioning for a faster demisting effect and to reduce condensation on cold windows.

Windscreen wipers – Check and replace your windscreen wiper blades if necessary. Make sure that your wipers are switched off when leaving your car. If you don’t, and the blades freeze to the screen, you could cause damage to the blades or wiper motor when you turn the ignition on.

Lights – make sure that all the bulbs in your lights are working. If the roads are really mucky, you may need to clean your lights after every journey. If visibility during the daytime is reduced, use your headlights. You may also use front or rear fog lights but these must be switched off when visibility improves as they can dazzle other road users and obscure your brake lights.

Tyres – Trusted Dealers recommends at least 3mm of tread for winter motoring, and certainly no less than 2mm. It is also well worth considering changing to winter or all-season tyres – these have a higher silica content in the tread which prevents it hardening at lower temperatures, and therefore gives better grip in cold wet conditions.

Driving in snow and ice

301012 Winter drivingMost of us have very little experience of driving in adverse weather conditions. If you know the weather is set to be particularly bad, it is usually advised to stay in rather than battle with the elements. However, if you find yourself stuck in terrible conditions in your car, it is essential to know how to drive safely. Below are some tips on how to drive in extreme wintery conditions:

  • Set off in second gear, easing your foot off the clutch gently to avoid wheel-spin.
  • Avoid stopping part way up a hill by waiting until it is clear of other cars or by leaving plenty of room to the car in front.
  • Before driving downhill, reduce your speed and use a low gear to try to avoid using the brakes. Leave as much room as possible between you and the car in front.
  • Reduce your speed smoothly and in plenty of time to reduce the risk of skidding and improve your braking distance.
  • Avoid braking, accelerating suddenly or sharp steering.
  • Get into a low gear, to brake on ice and snow without your wheels locking. Allow your speed to fall gradually whilst using your brakes gently.
  • Make sure the gap between you and the vehicle in front is sufficient. You may need to leave up to ten times the normal braking distance.
  • Keep your car well ventilated to avoid drowsiness.
  • Wear comfortable, dry shoes suitable for driving. Avoid snow boots or wellies that can easily slip on pedals.

AutomaticAutomatic transmission

In normal driving conditions it’s best to select ‘Drive’ and let the gearbox do the work, but in slippery, snowy conditions select ‘2’, to limit the gear changes and make yourself less reliant on the brakes. Some cars have a ‘Winter’ mode which locks out first gear to reduce the risk of wheel spin.

If you get stuck

If you get stuck, straighten up the steering wheel and clear the snow from your wheels. Put a sack or old rug in front of the driving wheels to give the tyres some grip. Once on the move again, try not to stop until you reach firmer ground. If you do get stranded, remember not to panic. Providing you have an emergency kit in your car, you will be able to stay warm and hydrated. Always stay with your vehicle and call the emergency services to let them know your location.

Driver training

If you know you are going to be on the road frequently this winter, some refresher training may be required. Your employer might be willing to fund some driver training for you, so it’s well worth asking the question. Or, contact your local RoSPA Advanced Drivers and Riders group for further information.

Posted by Leana Kell on 30/12/2015