How’s your winter driving knowledge? Do you know how to prepare your vehicle for the coming cold snap? Or how to drive safely in the snow?
With experts predicting the coldest winter in 30 years, it looks like plenty of us will have our journeys disrupted by snow and ice – but you can reduce the risk of the weather bringing chaos to your daily commute or Christmas road trip with our winter driving tips and vehicle preparation advice.
Be winter ready
The first winter driving tip is ‘preparation’. The acronym FORCES can help you remember the essentials you should check regularly:
It seems obvious, but running out of fuel happens to more people than you might think (more than 800,000 motorists a year, according to research by insurance company LV=). In wintery conditions it’s not only more inconvenient to break down, it could be more risky, especially if you’re stranded miles from anywhere.
Low oil levels can lead to engine damage, and a breakdown in freezing temperatures can be anything from inconvenient to downright dangerous. Take a look at your car’s manual for instructions on how to check the oil, and for details on the type of oil you need to use for topping up.
It’s important that your windscreen remains clear in snow or rain, so check your wiper blades. It’s also important to make sure your wipers aren’t frozen to the windscreen before you set off (using de-icer, never hot water), to avoid blowing a fuse or breaking the motor. Tyres should be checked for wear and tear (watch out for splits or bulges) and tread depth – 3mm is recommended in winter to ensure traction. It’s also important to make sure they’re inflated to the correct pressure. You might want to consider investing in winter tyres, especially if you live in a part of the UK regularly affected by freezing temperatures.
As it’s a sealed system your coolant shouldn’t need to be topped up, but it’s best to check (especially before a long journey) so that you don’t miss a leak and risk the engine freezing or overheating. Again, you don’t want a breakdown in wintery conditions.
Make sure you can see and be seen in the dark, and in driving rain and snow, by checking your lights regularly. As well as making sure the bulbs work, check that the lights are clear (dirt or snow will make them appear dimmer). You should also lift the bonnet, when the engine is cold, and make sure the battery terminals are clean and tight. If you find the engine struggles when you turn the key, get the battery checked by a garage – if it’s more than four years old it could be time for a new one, and as batteries have to work harder in cold conditions, it’s more likely to fail in winter.
Winter driving means more dirt and salt on the roads, so your vehicle will get much filthier – including the windscreen, which of course impacts on visibility. Keep screenwash levels topped up, and use a winter screenwash additive (effective down to -15◦C) to make sure it doesn’t freeze.
In case of emergency
Even if you’ve done all your checks, and drive as carefully as possible, there’s still a chance you could end up stranded. Be fully prepared for the possibility of a breakdown by making sure you have these things in your vehicle:
- De-icer and a scraper
- Warm clothes, including gloves and a hat, perhaps also a blanket (even a sleeping bag if conditions are really poor)
- A torch and spare batteries
- Basic tools (jack, hammer, screwdriver, pliers, duct tape, WD40)
- A bottle of water
- Emergency food supplies (such as energy bars or sweets)
- A first-aid kit
- Jump leads
- In-car phone charger (a power bank is a good idea, too)
- Empty fuel can
- Shovel and a sack/old rug in case you get stuck in snow
- Two reflective warning signs
- A hi-vis jacket and winter boots
Winter driving tips
The first rule of ‘how to drive in freezing conditions’ is to only go out if necessary, especially when temperatures plummet and there is heavy snow. But when it’s unavoidable – or road conditions require care but aren’t that bad – there are a few ways to ensure that your winter driving is as safe as possible.
Firstly, allow extra time for winter driving – for clearing your windscreen, and for the journey itself. If visibility is under 100m then fog lights are advisable, but they should be off in clearer conditions. Dipped headlights are the way to go in heavy snow.
Driving slowly, turning gently, braking gently, and accelerating and decelerating slowly, are all really important – and you should also increase your following distance (leaving as much as ten times the usual recommended space). Moving off in second gear can help reduce wheel slip, and you should keep revs low and change into a higher gear as soon as possible.
When going uphill, go at a constant speed, avoiding gear changes, and make sure you leave enough room so you don’t need to stop halfway up. Downhill requires a slow speed and a low gear; try not to brake, and leave extra room for the car in front.
If you get stuck, straighten the steering and clear the snow from around the wheels, before putting a sack or old rug in front of the driving wheels to help them grip. If you find yourself sliding on ice or compacted snow, steer into the skid gently, and avoid braking heavily.
If you’ve got an automatic, check the vehicle’s handbook, as you might find there’s a specific drive mode for winter driving. Some vehicles have other features that make winter driving safer and more comfortable, so it’s worth looking at the handbook properly – and bearing this in mind when you’re in the market for a new vehicle.
If you’d like some help with finding the optimal vehicle for your requirements (with features that suit your needs year-round, not just in the winter) then call our expert team on 01473 372020 or use our contact form.