Winter Is Coming - Is Your Car Ready for the Change In Conditions?
We’re getting used to the onset of extreme winter weather, but what’s the best way to prepare for driving in snow and ice?
Before you go anywhere, follow these driving tips and advice on driving in the winter months and it will help you to stay safe.
- Plan your journey. Tell friends or family where you’re going, which route you’re taking and when you expect to arrive.
- Keep a torch, blanket, ice-scraper, small shovel, suitable shoes or boots, de-icing fluid and a supply of winter grade screen wash fluid in the car. Some basic food and drink is also a good idea, and perhaps a flask of hot drink for longer journeys.
- Always take a fully-charged mobile phone with you, and ensure you have a working in-car charger.
- Never use warm or hot water to clear your windows of ice. The sudden change in temperature could crack the glass.
- Never set off if you haven’t completely de-iced your car windows, lights and exterior mirrors. Driving with just a small ‘porthole’ of clear glass in a frosty windscreen isn’t only dangerous – it’s illegal. It’s also a good idea to remove snow from the bonnet, bootlid and roof.
- Never leave your car unattended with the engine running to de-ice it – you may lose the car to an opportunist thief.
- Make sure your car is fuelled sufficiently for your journey, bearing in mind you may get stuck in traffic due to wintry weather.
Having your car checked over by an authorised garage or workshop is the best way to reassure yourself that you are prepared for the worst winter weather. But there are some basic tasks you can do yourself. These include:
1. Battery A healthy battery is essential in winter when demands on lights and cold starting are heavy. Ensure the connections are tight and if the battery has an inspection window check the displayed colours: Green: your battery is working properly. Black: your battery needs charging. Clear/yellow: your battery needs replacing.
2. Tyres Check your tyre pressures, including the spare, and measure your tyre tread depths. The legal minimum for cars is 1.6mm, but deeper tread gives far better grip in snow. Tread limit markers in the tyre grooves indicate wear; if they are flush with the tread you’ll need to replace the tyre. Winter tyres provide a remarkable improvement in control in cold weather – click the menu tab above for more details.
3. Screen wash It’s crucial that you use the correct screen wash additive, especially in colder weather. Don’t dilute premixed screen wash solution as this will reduce its effectiveness and remember that the washer system can still freeze even if you have heated washer jets.
4. Windscreen wipers Check your front and rear wiper blades for wear or splitting and don’t use them to clear snow or ice as they may be frozen to the glass. If they are stuck to the glass, free them using de-icer.
5. ABS & ESP When driving in slippery conditions ESP and ABS systems may activate to help you control the car effectively. The ESP/ABS light will flash on your dash to let you know. When ABS is in operation it produces a pulsing sensation through the brake pedal, together with a distinctive ‘crunching’ sound. Even with ESP/ABS, stopping distances may not be reduced when braking on ice or snow, so maintaining an increased distance from the vehicle in front is still paramount.
Driving in snow
Simple checks to help winter-ready your car
Ensure lights and glass are clear of ice Treat your car to a pre-winter check-up Top-up engine coolant/antifreeze Use a gauge to measure tread depth Check tyre pressures regularly Use winter-grade screenwash fluid If you are caught in snow, a sensible approach to the road conditions and your driving will pay dividends and help you get home safely. Tips for driving in snow
- Be gentle on the throttle, avoiding any harsh acceleration which is likely to cause wheelspin.
- Pull away in second gear if driving a car with manual transmission, or ensure you have pressed the winter driving button (if fitted) – often marked with a snowflake symbol – if your car has automatic transmission.
- Use a low gear and try to avoid hard braking. Leave as much room as you can between you and the car in front.
- To slow down, use engine braking through the gears in a manual car or switch to manual gear selection in an automatic.
- Use your brakes lightly and cover the brake pedal to show your brake lights to others behind. Remember that ABS does not necessarily reduce your braking distance in snow and ice.
- If you’re approaching a snow-covered hill, drop well back or wait until it’s clear of traffic so you won’t have to stop part way up. Keep a constant speed and try to avoid changing gear on the hill.
- Use your headlights in heavy snow. Daytime running lights won’t be enough, and there’ll be no lighting at the back of your car.
- Think about your current driving environment. Just because the conditions might have improved on main roads, country roads or bridges might still be hazardous due to less traffic or because they’ve not been gritted.
Black ice is a thin layer of ice on the road surface that’s usually transparent and caused by rain falling on frozen surfaces. Because it’s difficult to see, it can be one of the biggest dangers of winter driving. It tends to form on parts of the road that don’t get much sun – tree-lined routes and tunnels – as well as on bridges, overpasses and the road beneath overpasses.