It has to be appreciated that driving in winter time can often be definitively different to other seasons in the year. As a result, a new discipline of driving style has to be approached.
As a driver, you’ll have to be ready to handle varying road conditions, including snow, hail and ice. It’s not just you, either; your car will likely need preparing in order to do battle with the winter elements successfully.
It is important that during winter time, visibility is the immediate concern. To that regard, the initial point of call is the exterior of your car, most importantly the lights.
First you need to be confident that all car lighting is in perfect working order. So that’s the side-lights, dipped headlights and main beam; also ensure indicators, hazards, reverse and fog lights are working as required. Then it’s a case of making sure both front and rear lights - including fog lights - are clean and can easily be seen when on.
Your own visibility is also key, so check that all window wipers are in good condition and that the motors are working. As your washer fluid will likely freeze otherwise, it’s important that you use an all-seasons or antifreeze screen wash and make sure your washer bottle always as an ample amount and to the correct concentration.
General anti-freeze for your car and also oil and coolant need to be monitored and added if necessary. Your might be made to work harder in tough conditions, so it’s important to keep these elements topped up.
Given that the road surface will offer varying conditions, you’ll need to ensure your tyres are up to the task. They will need to have plenty of grip and ideally be well above the minimum legal requirement. Having them at the right pressure is also a vital factor.
To help your tyres and overall handling, your brakes will play a big part in this, so check them over and be certain that the pads aren’t worn. Keeping them as clean as possible, making sure they don’t get clogged with snow or grime will also help you stay poised on the road in winter.
If you’re planning on driving in tough winter conditions, the first question you should ask is: is this journey necessary?
Making a journey in your car that isn’t imperative or is one you could walk can sometimes be a risky action when the weather is adverse. If it is necessary and isn’t walkable, knowing what you might be facing is important. So check the weather reports for what’s incoming whilst you’re out and about, and if there are any road closures due to heavy snow.
Before setting off in earnest, check how much fuel is in the car and if it’s enough to not just get where you’re going and back, but also enough if you get stuck or have to go a longer route. Having your mobile phone fully charged is another factor that will need handling, as is having a map to hand if you have no sat nav or internet on your phone.
In the event that things do go wrong on the road during winter, there are numerous elements you’ll need to prepare for. The following should always be in your car in the event of breaking down and/or being stranded in bad winter conditions.
- Warm clothes
- Fully-charged mobile phone
- Working torch
- Emergency rations
- First aid kit
- De-icing equipment (de-icer/scraper)
- Wellington boots
- Hazard warning triangle
- Reflective clothing
- Tow rope
- Jump-start cables
Winter driving can easily force you into a new driving style, so it’s important to be be prepared for the change. Driving in snow and ice is all about taking it easy; no hard acceleration or heavy braking. It’s also about being comfortable as a driver, keeping warm and not panicking at the wheel.
- Get comfortable: it’s winter so it’s important that you’re warm when in the car. If you’re fortunate to have a modern car or one with climate control, it’s likely that the car can do the job for you. However, this in older or less-equipped cars might struggle to get the temperature up, so wrapping up in layers would be advisable in this situation. Keeping your feet dry will also be of help, so have a spare pair of shoes if possible.
- Be patient: setting off in such conditions tends to be quite a bit trickier than normal and you’ll need to be steady with the pedals when getting off the mark. Be easy on the gas and don’t let the revs get too high; it might also be an idea to set off in second gear if your car can handle it.
- Be prepared to stop: like driving in the rain, your stopping distances will increase when driving in snow or ice, especially the latter. As a result, you need to ensure a decent gap to the car in front to give yourself enough time to come to a halt.
- Uphill struggle: getting up hills in some cars can be a task in itself, but when there is snow or ice on the road, this challenge is then compounded with enhanced difficulty. The best way to approach such a situation is by getting plenty of room in front of you, and then get to a speed that will enable you to get up the hill in one go. Having to stop or slow down is not advised unless you truly have to. When it comes to going downhill, get in a low gear and avoid braking, while again leaving plenty of space in front.
- Steady as she goes: approaching a corner that requires less speed, ensure all your braking is out the way before you start turning. If the car starts to lose grip, gradually come off the gas and certainly don’t stamp on the brake; just make sure the front wheels are pointing where they need to be and don’t take your hands off the wheel.
- Be visible: this comes back to making sure your car’s lights are fully-functional and clean. Using dipped headlights all the time in wintery conditions is no bad thing, but it is especially advised in heavy snow; turn your fog lights on if visibility drops below 100m.
- Ever-changing: conditions can change road-to-road; one could be well gritted and free of snow and ice, while another could be a few inches deep or have ice formed in trodden snow trails. As such, keep an eye on the road surface when joining a new one.
This is a debate that might rage on for some time. Many people stand by winter tyres, while some don’t believe they’re worth the hassle or the expense, but they can definitely offer benefits in tricky weather conditions.
It is true that winter tyres will improve driving safety, grip and reduce stopping distances - but only in certain conditions. Winter tyres are designed to give you the best grip and traction when winter weather hits and work best in temperatures less than 7 deg C and help disperse water and snow much more efficiently than regular rubber. However, above these temperatures, they will not perform to their optimum standard.
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