Safe Winter Driving
The number of breakdowns increases during the winter months particularly during cold spells. It therefore makes to prepare your car for winter and to take steps to avoid a breakdown. General advice for safe and trouble free driving through during winter is as follows:
Battery & Electrics
• Lights, heaters and wipers put high demands on your car battery. If your driving is mainly in the dark on short journeys, the battery will eventually fail.
• Batteries rarely last longer than five years. Replacing one near the end of its life can save a lot of time and inconvenience at the side of the road.
To reduce the probability of a flat battery take the following action:
1. Before attempting to start your engine turn off non-essential electrical loads such as lights, rear screen heater and wipers.
2. Avoid running electrical systems any longer than necessary – turn the heater fan down and switch the heated rear window off once windows have been sufficiently demisted.
3. Use the starter in short five-second bursts. If the engine doesn’t start quickly, leave thirty seconds between attempts to allow the battery to recover.
• Check your antifreeze level and concentration. Antifreeze costs only a few pounds, but a frozen and cracked engine block will cost hundreds of pounds to repair.
• If your car begins to overheat you are likely to have a coolant leak or a frozen radiator, which will be preventing coolant from circulating. Stop immediately to avoid serious damage and allow the radiator to thaw.
• Most modern cars use long-life antifreeze. It is important to use the right type so avoid mixing different types and always check your user handbook or ask a dealer for advice.
• If, upon starting your car, you hear a continuous squealing noise, this is a sign that the water pump could be frozen (it may be the fan belt slipping on the pulley). If this is the case then the cylinder block could also be frozen. Stop the engine immediately and allow it to thaw out.
• Keep the windscreen, windows, lights and number plate clear. If your vision is obscured through snow or ice, you will not have sufficient vision to drive safely. Clear snow from the roof as well as from windows as this can fall onto the windscreen obscuring your view and can also be a hazard to other road users.
• Use your lights in all dull conditions as there are many drivers on the roads with less than 20/20 vision. You must use headlights when visibility is seriously reduced. 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.
• Dazzle from a low winter sun can be a particular problem, therefore keep sunglasses to hand in your car and ensure that you keep your windscreen clean.
• Use air conditioning for faster de-misting and to reduce condensation on cold windows.
• Check the condition of your windscreen wipers and replace them if required. To prevent damage to the blades or wiper motor when you turn the ignition on make sure that your windscreen wipers are switched off before turning off the ignition.
• Top up windscreen washer fluid using a suitable additive to reduce the chance of freezing.
• At least 3mm of tread is recommended for winter motoring and it must be no less than 1.6mm which is the legal minimum.
• Consider changing to winter or all-season tyres that have a winter tread pattern and a higher silica content which prevents hardening at lower temperatures and therefore improves grip in cold wet conditions.
Before You Start Your Journey
• Spend sufficient time preparing your car for the journey ahead.
• Ensure that all windows and lights are clear using a scraper and de-icer.
• Plan routes to favour major roads which are more likely to have been cleared and gritted.
• Put safety before punctuality when the bad weather closes in. Allow extra time for winter journeys and be prepared for unexpected delays.
Driving in snow & ice
• Gentle manoeuvres are the key to safe winter driving. Stopping distances are ten times longer in ice and snow.
• Wear comfortable, dry shoes for driving. Snow-covered footwear is more likely to slip on the pedals.
• Pull away in second gear, easing your foot off the clutch gently to avoid wheel-spin.
• Try to avoid having to stop part way up a hill by waiting until it is clear of other cars or by leaving plenty of room from the car in front. Keep a constant speed and choose the most suitable gear well in advance to avoid having to change down on a hill.
• Reduce your speed before proceeding down hill, use a low gear and try to avoid using the brakes. Leave as much space as possible between you and the car in front, if you have to use brakes then apply them gently. Release the brakes and de-clutch to rotate drive wheels if the car skids.
• If you have an automatic transmission, under normal driving conditions (motorways, etc) it is best to select ‘Drive’ and let the gearbox do the work throughout the full gear range. In slippery, snowy conditions it’s best to select ‘2’, which limits the gear changes and also makes you less reliant on the brakes. Some automatic gearboxes have a ‘Winter’ mode which locks out first gear to reduce the risk of wheel spin.
• If you get stuck in snow, straighten the steering wheels and clear the snow from all tyres. If available, put grit in front of the driving wheels to give the tyres some grip.
• When parking your car in extremely cold conditions, consider taking the following precautions:
1. Cover the windscreen, windows and radiator with covers.
2. Remove the windscreen wipers from the windscreen.
3. Engage first gear, chock the wheels and release the vehicle parking brake to prevent the hand brake freezing in the “on” position.
Clothing & Vehicle Equipment
• When extreme weather is a possibility, keep an emergency kit in your car, especially if you are going on a long journey. If this seems unnecessary, take a moment to imagine yourself stranded in your car overnight due to a snow storm or floods. How would you stay warm? What would you eat and drink? If you must drive in these conditions, it is recommended that you carry the following:
1. Tow rope
2. A shovel.
3. A hazard warning triangle.
4. De-icing equipment.
5. Wellington boots.
6. First aid kit (in good order).
7. A working torch.
8. A car blanket.
9. Sleeping Bag.
10. Warm coat, hat and gloves for all passengers.
11. Emergency Rations (inc hot drink in a flask – non-alcoholic, of course).
12. Mobile Phone (fully charged).
Cyclists, Pedestrians & Runners
• Pedestrians should always try to walk on a foot path. If there are no foot paths then walk on the right hand side of the road towards oncoming traffic.
• Visibility is reduced in snowy or freezing fog conditions so wear high visibility clothing, an armband, Sam Browne belt or a high visibility vest. Consider carrying a torch. Wear clothing that does not restrict your vision.
• Be extremely careful as frost, ice and snow will make walking on footpaths very dangerous if they have not been treated.
• Make sure you are wearing appropriate footwear such as shoes or boots with sufficient grip.
• Don’t walk with your hands in your pockets. Instead, keep your hands out and wear gloves so you can break your fall if you do slip.
• Be extremely careful when ascending and descending steps as these can become very slippery with ice or snow when untreated.