Driving this winter need not be difficult or dangerous if you follow these common sense safety tips and make the right preparations. There are also a few top winter driving tips that not everyone knows about.
As we move into winter, the weather can change quite unexpectedly. If things become severe (torrential rain or deep snow), the best thing to do is leave your car at home and go sledging
Winter Driving Hazards
If you do go out driving in winter, expect other drivers to do something really stupid, as they will. Last winter in the snow, I saw people using mobile phones whilst skidding all over the place. People expect a 4×4 to have perfect grip and end up getting into trouble. You need to understand how your car behaves in different winter conditions. Watch out for these hazards:
Being a movable slippery carpet, these can be a right pain if you need to brake or turn, especially on a motorbike. Avoid sudden braking, sharp turns or quick acceleration. Plan ahead by watching what is happening as far ahead of you as you can see. Also, leave a good distance between you and the car in front. If they stop suddenly, you want to make sure you don’t end up in the back of them.
Rain and spray from other cars can make it difficult to see and be seen. Slow down and give more room. Watch out for unexpected big puddles.
Big rain makes big puddles. Hitting puddles at speed will mean you are no longer in control of the car. If you have to drive through a flooded bit of road, drive slowly in first gear to avoid stalling the engine.
Fog can be solid or patchy. You can suddenly find yourself going from sunshine into thick fog, and if you aren’t paying attention, you may hit those in front who have most likely panicked and slammed on their brakes as they can’t see anymore. Slow down. Use your dipped headlights (the ones you normally use for night driving). Sidelights aren’t visible in fog. The high beam or main beam will just reflect off the fog. You also need your fog lights on, but remember to turn them off when it is not foggy.
The sun is low in the sky in winter, and you often find yourself driving towards it. Keep a pair of sunglasses in the car ready to hand.
Did you know it takes ten times longer to stop on ice than a dry road? Leave a bigger gap between you and the car in front. If you get stuck on an icy or snowy bit of road, you can get moving by using first gear
The first gear trick on ice and snow
From standstill, press the clutch and put the car into first gear. DO NOT touch the accelerator! Then gently lift the clutch very slowly. It will seem as though the car is going to stall, but before you know it, you will find yourself moving. Then, carry on driving, carefully.
Carpets, mats and hessian sacks
Keep some old mats or pieces of carpet or sacks in the car boot. If you get stuck on ice, don’t go digging with a shovel. Just lay down your mats in front of the front wheels (or rear wheels if rear wheel drive – BMW), and slowly drive on. Don’t forget to go back and get the mats though, as you may need them again.
Slow and steady is the way to go on ice and snow. Be extremely careful on corners. Once you skid, you are supposed to steer in the direction of the skid, but I have experienced hitting ice at 15 mph on a corner and there is absolutely nothing you can do except ride it out. I did a 270 degree spin and the rear hit bushes at the edge of the road. No damage, but boy do I now be really careful. You can buy snowsocks to cover the tyres so that you have grip on ice and snow.
Don’t use Cruise control
Most cars sense slippery conditions and prevent you from using control. But, if you are using cruise control and hit water or ice, the car may sense that the wheels have slowed down and increase the accelerator, which means you take off like a rocket out of control. Modern sensing and traction control may now overcome this, but don’t risk it!
Keep well away from grit lorries. They will shower your car with grit, which doesn’t do your paintwork any good. Also, don’t expect the road to be safe just because it has been gritted. The salt used only work down to -5c, so if it gets colder, then there will be ice!
Prepare your Car
As winter approaches, make sure your car is ready.
- Battery – This is the biggest problem drivers experience for car breakdown in winter. Make sure your battery is fully charged. replace it if it is unreliable.
- Antifreeze – Make sure you have the right amount of anti-freeze in your car’s cooling system. Also, use a screen wash that has anti-freeze in it to stop your windscreen from freezing. If you don’t, you are going to be in big trouble if you use your screen wash whilst driving as it will freeze on the windscreen and you will suddenly find you can’t see anything.
- Service your car – Make sure your car has been serviced regularly
- Lights – Check all of your lights work
- Tyres – Check that your tyres have enough tread. You can check this by running your finger in one of the grooves on the tread. Tyres have a little bump in the grooves that indicate the minimum tread depth. If the bump is at the same level as the top of the tread, then you need to replace your tyres
- Windscreen Wipers – Check that your wiper blades clear the water off the windscreen properly. When it gets below zero, you will find that your wipers freeze and don’t wipe properly. Before you get in your car, check that your wipers are not frozen to the windows, or you may break your wipers or wiping motor mechanism.
- Windows – Clear all of your windows and mirrors before you drive off. Remove all ice and snow. By law, your windows and mirrors must be clear and de-misted before driving.
- Emergency kit – Keep emergency kit in your car, and keep it stocked up!
Stuff to have in your car in winter
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- Ice scraper
- First Aid Kit
- Warm clothes, such as a thick woolly jumper and extra coat
- Sleeping bag
- Snow shovel
- Food and drink (thermos flask), chocolate
- Jump leads
- Tow rope
- Welly boots
- Warning triangle
- Spare bulbs for car
- A couple of carpet tiles or cloth sacks to use for grips in snow if you get stuck
- Full tank of fuel