General Winter Driving Advice
Winter motoring requires special care and a little preparation if you're to avoid a breakdown or accident.
- The electrical components on a vehicle. especially lights, heaters and windscreen wipers, put high demands on the car battery. If the car is driven mainly during the hours of darkness and on short journeys then the life of the battery can be drastically reduced.
- Batteries may not last longer than five years, so replacing them near the end of their life can save a lot of time and inconvenience at the side of the road when they finally fizzle out.
- Avoid running the car electrics any longer than is necessary - turn the heater fan down and switch the heated rear window off once windows are clear.
- If the car stands idle for most of the weekend, then a regular overnight trickle charge is a good idea to give the battery a chance to revive.
- When you're starting up the car ensure that non-essentials like lights, rear screen heater and wipers are turned off.
- Use the starter in short five-second bursts if the engine doesn't start quickly, leaving thirty seconds between attempts to allow the battery to recover.
- Antifreeze costs only a few pounds, but a cracked engine block will be very expensive to repair.
- The majority of modern cars use long-life antifreeze, and it is absolutely essential that you don't mix these with other types as this can cause sludge to form in the radiator. If you're not sure what type of antifreeze is in your car, take it to a dealer.
- Traditional glycol-based antifreeze should be changed at least every two years.
- A 50-50 mix of antifreeze and water in the cooling system is needed in winter. This gives maximum protection down to -34° centigrade, and without it, severe engine damage can occur.
- If the fan belt squeals continually as soon as the engine is started, that could be a sign that the water pump is frozen. The cylinder block could be frozen too. Stop the engine immediately and allow it to thaw out. This may take several days unless you can get the car moved to a heated garage.
- Most commonly, it is just the radiator that freezes. The car will begin to overheat within a few miles of home, as the coolant is unable to circulate. Stop the car immediately and allow the radiator to thaw.
- Through the winter months dazzle from the low sun can be a particular problem.
- Improve vision significantly by making sure that the windscreen is clean - inside and out. Scratches, abrasion and chips on the outside can also worsen the dazzling effect of the sun.
- Use the air conditioning system for faster demisting and to reduce condensation on cold windows.
- Keep the windscreen and other windows clear - if your vision is obscured through dirt, snow or even stickers on the car windows then you could face a fine.
- Check the windscreen wipers regularly and replace them if necessary.
- Make sure that wipers are switched off in the park position when leaving the car, when there's risk of freezing. If you don't and the blades freeze to the screen, you could damage the blades and/or the wiper motor when you turn the ignition on.
- Windscreen washer fluid should be topped up and treated with a proprietary additive to reduce the chance of freezing in frosty weather. Don't use ordinary engine antifreeze as it will damage paintwork.
- Clear snow from the roof and bonnet as well as from the windows. Snow piled up on the car can obscure your view and can also be a hazard to other road users.
- Check that all bulbs are working and that headlights are clean and aimed correctly.
- 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.
- Keep the number plates clean too, as you can be fined if they are dirty and illegible.
- Check all tyres for condition, pressure and tread depth. At least 3mm of tread is recommended for winter motoring, and certainly no less than 2mm.
- Don't reduce tyre pressures to get more grip - it doesn't work, and reduces stability.
- Check you have a working jack and wheel brace, and that you know how to change a wheel if necessary.
- It's rare to need snow chains unless you live in an isolated area hit with heavy snow, and where the roads are not cleared. These must be removed to drive on a metalled road without a reasonable covering of snow.
- Buy snow chains from a specialist supplier to ensure that they're right for your vehicle, and practice fitting them in good dry conditions.
- Consider changing to winter or all season tyres - these have a higher silicone content in the tread which prevents it hardening at lower temperatures, and therefore gives better grip in cold wet conditions.
Driving in snow and ice
- Stopping distances are 10 times longer in ice and snow.
- Gentle manoeuvres are the key to safe driving.
- Wear comfortable, dry shoes: cumbersome, snow-covered boots will slip on the pedals.
- Select second gear when pulling away, easing your foot off the clutch gently to avoid wheel-spin.
- Try to maintain a constant speed, choosing the most suitable gear in advance to avoid having to change down while climbing a hill.
- When driving downhill, choose third or fourth gear to prevent skidding.
- Always apply brakes gently. Release them and de-clutch if the car skids.
- If you have an automatic, then under normal driving conditions (motorways, etc) it's best to select 'Drive' and let the gearbox do the work throughout the full gear range. In slippery, snowy conditions you can make driving much safer by selecting '2', which limits the gear changes and also makes you less reliant on the brakes. Many modern autos have a 'Winter' mode which locks out first gear to reduce the risk of wheel spin. Check the vehicle's handbook if you're not sure.
- If you do get stuck, straighten the steering and clear the snow from the wheels. Put a sack or old rug in front of the driving wheels to try and give the tyres some grip. Once on the move again, try not to stop until you reach firmer ground.