As winter takes a grip on us once again, here is some helpful information for drivers in the UK. Last year many people were stranded, inconvenienced and put at risk for one reason alone- they did not prepare themselves properly for the conditions.
Here is our simple 10-step guide to safe winter motoring.
- Do you REALLY need to travel in poor conditions? Keep an eye on weather forecasts and, if you are an employer, consider letting staff go early, start later or work from home. Lots of journeys are unnecessary and could wait.
- Check your car thoroughly. Your car may be OK in normal conditions but it is severe conditions that will find the weakness in batteries, wipers heaters and so on. Make sure your lights are also working and correctly set on dipped beam.
- Keep your fuel tank full. Sitting for long periods on snowy roads with the engine running and heater working uses fuel. Last winter it took some people up to 5 hours to make a trip normally lasting 20 minutes. Cars stranded because they run out of fuel create additional problems for other drivers and snowploughs.
- Make sure you have winter-grade screen wash. Use it in the correct concentration for the prevailing conditions. As your windscreen becomes dirty at night your vision is reduced, eye strain sets in and this adds to the fatigue of driving in difficult conditions.
- Prepare for the worst. Have warm, waterproof clothing, a torch and if you are going any distance or driviing in unpopulated areas have a thermos with a hot drink with you. Your clothing should allow you to stand outside your car (behind a motorway barrier for example) in the worst conditions. A high-visibility vest or jacket should also be carried. Make sure your mobile phone battery is well charged or, better still, invest in an in-car charger.
- Have the correct type of tyres fitted. For a tyre to do its job it has to be at the right pressure and have a reasonable tread depth. We recommend changing your tyres if they have less than 3mm of tread. The1.6mm legal limit is just that - a limit. By the time a tyre has 1.6mm tread left it is useless in wet and snowy conditions. Few people know that unless a tyre has a M+S marking on the sidewall, the tyres are not suitable for winter use below 5C. Many tyres now fitted to executive saloons, high performance vehicles and even top-end 4x4s are totally unsuitable for winter conditions. Also avoid fitting cheap imports if you can- there is no such thing as a bargain with tyres - you get what you pay for. When you consider the actual contact between your car and the road is a bit of rubber the size of an A4 sheet of paper, it has to be the best you can afford!
- Plan your route. Keep to major roads as they will be cleared first. Let someone know where you are going and when you expect to get there. Keep them updated and let them know when you have arrived. Listen to local radio stations for trouble areas and avoid them.
- Traction Control and Stability Systems. Know how they work. Read your operator manual and follow manufacturer's guidance as some systems are better switched off in deep snow whilst others should remain enabled.
- Snow Chains. If you are in an area prone to sudden or excessive snowfall, consider a set of chains. These are widely available and relatively inexpensive. Make sure they are the right size for your tyres and fit them in accordance with the vehicle manufacturers recommendations. They are usually fitted only to driving wheels. Practice fitting them in daylight and in the dry and warm rather than waiting to learn how to do it at night in the snow!
CAUTION: Do not fit chains at the roadside. Pull off the road to a safe place and do it. Remember other cars will often be traveling too fast and be unable to stop under control. Do not put yourself at risk.
- Hills: Avoid routes with steep hills. Loss of traction on a hill is dangerous and requires a special technique to get out of safely which you need to have learned and practiced. Going downhill is often more dangerous than going up as even a slight dab on the brakes can create a skid which you may be unable to recover from.
Most importantly - drive at a sensible speed and leave a good distance between you and the car in front. Your stopping distance may be up to 10 times greater than normal.
Vehicle electrics are particularly vulnerable over the winter months when lights, wipers and heaters are all being heavily used. Batteries run down quickly under these conditions. Avoid stopping and starting your engine in short bursts. It takes a while for the battery to recover after each starting cycle. Get a decent set of jump leads, carry them and know how to use them. Most manufacturers give information in the vehicle manual about safe jump-starting.
In winter (and all year round for most of it) your car should carry:
- First-aid kit
- High visibility clothing
- Hot flask for long or remote journeys
- Jump leads
- Warm,waterproof jacket
- Chains (if you live in that sort of area!)
- Tow-strap or rope
- Mobile phone
Most of this will fit in a small hold-all and can remain in the boot all winter!
Getting out of trouble:
- Do not try to charge through snowdrifts - usually all that happens is you get really stuck instead of slightly stuck. They may also hide obstructions
- If you cannot get up a hill - do not keep trying. your car will only start to slide to the left or right. A little momentum can help but remember that the more speed you have the less control you have. Always wait until the car in front has got to the top and is out of the way. If the car in front stops or starts to slide back you cold have a real problem! If you need to get back down a hill, use reverse gear and try to reverse down rather than turning round in the road.
- Going down hills is dangerous. Once you are committed to going downhill, you must use a low gear and try not to use the brakes. Any braking should be very, very gentle. Once the car loses traction you may not get it back again and slide out of control to the bottom. Do not start a descent until any cars in front of you or coming up the way are out of the road. Remember cars coming up will slide to one side or the other as they lose traction - often ending up sideways across the road blocking your route.
- Starting off. Try using 2nd gear instead of first if it is really slippery. Many automatics also have a W mode for driving in snow and ice. Gently rocking a car backwards and forwards will often get you out of trouble. The golden rule is once you start moving, try and keep moving. Avoid harsh acceleration - it only digs you in faster.
- If you drive a 4x4 - know how it works! Also remember that it is heavier than most other cars and will take longer to stop irrespective of any electronic wizardry.
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