Top tips for winter driving
Wednesday 19 December 2012
Winter weather confronts us with the toughest driving conditions. Read on for our complete guide to driving in the colder months.
Prepare your car for winter
1. Ensure your tyres have plenty of tread left on them and are inflated to the pressure specified in your car’s handbook.
2. Check your vehicle’s coolant level is to the correct level and is the correct proportion of water and antifreeze (normally 50 per cent each), to prevent your engine from freezing solid.
3. Top up your washer bottle with screenwash, which operates to at least minus 20 degrees centigrade. Next, check your wiper blades are in good condition. They shouldn’t be brittle or have rips or tears, and leave the window streak-free.
4. Ensure you have an ice scraper, de-icer spray, demister pad or cloth, gloves and torch in the car at all times. We’d also recommend packing spare bulbs for your car’s exterior lights, hi-visibility and warm clothing, a tow rope and a charger for your mobile phone. If you live in a rural area you may also want to carry a snow shovel.
5. Consider fitting cold weather tyres. These are becoming more popular in the UK and offer substantially improved grip when the temperature drops below seven degrees. Cold weather tyres including the Michelin Alpin A4, have a high-grip tread pattern and a rubber compound designed to improve stopping power at low temperatures.
Drive safely in snow and ice
1. Check for signs of ice before driving – most modern cars have ice warning lights and temperature gauges. Anything below four degrees centigrade means ice is likely.
2. If conditions are particularly bad then delay your journey and only drive if absolutely necessary.
3. Stopping distances can be ten times longer in snow, so it is necessary to read the road ahead and anticipate your actions well in advance. Avoid minor roads, which are less likely to have been gritted and cleared of snow.
4. A sudden reduction in tyre noise can indicate the car is driving on ice, so take care and slow down, but don’t apply the brakes sharply or try and change direction quickly.
5. To get moving in snow, put the car into the highest gear possible and lightly manoeuvre the car back and forth to slowly creep out of the snow. Try to avoid wheelspin, as this will dig the car into the snow
Skidding is often caused by a combination of poor weather conditions and speeding.
1. Leave plenty of room between you and the car in front
2. Drive slowly and carefully
3. Brake steadily before approaching a corner, and well in advance
4. Avoid over-steering and accelerating suddenly mid-turn
If the vehicle loses grip while turning, press the clutch pedal and turn the steering wheel into the direction of the skid. Avoid braking suddenly – this can lock the wheels and prolong the skid.
Some new cars feature safety aids, such as anti-lock brakes (ABS) and Electronic Stability Programme (ESP) which can reduce the effect of a skid. If these systems trigger you will see a flashing yellow light in the instrument display and may feel the brake pedal pulsating. This is normal, as these systems modulate the brakes at high speed to avoid the wheels locking. We recommend leaving these systems on, however, it may be necessary to turn them off in deep snow when pulling away, as their efforts to quell wheelspin can cut power from the engine to the wheels and stop you from getting going.
Aquaplaning is another type of skid which occurs when the car makes contact with a layer of water or icy slush too fast, causing the tyres to skim across the water rather than the road. If the car aquaplanes, try not to brake hard or steer suddenly. Let the car slow itself, or use engine braking, to reduce speed and regain grip.
What to do if you get caught in a snowdrift
If your car gets stuck in snow and you can’t move it, stay in the car, leave the engine running and call for help unless help is visible nearby.
Clear snow away from the exhaust and dig away snow from the tyres and gently rock the car back and forth to gain grip. If that doesn’t work, use car mats, bits of wood or anything else nearby and wedge under the tyres to gain grip. Snow socks can provide extra traction in the snow, they need to be fitted when stationary to the driven wheels and can be used at speeds up to 30mph.
Driving on ice
Drive gently in a higher gear to avoid wheelspin, and avoid harsh braking and acceleration. If the car starts to skid, gently ease off the accelerator and avoid braking.
If braking is necessary, pump the brakes gently – don’t slam them hard. If your car is equipped with ABS (most new cars are) use it to your advantage. Try to stop in a safe place and call for help.