Top five winter driving tips

Posted on April 10, 2013 by Guest Writer
Man using shovel to dig car out of snow

British winters seem to get longer and harsher so that even the simplest of car journeys can sometimes turn into marathon treks. But it’s easy to reduce the chances of getting caught out this winter. Being well prepared for the worst doesn’t take much time or effort yet it can make all the difference between getting stranded and reaching your final destination safely.

These five simple tips should help you keep you out of trouble on the roads this winter:

1. Avoid breakdowns

The last thing anybody wants during the winter is a breakdown. Unsurprisingly, recovery services report this as their busiest time of year, but if you carry out a few simple checks on your car, you may reduce your chances of having to call them.

  • Check the oil level and top it up if it’s low
  • Ensure you have enough screen wash as you’ll get through more than usual on damp or salty roads. Top it up if necessary
  • Inspect and test the wiper blades for splits and cracks. You will want them to function well in wet conditions
  • Check that you have the correct mix of antifreeze to prevent the radiator from freezing up and top it up if the mix is not correct
  • Check your lights (including seldom used fog lights) are working properly to ensure maximum visibility in dark, foggy conditions. Replace them if necessary
  • Check the battery is in good condition and use a voltmeter to check the voltage reading is correct

2. Check your tyres

Both the pressure and condition of your tyres will need looking at before setting off. To ensure your car has the maximum grip possible, the tyre pressures must match the readings in your car’s handbook. Also inspect the tread for any damage or undue wear and replace them if necessary.
Invest in winter or all-season tyres. All new cars come fitted with regular summer tyres, but winter tyres have a higher silica compound and provide more grip – not just in snow. In fact, they perform better all-round than summer tyres when the temperature is below seven degrees centigrade.

If you are likely to encounter snow and ice, you might consider snow chains – they offer the most traction and help with braking too. Remember, they must be removed before driving on normal surfaces.

3. Visibility

Of course, you need to be able to see where you’re going before you set off, so allow extra time to clear the windscreen and all windows of snow or ice.

Keep a micro-fibre anti-mist cloth in the car as your bare hands will leave greasy marks if you use them to clear the glass. Your headlights will also need to be working properly and correctly aligned – it sounds obvious, but you’ll rely on them more in the shorter winter days.

If visibility becomes so reduced that you no longer feel in control of the car or you are unable to see other vehicles moving on the road, find a safe place to stop for a while. It’s important to take a rest until visibility improves.

4. Keep essentials in the boot

Many of us prefer to keep our car boots empty. This might keep fuel consumption to a minimum, but there are a number of essentials you should always carry in the boot just in case you get stuck:

  • Shovel
  • Wellington boots
  • Warm, waterproof coat
  • Gloves and wooly hat
  • Torch (make sure the batteries haven’t run out)
  • Tow rope
  • High visibility vest
  • Fluorescent break-down triangles
  • Blanket
  • Food and drink (perhaps a flask of tea or coffee)
  • First-aid kit
  • Mobile phone
  • Phone charger for the use in the car

5. Plan your route

If you have to travel in the worst of the winter weather, plan your route carefully to avoid getting stuck on minor roads.

The authorities are not able to grit every single road, but they’ll focus on the motorways, main A-roads and bus routes– stick to these whenever possible, either with the help of a sat-nav or by plotting your route beforehand using a website or app like Google Maps.

If you really don’t have to go out and the weather is treacherous, you should consider simply staying safely at home. Even if you are able to drive well in the snow, not everyone else can so try not to tempt fate. However, if you don’t have somewhere you have to be, watch the weather while warm and dry from indoors.

The BBC offers further useful advice and practical information on how to drive in snow and icy weather. Also, take a look at the car insurance options to cover cold weather.