Staysure’s guide to coping with the cold, snow and ice on the UK’s roads this winter.
Winter is a wonderful time of year. But as a motorist, treacherous weather conditions can test the limits of both you and your car. In fact, of all the seasons, winter is the one where you are most likely to break down, according to the AA.
Whether it’s snow, icy roads, blizzards or dipstick-freezing temperatures, it pays to be prepared. Of course when the weather is especially testing, the best advice is don’t drive unless it is absolutely necessary.
But if you are driving in hazardous conditions, we’ve got some general winter driving tips to help you reach your destination problem free.
1. Avoiding breakdowns
The last thing any motorist wants during the winter is a breakdown. Not surprisingly, recovery services like the AA and RAC report this as their busiest time of year, but if you carry out a few simple checks on your car, call outs can sometimes be avoided. Check the oil 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 and make sure you have the correct mix of antifreeze to prevent the cylinder block from freezing up. High street chains like Kwik Fit and Halfords will do this for you – they often have ‘free winter health check’ offers at this time of year.
2. Check your tyres
While you’re there, staff will probably try to sell you a new set of tyres – but you should be keeping a close eye on them yourself anyway. To ensure your car has the maximum grip possible, make sure the pressures match the readings in your car’s handbook. Also inspect the tread, and look for any damage. If you do need a new set, consider investing 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, winter tyres perform better all-round than summer tyres when the temperature is below seven degrees Celsius.
It goes without saying that you need to be able to see where you’re going before you head anywhere, so allow extra time to clear the windscreen and all windows. Also replace worn-out windscreen wiper blades – your local motoring chain will do this for you, but it’s also easy to do this yourself. Keep a demisting cloth in the car too, as your bare hands will leave greasy marks if you use them to clear the glass. Plus, make sure all your headlights are working properly and are correctly aligned – it sounds obvious, but you’ll rely on them more in the shorter winter days.
4. Boot essentials
Many of us prefer to keep boots empty to minimise fuel consumption, but there are a number of winter essentials you should always carry. A shovel, boots, torch and a hi-visibility vest are crucial in case you get stuck in snow, as is a tow rope. A blanket and some food and drink will come in handy too, especially for a long journey. Also carry a first aid kit, as well as a mobile phone and a charger that works with your cigarette lighter.
5. Plan your route
If you have to travel in the worst of the winter weather, plan your route carefully. The authorities are not able to grit every single road, but they’ll focus on the motorways and main A-roads and bus routes – stick to these where possible, either with the help of a sat-nav or by plotting your route first on a website like Google Maps. For up to date information on routes closed due to bad weather, visit NI Direct.
In winter, it’s harder to start your engine, so you need to make sure your battery is up to the job. According to the AA, batteries rarely last longer than five years, so it may be a good idea to get it checked by a mechanic if it is approaching this motoring milestone. You can also reduce the strain on your battery on start-up by ensuring heaters and radios are turned off.
Don’t jeopardise your safety in bad weather. Allow yourself more time than usual to arrive to your destination if snow or ice are on the roads.
8. Driving in ice and snow
The main advice from the major car recovery companies is to do everything slowly. By this we mean accelerate, turn and brake gently – as rapid movements can lead to a loss of control and skidding. Leave plenty of distance between yourself and the other vehicles and give yourself extra time to tackle turns and stops.
9. Fill up
Just in case you get stuck, it’s a good idea to keep your petrol tank as full as possible. This way you can keep the heaters and electronics working in your car without the worry of running out of fuel while waiting for the recovery truck.
10. Snow chains
And if you know you will be driving in heavy snow, such as a trip to a ski resort for example, you should consider buying snow chains. These metal chains fit around your vehicle’s tyres to give extra grip in the snow and ice. Make sure you practise putting them on before you need them and remember that they must be removed once you are driving on normal roads without a reasonable covering of snow.
Please note: These tips are non-advisery and are merely meant as a general guide to driving in winter. Look at the types of cover and customise the car insurance cover you might need in winter.