Winter, with its long hours of darkness and its extreme weather, can create hazardous driving conditions. Preparing properly before you set off, and understanding the principles of driving in bad weather, can help make sure you arrive at your destination safely.
Low temperatures mean harder work for your car’s battery, so test yours before winter arrives, and replace if it’s old or weak. If you have a garage with power, a trickle charger will keep your battery in good condition.
Check and top up fluids. Now is the time to add antifreeze to the coolant system, mixing it 50/50 with water. Treat windscreen wiper fluid with an additive to prevent freezing, or switch to an all-weather brand.
Consider fitting winter or all season tyres, to give you better grip in snow and ice. Snow chains might sound like a good idea, but in the UK they are only useful in remote areas where roads are not cleared of snow.
If you’re planning a journey, check the weather forecast before you set off, and give yourself extra time to prepare your vehicle.
Winter means mud on the road, and on your car. Clean any dirt from your lights to help you see and be seen, and make sure all bulbs are working.
Both new and used cars are more likely to suffer a breakdown in winter, so prepare yourself as well as your car. Take a coat, even for short journeys, and pack a blanket. Keep a hazard warning triangle in the car, as well as a torch. Make sure your insurance policy and breakdown cover are up to date, and that you have the numbers handy. Keep your mobile phone charged, and consider carrying an emergency charger, as phone batteries run down quickly in the cold.
Clear any snow from your car before you drive away. If snow slides off the roof while you’re driving it could obscure another driver’s view, or hit a pedestrian or cyclist. Ice on the windscreen? Scrape it completely clear for maximum visibility, and don’t drive off until the windows have demisted properly.
Poor road conditions slow everyone down. Allow more time for your journey, so you’re not in a rush. When the road is slippery with rain or ice, give yourself time and space to react to any hazards by driving at an appropriate speed and leaving room between your car and the one in front. It’s common knowledge that stopping distances can double in the wet, but in snow and ice the distance it takes to stop can increase by up to ten times.
To drive safely on ice or snow, accelerate, brake and steer gently and smoothly, and use a higher gear than normal, keeping the revs low. If you do skid, correct it by steering in the direction you’re skidding.
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Snow and ice are the most obvious winter hazards, but there are plenty more, including fog, wind, rain, and hail.
If you need to drive through flood water, go slowly, and wait until your route through is clear so you don’t have to stop. Drive on the crown of the road, where the water will be shallowest, and check your brakes afterwards.
Fog and high winds are additional winter hazards. On windy days, it’s a good idea to change your route so it avoids exposed roads and high bridges. Take care when passing high sided vehicles like buses and lorries, and give other road users extra room, especially cyclists and motorcyclists.
Use dipped headlights in fog, and add front and rear fog lights as visibility worsens. Because it is more difficult to see obstacles and bends in the road, drive more slowly and leave a bigger gap between your car and the vehicle in front.
Winter driving can be rewarding, with less traffic on the road and beautiful views of the frozen countryside. It is also the season when the motor trade offers good deals on new and used cars, so now could be the time to snap up the car of your dreams on trade plates.