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A Guide To Safe Winter Driving

Tue, 13/12/2016
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The weather has taken a decidedly cold turn over the last few weeks, and it is officially almost winter. Adverse weather conditions such as snow, fog, ice, and cold weather in general can all have an impact on your vehicle and your daily journeys, so it’s important to be prepared for a cold snap. If you’re going to be out and about a lot during the Christmas period, take a look at our top tips to help you stay safe on the roads this winter.

Check Your Lights

Your lights are extremely important during winter, with shorter days and longer nights, and poor visibility caused by bad weather. So, to make sure you can see and be seen, check that your headlights, brake lights and fog lights are all working, and give them a clean to ensure they are as bright as possible. While you’ve got your cleaning cloth out, give your number plate a once-over too to make sure that’s visible.

You should also make sure your headlights are properly aligned so that they don’t blind other road users, and if you are using high beams, for example on dark country roads, turn them off when passing or driving behind other motorists.

Clear Your Windscreen

Do you need new windscreen wipers, and do you have enough washer fluid? Check your wipers and change them if you haven’t had new ones for a couple of years. Top up your washer fluid if necessary – you don’t want to be driving behind a lorry that’s kicking up dirt from the roads, only to find you’ve run empty and can’t improve your visibility.

If you step outside only to find that your car is iced over or covered in snow, take the time to clear it properly. It may be tempting to do half a job when you need to get to work, but it’s illegal to drive if you can’t see properly, and all of your windows must be cleared. You should also remove snow from the roof in case it falls onto your windows or into the path of another vehicle. Don’t forget to clear your wing mirrors, too.

To quickly demist your windshield, use the heater by starting off cold and gradually increasing the temperature. Use your air conditioning or climate control if you have it.

Check Your Tyres

Another vital part of your car which needs to be looked after is your tyres. Check them for bulges, lumps, cracks and perishing. They should have at least 3mm of tread to give you good grip in wet or icy conditions.

It’s also important that they are inflated to the correct pressure. Incorrect pressure can decrease your fuel efficiency or increase your stopping distance. Check the pressure when your tyres are cold, as when they are hot after you have just driven the car you can get a false pressure reading.

You may also want to invest in some winter tyres. These provide better grip in snow and ice and can reduce your stopping distance.

Keep Your Fluids Topped Up

Winter weather can lead to slow traffic, and if you’re stuck in a jam you’ll be using more petrol than you may have expected. Make sure you have enough fuel to complete your journey. You should also check your oil and top it up as necessary, and top up your coolant to the vehicle manufacturer’s recommended levels, and ensure it contains the right amount of anti-freeze.

Emergency Kit

If you’re planning a long journey, be sure to check the weather forecast before you leave and make sure you have emergency tools and supplies in your car. You may need a shovel if you’re expecting snow, in case you need to dig your car out of a driveway or car park. A torch and a hi-vis vest can help you to see and be seen in the event of a breakdown, and you’ll be grateful of blankets or a warm coat if you get stuck in traffic due to bad weather. Water and snacks are also essential in case your journey is longer than you anticipated. A first aid kit is always a useful thing to have in your car regardless of the weather or season. You should also make sure your phone is charged in case you need to pull over and contact someone, and of course don’t forget your de-icer and scraper.

Driving In Snow and Ice

Driving in snow and ice isn’t a regular activity for many of us, so we tend to be a little out of practice when winter hits. We must remember that we need to adapt our driving style in slippery conditions because our stopping distances are greatly increased. Reduce your speed, brake and accelerate gently, and slow down in plenty of time before bends. Drive in a higher gear than normal, and use your gears to slow down rather than relying solely on your brakes. Use dipped headlights if your visibility is reduced, and increase the gap between you and the vehicle in front.

If you get stuck in snow, move your vehicle slowly backwards and forwards in a high gear – don’t rev your engine as this will bury you deeper into the rut. If you still can’t get out, use your shovel or ask a neighbour for help. And of course, if weather conditions are very bad, only make a journey if it’s completely necessary.

Driving In Fog

Fog is another problem motorists often face in winter, and it also requires us to make some changes to our driving styles. Slow down, check your mirrors regularly, and keep a good distance from the car in front – a four second gap instead of the usual two is recommended. Use your headlights when visibility drops below 100 metres, but don’t use full beams as the fog reflects light and this could reduce your visibility further. Use your fog lights, but only use them in foggy conditions because in clearer conditions they will dazzle other road users and can obscure your brake lights. Also, beware of patchy fog and remain cautious even if the fog seems to be clearing – you may find yourself back in thick fog further down the road. Don’t hang on to the rear lights of the car in front, as you will be too close to them to be able to brake safely.

Driving In Low Sunshine

Low sunshine can also be a problem in winter as it’s often too low to be blocked out by your visor. Keep a pair of sunglasses in your car in case this happens, and try to keep your windscreen clean both inside and outside to reduce glare. If you do find yourself blinded by the sunshine, reduce your speed and drive carefully, particularly when coming up to traffic lights which may be obscured by the sun.

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