During winter months it is important to check your vehicle and prepare for driving in a variety of extreme weather conditions. Some basic vehicle care and maintenance, coupled with raised awareness of the additional challenges that winter driving brings, should ensure that you remain safe during the colder months.
Firstly, make sure your car is ready for the extra demands that are about to be put on it.
- Check the condition of your tyres. Your tyres are the only part of your car that is in touch with the road and are absolutely essential in maintaining grip on the road surface and keeping control of your car. Ensure you have sufficient tread depth, the legal limit is 1.6mm but in winter, we recommend at least 3mm. Tyre pressures are equally as important as tread depths. Make sure you know what they should be and check regularly to ensure maximum grip
- Check that your lights and indicators are in good working order and clean. Lights not only ensure that you can see, but just as importantly, that you are seen by others.
- Check fluid levels and make sure that there is enough anti-freeze in the engine cooling system to prevent freezing. Also check the windscreen washer bottle is full and has enough additive to prevent freezing and keep the windscreen clear.
- Keep your windscreen clean. Winter driving is not only about poor weather. In winter time, the low sun can often dazzle drivers and a dirty windscreen will make the effects of the low sun worse.
Driving in extreme weather
If it is foggy, raining, snowing or icy, make sure you slow down and keep well back from the vehicle in front of you. Many collisions are caused through not braking in time when the roads are wet or slippery; allow sufficient distance between you and the vehicle in front. Watch out for locations where you may need to drive more carefully, either because of side winds or a greater risk of ice. Look out for:
- Changes in road elevation or exposure.
- Where the road passes under or over a bridge, or where traffic is lighter (e.g. slip roads).
- Bends in the road where there is a greater risk of losing control.
- Roads that may not have been treated
Driving through ice and snow
- Thoroughly clear your entire windscreen and all other windows of snow, ice and condensation. All round vision is required at all times.
- Clear any snow off the roof and bonnet of the vehicle before you drive away.
- Watch out for icy conditions - look for clues such as ice on the pavement or on your windscreen before you start your journey and take extra care.
- Look out for winter service vehicles spreading salt or using snow ploughs. They have flashing amber beacons and travel at slower speeds - around 40mph. Stay well back because salt or spray can be thrown across the road. Do not overtake unless it is safe to do so - there may be uncleared snow and untreated ice on the road ahead.
Driving in rain and floods
- When the road is wet it can take twice as long to stop. Slow down and maintain a safe distance from the vehicle in front.
- If your vehicle loses grip or 'aquaplanes' on surface water take your foot off the accelerator to slow down. Do not brake or steer suddenly because you have less control of the steering and the brakes.
- Try to avoid driving through surface water as you might flood your engine.
- If you have to drive through floods, drive slowly, use a low gear and try to keep the engine revving at a high rate. Move forward continuously to avoid stalling the engine. When driving an automatic vehicle, engage and hold in a low gear.
- Test your brakes after driving through water; they may be ineffective.
Driving in fog
- Use dipped headlights so that other drivers can see you.
- If it is foggy (less than 100m visibility), switch on your fog lights. Do not forget to turn them off when conditions improve.
- Fog is often patchy so try not to speed up as visibility improves. You could suddenly find yourself back in thick fog further up the road.
Driving in windy weather
Though high-sided vehicles are particularly affected by windy weather, strong winds can also blow other vehicles off course. This can happen on open stretches of road exposed to strong crosswinds, or when passing bridges, high-sided vehicles or gaps in trees.
Above all, in any poor conditions reduce your speed and increase the distance between you and the vehicle in front. Try to avoid harsh braking, acceleration or steering movements as this is more likely to lead to lose of grip.
In extreme conditions, only make the journey if it is absolutely necessary. If it is necessary, allow extra time and make sure someone knows your route. Make sure you have your mobile phone fully charged in case of emergencies and that you carry warm, waterproof clothing with you.