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Complete Winter driving guide

As temperatures drop your car has a harder time than ever – and so do you. So give yourself a fighting chance of getting through this winter, by making sure you and your car are fully prepared.

Getting your car Winter ready

By preparing your car for the expected cold conditions you’ll make your life a lot easier, this will also make it less likely to break down and to be involved in a crash. So firstly, the basics:

Battery: Most fast-fit outlets will check the state of your car’s battery for free. If it’s on its last legs, the first sign of a sharp frost will see it fail altogether – leaving you unable to start your car.

Coolant: To stop your engine from overheating it’s filled with coolant, which is a mixture of water and anti-freeze. If there’s too much water and not enough anti-freeze it’ll turn to ice when the temperatures drop, potentially wrecking the engine. So be sure to get the anti-freeze strength checked at a local garage.

Tyres: You need to ensure your tyres are at the correct pressures and have sufficient tread all year round, and it’s no different in Winter. If your tyres are close to the legal limit of 1.6mm, invest in a new set before the bad weather catches you out. It might even be worth investing in a set of Winter tyres. Though be mindful this would mean buying a second set of wheels or even tyres fitted to your existing wheels which will need swapping back over when the temperatures rise in the Spring.

Lights: With short days, rain and fog all likely weather conditions during the Winter month, your lights will probably be on whenever you’re driving. Make sure everybody can see you – and that you can see – by ensuring they’re all working properly.

Wipers: The last thing you want when it starts snowing is for your wiper blades to fall apart because they’re perished. If this happens you won’t be able to sweep away any rain or snow, plus there’s a good chance your windscreen will be damaged.

Windows: Getting a clear view through your windows is vital, so make sure the heating and ventilation work properly or everything will mist up so you’re driving in a permanent fog. Don’t forget to keep your washer bottle topped up.

You can make many of these checks yourself, but many fast-fit or franchised garages offer free health checks over the Winter period, so there’s no excuse for your car not being up to the rigours of the coming weeks.

How to drive in Wintry conditions

With your car in tip-top condition you need to make sure that your driving is also up to scratch. The key with all Winter driving is to make steady progress and avoid sudden manoeuvres such as sharp braking or steering if possible.

Before setting off make sure your lights and windows are clear. Bear in mind that your car’s heater won’t work until the engine is warm and that can take several minutes. However, be wary not to leave the engine running and the car unattended as it could be stolen. Your best bet is to start the engine and go around the car removing any ice and snow that’s built up on the lights and windows. By the time you’ve done this there should be some heat in the engine so the heater should start to work.

Don’t be tempted to use hot or boiling water to clear the glass as you’ll probably end up cracking it instead. Stick with de-icer or a good quality scraper that won’t scratch the windows.

If your car has a temperature gauge on the dash and it’s showing that the engine has started to warm up, switch on the heater and demist everything. Unfortunately there’s no shortcut to this, as you can’t expect instant heat, unless you’ve invested in an engine pre-heater.

Braking distances can easily be 10 times what you’re used to on a dry surface, which is why keeping your speed down, increasing your following distance and looking well ahead are all crucial. If it’s icy, pull away in second gear to reduce the chances of wheelspin. If you’re driving an automatic, select the winter mode if there is one – or lock it into a gear if you need to maintain a steady speed. If you have to tackle any hills, don’t stop unless you have to, as pulling away on a slope could prove all but impossible. Try to keep a constant speed once on the hill, without having to change gear.

Finally, before setting out on any journey:

• Check the travel reports to make sure there are no problems on your route, and stick to major routes where possible as they’re more likely to be kept clear.

• Pack some extra layers in case you’re stuck on a hard shoulder or have to walk.

• Take some supplies such as a hot drink, chocolate bars or sandwiches, in case you get stuck or your car breaks down.•If there’s lots of snow, carry some tyre chains or socks and a shovel. Also keep a torch handy – with working batteries.

• Make sure you’ve got the details of your breakdown provider – and if you don’t have one, join up ASAP, even if it’s just for the most basic level of cover.

• Make sure your phone is fully charged and if you’re on a pay-as-you-go scheme ensure you have plenty of credit.

All this may seem like a load of hassle, but if you stay on top of things you’ll be able to enjoy a hassle-free Winter. If you’re not convinced, just look on the bright side – 21 December is just around the corner and that marks the shortest day of the year. So soon enough the days will start getting longer and summer will be on its way. Hurrah!

For more information and Winter driving tips, please see the fact sheet by The Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents that lists all you need to know to stay safe on the road this Winter.

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Posted on 8th December 2017 at 9:58 AM

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