As temperatures dropped to -6°C in some places in the UK over the previous weekend, winter has officially arrived and is here to stay until well into 2016. This means that more often than not we shall be waking up to icy roads and frost along with the potential for snow. As much as a winter wonderland can be pretty (or annoying, depending on your mindset), it can make our roads a dangerous place as well as increasing the risk for break downs. As a result, we’ve put together our winter road safety ‘Top Tips’ to remind you how you can stay safe on the road over the next few months.
Driving Safely in Winter – Top Tips:
Before you leave…
- Get up at least 10 minutes early to give you time to prepare the vehicle.
- Don’t drive off like a tank-commander, with a tiny hole cleared in the windscreen. Clear all windows using a scraper and de-icer.
- Use a cigarette lighter to warm a key for a frozen lock. Don’t breathe on the lock – if it’s cold enough the moisture will condense and freeze.
- Plan routes to favour major roads which are more likely to have been cleared and gritted.
On your journey…
- Wear comfortable, dry shoes for driving. Snow-covered boots will slip on the pedals.
- Gentle manoeuvres are the key to safe driving – stopping distances are 10 times longer in ice and snow.
- Pull away in second gear, easing your foot off the clutch gently to avoid wheel-spin.
- Up hill – avoid having to stop part way up by waiting until it is clear of other vehicles or by leaving plenty of room to the vehicle in front. Keep a constant speed, choosing the most suitable gear well in advance to avoid having to change down on the hill.
- Down hill – reduce your speed before the hill, use a low gear and try to avoid using the brakes. Leave as much room as possible between you and the vehicle in front.
- If you have to use brakes then apply them gently.
- Automatic transmission – under normal driving conditions (motorways, etc) it’s best to select ‘Drive’ and let the gearbox do the work throughout the full gear range. In slippery, snowy conditions it’s best to select ‘2’, which limits the gear changes and also makes you less reliant on the brakes. Some autos have a ‘Winter’ mode which locks out first gear to reduce the risk of wheel spin. Check the handbook.
- If you get stuck in snow, straighten the steering and clear the snow from the wheels. Put a sack or old rug in front of the driving wheels to give the tyres some grip. Once on the move again, try not to stop until you reach firmer ground.
Proper vehicle maintenance for the winter months is almost as important to road safety as safe driving practice. If you break down you become an additional hazard for other road users, as well as the extra danger to yourself and the vehicle you are responsible for. Read our additional vehicle check list to make sure yours is up to the safe standard before a journey:
Battery and Electrics…
Lights, heaters and wipers put high demands on the vehicle battery. If your driving is mainly dark rush-hour trips, the battery will give out eventually. Batteries rarely last longer than five years. Replacing one near the end of its life can save a lot of time and inconvenience at the side of the road.
- Avoid running electrical systems any longer than necessary – turn the heater fan down and switch the heated rear window off once windows are clear.
- If the vehicle stands idle most of the weekend a regular overnight trickle charge is a good idea to give the battery a chance to revive.
- Turn off non-essential electrical loads like lights, rear screen heater and wipers before trying to start the engine.
- Use the starter in short five-second bursts if the engine doesn’t start quickly, leaving thirty seconds between attempts to allow the battery to recover.
A continuous squealing noise as soon as the engine is started is a sign the water pump is frozen – it’s the fan belt slipping on the pulley. The cylinder block could be frozen too. Stop the engine immediately and allow it to thaw out. This may take several days unless the vehicle can be moved to a heated garage. If the vehicle begins to overheat a few miles from home it’s likely that the radiator has frozen preventing coolant from circulating. Stop straight away to avoid serious damage and allow the radiator to thaw.
- Antifreeze costs only a few pounds, but a frozen and cracked engine block will cost hundreds of pounds to repair.
- You need a 50-50 mix of antifreeze and water in the cooling system for winter. This gives maximum protection down to -34° centigrade, and without it, severe engine damage costing hundreds of pounds can occur.
Keep the windscreen and other windows clear – if your vision is obscured through dirt, snow or even sticker-infested vehicle windows you could face a hefty fine. Clear snow from the roof as well as from windows as this can fall onto the windscreen obscuring your view. It can be a hazard to other road users as well.
Dazzle from a low winter sun can be a particular problem.
- Improve vision by making sure that the windscreen is clean both inside and out. Scratches, abrasion and chips on the outside can also worsen the dazzling effect of the sun.
- Greasy smears on the screen that don’t go with use of a normal screenwash additive will require a little elbow grease. Try using a cream glass polish with a slight abrasive action. If that doesn’t work then try dishwasher powder dissolved in a little water – Use clean kitchen paper to clean a small area at a time and try not to go back over a patch you’ve just done.
- Use air conditioning for faster demisting and to reduce condensation on cold windows.
- Check windscreen wipers and replace if necessary.
- Make sure that wipers are switched off in the park position when leaving the vehicle, when there’s risk of freezing. If you don’t and the blades freeze to the screen, you could damage the blades or wiper motor when you turn the ignition on.
- Top up Screen Wash fluid and treat with a suitable additive to reduce the chance of freezing. Don’t use ordinary engine antifreeze as it will damage paintwork.
Make sure that all bulbs are working and that lenses are clean. When roads are really mucky you might need to clean lights after every journey. Keep the number plates clean too, as you can be fined if they are dirty and illegible.
If you have to clear snow from the vehicle it’s important to clear it from the lights – front and back – as well as from the glass and roof.
You must use headlights when visibility is seriously reduced. You may also use front or rear fog lights but these must be switched off when visibility improves as they can dazzle other road users and obscure your brake lights.