Winter Driving, Coping with Cold Snow and Ice

You should always take great care and attention when driving your vehicle but when it comes to the winter months, extra care and preparation is required in order for you to keep safe on the highway and avoid any breakdowns or accidents.
Breakdowns are much more common towards the end of the year especially with wintery weather conditions prevailing, many of the breakdown companies including the RAC, AA and Green flag operate many regular patrols as the number of call outs almost doubles during the winter months.
During cold weather you can often face many dangers including icy road conditions, snow drifts and other challenging conditions. Please find our general advice below for safe and trouble-free driving through the cold and dark months. 

Battery and Electrics:

Anything electrical in the vehicle such as Lights, Heaters and wipers always put a high demand on your car battery. If you are driving mainly in dark rush hour trips then you may find that eventually your battery may give out.
Batteries rarely last longer than five years and replacing one near to the end of its life can save you a lot of time and it can also save you a lot of time spent on the hard shoulder of a motorway at the roadside.
• Try to avoid running electrical systems any longer than necessary, turn the heater fan down and switch to heated rear windows as soon as your windows are clear.
• If your car stands idle most of the weekend then a regular trick charge may be a suitable idea in order to give your battery a chance to recover.
• Turning off all non-essential electrical items in the vehicle like lights and wipers before trying to start your vehicle can also save battery life.
• 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.

Antifreeze:

A continuous squealing noise when you start your engine on a morning may show you that there is something wrong with your car. What the cause is, is a sign that the water pump is frozen. The noise is created by the fan belt slipping on the pulley. It could also be a sign that your cylinder block could also be frozen. If this occurs then stop your engine immediately and allow your engine to thaw out. It can take several days unless you can place the car in a heated garage.
If the car 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.
• Most modern cars use long-life antifreeze – it’s important to use the right type and avoid mixing different types. Check the handbook or ask a dealer for advice.
• Some types of antifreeze may need to be changed after only two years. Check the manufacturer’s service schedule.
• 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.

Vision: 

Obviously being able to see where you are going and where you have been. So it is always imperative to ensure that your windscreen and other windows clear. If your vision is obscured through dirt, snow or even sticker-infested then you may end up getting pulled over by the police and you could be liable for a hefty fine. Always clear snow from your roof as well as your windscreen as if you brake sharply the snow could fall onto your windscreen and obscure your view, causing a hazard to yourself and other road users as well.
The dazzling glow from the winter sun can sometimes impair your vision and 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 car, 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 Windscreen washer fluid and treat with a suitable additive to reduce the chance of freezing. Don’t use ordinary engine antifreeze as it will damage paintwork.

Tyres:

We recommend that you have a minimum tread of 3mm on your tyres when winter motoring. You should not reduce your tyre pressures to get more grip, this does not work, and reduces stability of your vehicle.

It is rare that you will need the use of snow chains unless you live in an isolated area hit by heavy snow and where roads are not cleared. Snow chains must be removed when on metaled roads without a reasonable covering of snow.
Consider changing to winter or all season tyres. These have higher silica content in the tread which stops the tyres hardening in the colder weather, which in turn, provides better grip in colder and wet weather conditions.

Before you go: 

We always advise you to plan ahead when making a trip outside. Always allow at least 10 minutes earlier than you need to set off so that this allows you time to prepare your car. Do not drive off when your windscreen is not fully clear. You do not want to be peering through a small space on your windshield as this can reduce your visibility and increase the risk to you and others on the road. Always clear all windows using a scraper and de-icer.

A handy tip if you find that your lock has frozen up is to use a cigarette lighter to warm your key up. Do not breathe on the lock as the moisture will condense and freeze up inside your lock.

Plan routes so that you are mainly on main roads so that you do not caught out on small side roads. This way you know you are always more likely to be able to access roads which have been cleared and gritted.

Always ensure you put safety before punctuality when severe weather closes in. Allow additional time for winter journeys and always make sure you are prepared for the inevitability of getting stuck in the snow, getting stuck in traffic, and being late for work due to unforeseen delays.

Driving in snow and ice

Gentle manoeuvres are the key to safe driving – stopping distances are 10 times longer in ice and snow.
• Wear comfortable, dry shoes for driving. Cumbersome, snow-covered boots will slip on the pedals.
• 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 cars or by leaving plenty of room to the car 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 car in front.
• If you have to use brakes then apply them gently. Release the brakes and de-clutch if the car skids.
• 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, 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.