As the winter draws in, driving conditions are usually somewhere between tricky to treacherous, and the next few months are officially the worst to be on the road. In fact, data from the Department for Transport (DfT) reveals the majority of motoring accidents happen between November and January.
Deadly driving conditions
Autumn, winter and even spring can throw up all sorts of problems for drivers, and if you’re on the road between September and April you can expect to have to contend with any combination of:
So it’s hardly surprising the DfT’s combined figures for November and December 2014 saw the highest frequency of fatal incidents, some 340 recorded in just two months, with a further 3,366 serious accidents and 21,576 slight accidents. And it’s not just the weather that’s the problem, the shorter days add to the danger as motorists are nine times more likely to be involved in an accident after dark when the roads are wet. The thing is, many of these accidents can be avoided with a bit of pre-planning and some regular car maintenance checks. Trevor Eastman, head of technical services within Haynes’ automotive team, said: “There are some really simple DIY checks that you can carry out to ensure that your vehicle is as safe as possible to drive this winter.” So here's how to prepare your car for winter...
How to get your car ready for winter
Check your lights
Whether you’re driving in mist and fog, heavy rain or snow, day or night, it’s important to make sure you can see and be seen on the road. Check all your exterior lights are working and keep them clean. If any bulbs aren’t working, they’re usually pretty straightforward to replace or you can usually pay a small fee to have this done at a garage or service centre.
Keep your windscreen and windows clean
The low winter sun can often be a real driving hazard – especially when combined with heavy rain on the roads. You should always take care when driving in this sort of condition, so regularly cleaning your windscreen and windows, inside and out, can help with visibility. Only use a cleaner intended for car glass. To help avoid smearing, clean the wiping edges of wiper blades with a tissue dipped in neat screen wash additive and you can stop them freezing to the screen by propping them up on slices cut from a cork when you park for the night. Also regularly check the condition of your blades and replace them if necessary. Again, you can do this yourself or pay a small fee to have it done for you. Also, keep the washer reservoir topped up and use an additive with antifreeze properties (not engine antifreeze though!). In the morning, you can use warm (not boiling!) water for defrosting windows, but watch where it runs – it could form an ice slick when it freezes.
Check your tyres
Check your car’s tyre pressures (including the spare wheel) at least once a week and before you set off on any long journey. Also check the tread depth – 1.6mm is the legal minimum but for good grip on wet roads, it’s best to replace tyres once the tread depth is 2.0mm. If you’re going to be driving on snow-covered roads it might be worth buying a set winter tyres or snow socks for your existing tyres.
Check under the bonnet
Check the level in the coolant reservoir and top up as necessary with a mix of water and antifreeze solution. The coolant (with antifreeze) should be changed every two to three years. Also make sure the antifreeze concentration in the cooling system is adequate – if there has been a leak and you’ve been topping up with plain water it may not be. A garage can test it for you, or you can buy a tester from a car accessory shop. While you’re there, make sure the battery terminals are tight and not corroded. Flat batteries are the biggest cause of winter breakdowns so don’t wait for your battery to fail, replace it in good time. And you make things easier for the battery by not switching on headlights, blowers or heated rear window until the engine is running.
Think of your fuel
Winter grade diesel can cope with temperatures down to -15°C. If lower temperatures are expected, use an anti-waxing additive in the fuel tank (or stay at home). And try to keep the tank at least half full to lessen the possibility of your fuel freezing.
Keep an emergency kit
Always carry an emergency kit in your car which includes spare fuses, bulbs, jump leads, a torch, water dispersant spray and de-icer.
Consider your air con
If your car has air conditioning, run it for 10 minutes or so once a month to stop the seals drying out. And it’s a good idea to use it to demist the windscreen even if the last thing you need is cold air blowing into the car
Park up in gear
When parking overnight in freezing conditions, leave your car in gear with the handbrake off if it is safe to do so. This will prevent the handbrake freezing in the ‘on’ position.
Iced up door lock?
There’s no point leaving lock de-icer in the car if it means you can’t get to it when you need it, so make sure you keep some in the house. And frozen door locks can sometimes be freed by blowing into them – but be careful not to get your lips stuck to the car!
On slippery roads, drive slowly, smoothly and gently. Accelerate gradually, steer gently and brake smoothly. And if you really want to prepare yourself, you could look into setting up tuition on a skid-pan through your local driving school or the Institute of Advanced Motorists.
Don’t be daft
Use your common sense - before you set off on a journey in icy or snowy, consider if it is really essential to travel, or can it wait. It’s better to be safe than sorry.