Top tips for winter driving

Winter is the worst time of the year for motorists with bad weather increasing the likelihood of an accident or a breakdown.

Call-outs to recovery services almost double in poor weather, but the AA’s Paul Harrison has given MoneySupermarket.com some useful tips on how to reduce the chances of breaking down. The following check list should also help you ensure that your car is in the best possible condition to cope with the worst the winter throws at us...

Lights

It is crucial that you can see and be seen on the roads during the long winter nights, so you should ensure that all of your lights are in full working order and that the lenses are clean. You should also check your headlights, tail lights, brake lights, reverse lights, indicators and hazard lights and replace any that aren’t working as a matter of urgency.

Windscreen

Examine your windscreen for any chips or cracks and, should you find any, get them repaired or the windscreen replaced as soon as possible. A sudden drop in temperature can quickly turn a small chip into a large crack.

Glare is also a major hazard at this time of year and the combination of the low winter sun, wet road surfaces and a grimy windscreen can reduce visibility to just a few feet. So make sure that both the inside and outside of your windscreen are kept free from dirt and grease and cut out as much glare as possible by wearing sunglasses and using the car’s visor when necessary.

Wipers

Look carefully at the front and rear windscreen wipers and run them to make sure they are working correctly. If the rubber is split or they smear the windscreen then make sure that they are replaced as soon as possible as damaged wipers often make visibility worse.

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Demisters

Make sure that your front and back demisters are working properly as a combination of a warm interior and a cold exterior will mean that your windscreens can fog up quickly.

Battery

Winter motoring places a great strain on your car battery, which can run itself flat if it’s in less than perfect working order, so check that the battery’s condition indicator is on green and, if not, get a replacement.

If your battery does not have a condition indicator then an easy way to test that it’s running at full capacity is to turn on the headlights and then start the engine. If the lights go brighter when the engine starts then your battery could be coming to the end of its life.

If this is the case then you should take your car to a garage for a battery check, something that many garages will carry out free of charge, and also make sure that the battery connections are clean, tight and in good working order.

Fluids

Whilst you’re under the bonnet check your fluids to make sure they’re all topped up and contain sufficient levels of anti-freeze, usually a 50-50 mix with water will be enough. Check that your screen wash reservoir is full (and the water jets are working) and also check that the water level in the radiator expansion tank is above the minimum and looks clean and bright.

Tyres

The legal limit for tyre tread depth is 1.6mm but it is not advisable to let your tyres go below the 2mm mark, particularly when driving in winter. Bear in mind that tyre grip actually reduces once tread levels drop below 3mm.

You should also check that there are no cuts or bumps in the tyre rims or sidewalls and that there is no mesh visible through the rubber.

Be prepared

Unfortunately, even if your car appears to be in perfect working order there is still no guarantee that you won’t end up stranded at the roadside. You should therefore always prepare for the worst and ensure that you carry the following items in your car: Blanket; outdoor coat, boots and gloves; shovel; tyre chains; spare tyre and tool kit; jump leads; ice scraper; torch; first aid kit; spare windscreen wipers and washer fluid; water.

You should also ensure that you have sufficient breakdown cover which will mean that your car can be recovered in the event of a breakdown and you won’t have to fork out for steep garage call-out charges.

Winter driving

It’s a good idea to know the best way to drive in ice and snow as it’s easy to panic and lose control of your vehicle once conditions get slippery underfoot.

If you feel that your car is losing traction then slow down and try to keep your distance from the vehicle in front ensuring that any accelerating, braking and steering is done gently.

If you do skid then avoid the urge to brake and steer yourself out of trouble as this will lead to you losing control of your vehicle. Instead, keep your foot off the brake disengage the engine by pressing down on the clutch whilst keeping the steering wheel straight, you should feel the car grip the road again at which point you should gently bring up the clutch and continue to drive.

If you get stranded

Should the worst come to the worst and you find yourself stranded then stay with your car, unless you know the area and are sure you are only a short distance from help, and call a breakdown recovery service and, if needed, the police. Try not to rely on friends of family to help you if you are stranded as they may end up stranded themselves!

Keep warm, using the extra clothes and blankets and keep the car running if possible, opening the window just a crack to ease condensation and ensure the car doesn’t freeze over from the outside.

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