Tag Archives | winter driving
Time for careful handling
While you should bear weather conditions in mind no matter what time of year, safe driving in winter requires special consideration. Snowy and icy conditions are some of the most dangerous because the risk of losing your grip on the road is much higher. The best and easiest way to avoid an unwelcome incident in winter snow, ice or rain is simply to slow down. When grip is reduced, all your actions need to be slower, smoother and gradual to give you extra time to react as any sudden inputs with the accelerator, brakes or steering can cause your tyres to lose grip on the road. Again, a larger gap to the car in front (at least twice as far) will give you more time to react to hazards ahead and allow you to brake more gradually. In snow and ice, your braking distance should also be multiplied by 10. This means it could take you the length of seven football pitches to stop from 70mph in the unlikely event you’re travelling that fast. If you’re driving a manual car, it’s advisable to change down through the gears to help slow the car, rather than relying solely on your brakes. Also, try driving in higher gears than usual because less pulling power reaches the wheels and this makes them less likely to spin, so pull away in second gear instead of first. On a practical note, as your car gets dirtier in winter, remember to carry a good cloth to ensure your windows, headlights and number plates aren’t covered in grime as this is an offence. You may also want to give your door sills a wipe, as there’s nothing worse than getting in or out of the car to find a smear of mud on your trouser leg or skirt.
It not only gets bitterly cold in the winter but wet, foggy and icy too. In the same way that you adjust your clothing according to the weather, you should think about tweaking the way you drive and the precautions you take to stay safe on the road. In the first instance, it’s important to choose the right roads, stick to the busier ones and avoid back roads or areas that will be particularly weather beaten. It might seem obvious, but looking ahead is the easiest way to stay safe and in control on winter roads. Don’t just concentrate on the end of your bonnet or the car in front, instead look as far ahead as you can and then work back to the front of your car. Doing this will allow you to prepare your speed and steering well in advance and avoid late, dangerous movements on potentially hazardous road surfaces. In normal dry road conditions, the two-second rule to the car in front should always apply to give you enough braking time, but in wet winter weather this should be exaggerated and doubled to four seconds, and in icy conditions this should be 10 times greater. While extended separation distances are crucial in poor and slippery conditions, it’s not just your grip on the road that can alter in winter, your visibility can be affected too, especially in fog or heavy rain. You’ll see obstacles much later and this impacts on your ability to assess how to respond. The best advice is match your speed to visibility: the less you see, the slower you need to drive.
What is freezing rain?
Arguably the most treacherous of all road conditions, freezing rain occurred during February 2018 when ‘The Beast from the East’ collided with Storm Emma. It is a rare weather phenomenon which sees water droplets freeze into snow before passing through patches of warmer air and melting into rain. The rain then passes through sub-zero temperatures nearer the ground and freezes on contact with a cold surface like a road or car windscreen, creating an invisible lethal glaze across roads and pavements. Under these conditions, the RAC advises drivers to avoid travel.
Handy de-icing tips
If you don’t have a garage in winter de-icing windows is a chore you can’t avoid. However, prevention is better than cure, so you can stop ice forming by soaking a towel in a solution of water and salt and placing it over your windscreen and front windows. Come the morning, you’ll have clear windows. Another trick for a quick getaway is to mix up a solution of three parts white vinegar to one part water. Pour it over the affected areas to instantly melt the ice. You can of course buy cans of de-icing spray from most supermarkets or automotive suppliers but these can damage paintwork if over-sprayed. If you live in a particularly cold area, think carefully when buying your next car. Lots of new vehicles come with heated windscreens, with tiny filaments that heat up and completely eliminate ice scraping.
During the winter months dark mornings are likely to make you feel more tired. Make allowances for your own abilities when driving in darkness; your eyes take time to get used to the dark. And be aware that other motorists might not be as careful as you, and cyclists or pedestrians might not be wearing reflective or bright clothing as they should do. The best advice: take on the responsibility of looking out for others, and your journey should make you feel good – even if it’s chilly outside.
In cold weather, it makes sense to think ahead and allow yourself an extra 10 minutes to clear your windscreen using a scraper and de-icer, if you haven’t put a windscreen cover on the night before. If you don’t have any de-icer, only use lukewarm water, never boiling on your windscreen otherwise it might crack. Don’t be tempted to pull away until your windscreen is fully clear and don’t forget the other windows and mirrors as they’re just as vital for safe visibility and are often ignored. Likewise, check your vehicle lights as a film of frost on the lens can affect their intensity and make it difficult for other road users to see you or your signals.
When it’s cold it can be difficult just getting into your car, these tips can save you time. Use a little silicone-based furniture polish or baking spray on the rubber door seals – it helps prevent doors getting stuck when it freezes. It’s best to apply with a cloth so you don’t spray polish on to the vehicle’s paintwork, but remember, you’ll need to do this the night before. If your locks freeze, spray Halfords lock de-icer into the lock. Alternatively, try applying an alcohol-based hand sanitiser to your key and wiggle it into the frozen lock. The alcohol can burn through ice in seconds.
Better with a torch
An unexpected stop on a cold, dark winter’s night is infinitely worse without a torch. Things like your car’s bonnet catch and filler caps suddenly become incredibly difficult to find in the dark, no matter how well you know your car. Worse still, if your battery dies, you’ll be sat in a dark car on a dark night: not an easy-to-find place to be. Be safe and keep a torch in your glovebox, just in case.
Key to frozen locks
We’ve all come out of the house on a chilly morning to a car covered in ice, with frozen door locks. This is when you need to show your car some winter loving and take action. It’s a good idea to give your car’s door locks a regular squirt of light water-repellent oil, which you can buy in almost every garage. As this oil drives away moisture, it means water cannot get hold of the lock mechanism and freeze, which is one of the most common call-outs for breakdown services in winter.
A great way to make sure your car doors open whatever the temperature is to smear a very small film of silicone spray over the rubber door seals. Again, this keeps damp out and prevents the seals freezing and fusing together, so when you open the door you’re not tearing them apart.
Snow and ice advice
The Highway Code applies to England, Scotland and Wales and is essential reading for everyone. Rule 228 says: In winter check the local weather forecast for warnings of icy or snowy weather. Do not drive in these conditions unless your journey is essential. If it is, take great care and allow more time. Take an emergency kit of de-icer and ice scraper, torch, warm clothing and boots, first aid kit, jump leads and a shovel, together with a warm drink and emergency food in case you get stuck or your vehicle breaks down.
Rule 229 adds: Make sure your windscreen in completely clear. Before you set off:
- You must be able to see, so clear all snow and ice from all your windows
- You must ensure that lights are clean and number plates are clearly visible and legible
- Make sure the mirrors are clear and the windows are demisted thoroughly
- Remove all snow that might fall off into the path of other road users
Once you’re on the road, remember to keep well back from the driver in front as stopping distances in these conditions can be 10 times greater than on dry roads.
Cold, damp weather can play havoc on batteries as your car’s electrical system has to work a lot harder and starter motors require all the current they can get to start the engine on cold mornings. With more vehicle equipment demanding more electricity, it’s best to check and, if needs be, charge your battery at least once a week during winter months, particularly if it’s more than three years old.
Always remember to:
- Switch off all loads including lights, wipers and heater before switching off your engine at the end of your journey. This prevents unnecessary drain on the battery the next time you start up. Check again that everything is switched off before turning the ignition on
- Avoid using heaters, heated screens and heated seats for longer than you have to as they all put high demands on your car’s battery. Some satnavs, in-car DVD players and iPods can also drain the battery if left connected. Also check there are no interior lights or boot lights left on or accessories such as phone chargers left connected