Winter driving dos and don'ts

Orange car covered in snow
When Trevor saw his car he decided to stay at home... (Photo: auspices)
Don't be one of those wallies that clears a letterbox-sized peephole in the ice on their windscreen
  • | by Daniel Bevis

Well, it's that time of year again - the gritters are champing at the bit to get out and spread glistening salty treasures all over the nation's highways, the nights are drawing in and you're probably tucked up on the sofa under a blankie with a nice cup of cocoa.

But before you settle in, how about taking a few moments to consider how the winter affects you and your motoring. Because there are a few things that you really should be thinking about in the winter months…

Vision and visibility

Icy windscreen

Photo: jackhynes

Make sure all your bulbs are working, and that lenses are clear of dirt, ice or snow. Otherwise you won't be able to see where you're going! You'll also need to clear dirt/snow off your number plates, and be sure to get rid of any snow from your roof, bonnet or boot - you don't want it flying off and hitting someone when you're on the move.

Now, don't be one of those wallies that clears a letterbox-sized peephole in the ice on their windscreen - ensure that all your windows are clear and you have proper visibility, otherwise you could cause all kinds of mayhem.

Keep your washer bottle topped up with screenwash too, and make sure your wiper blades are ok - slushy spray mixed with dazzling winter sun can be a nightmare. And check that your wipers aren't frozen to the screen before you depart!

Antifreeze

Empty road with snow

Photo: Pavel P.

You need a 50-50 mix of antifreeze and water in your coolant system for winter. Check your handbook (or with your dealer) to make sure you have the right antifreeze.

If your car starts overheating, you might have a frozen radiator; if your fanbelt is making a constant squealing noise, your water pump may have frozen. Either way, you need to stop driving and let it thaw before something expensive breaks…

Tyres

Cars in snowy car park with tyre marks

Photo: JR_Paris

It's not a legal requirement in the UK to fit winter tyres, and you may baulk at the cost. However, they do offer incredible gains in grip and safety over summer rubber in icy conditions.

If you're sticking with standard rubber, make sure the tyres have got plenty of tread and are pumped up to the correct pressure.

Driving in snow and ice

Car in snow

Photo: Nico86*

First off, try not to turn everything on at once - lights, heater, stereo, screen heater, wipers, it all puts a heavy load on the battery, especially if you're making short trips. Just be sensible with what you need.

In ice or snow and can't pull away without helplessly wheelspinning? Try starting in second gear instead of first.

Don't stop on icy hills unless you really have to and, if you're driving downhill, use a low gear and avoid braking harshly.

If you start to skid, release the brakes and turn into the slide (ie if the rear is skidding right, gently steer right). Don't panic. All your actions need to be measured and calm.

Provisions

Some things to keep in the car, just in case you get stranded: water, blankets, ice-scraper, packaged, non-perishable foods, folding shovel, tow rope, a pair of thick socks. Make sure your phone's charged before driving anywhere. And, if you're making a journey in scary conditions, always ensure someone knows your route.

And there we have it. It's all common sense really, isn't it? Happy motoring, be safe, and keep those inputs gentle…