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Winter driving tips

How to make sure you and your vehicle are prepared for anything, from a cold snap to extreme weather.

Driving in winter can be stressful. The busiest driving hours are in darkness, and the weather can change quickly.

Snow, ice and floods get between you and the road, so how can you make sure both you and your vehicle are ready?

Prepare your car for winter

Make sure your car's serviced and in a good state of repair before winter begins, and check your breakdown policy. Is it still valid and up-to-date?

Being able to get your car off the driveway is always a good start, so if you're worried about breaking down before you even leave home, consider adding home start cover to your breakdown policy.

As well as checking you've got the right breakdown cover in place, you'll need to make sure your car's roadworthy - check your tyre tread, brake fluid, electrics, oil and bulbs.

You'll need your lights more than at any other time of the year, so make sure they're working properly. If not, you're risking the safety of you and other drivers and could get pulled over by the police and fined.

Tyres

If you're experiencing large amounts of snow and driving on smaller roads, consider investing in snow tyres to give your car some extra grip.

Snow tyres may be considered a modification by car insurers, so get in touch with your provider if you're thinking of using them.

Make sure your tyres have at least the legal tread limit - 1.6mm for cars, but at least 3mm is recommended in wet weather - and that they're inflated to the level specified in your car's handbook.

Learn more about all these areas in our tyre guide.

Emergency kit

Keep an emergency kit in your car, just in case.

Blankets, a warm coat, reflective jacket and wellington boots will be useful if you find yourself stranded.

Store a torch and first aid kit in your boot throughout the year - a spare set of batteries will help, too.

Keep a supply of high-energy foods like chocolate, crisps and sugary drinks in the car in case you get stuck or held up in traffic due to snow.

If you get caught out in particularly heavy snow, a shovel and rope could get you out of a bind, plus some old carpet or thick cardboard to give traction under wheels. But don't take any risks - if you need assistance contact your breakdown provider or ring the emergency services.

Prepare for your journey

Know your route and check for travel updates before you leave. If possible, stick to major roads which are more likely to have been cleared and gritted.

Turning on radio alerts can help you keep updated while on the move and remove the need to pull over and check your mobile phone.

Is your journey essential? If weather warnings have been issued and the emergency services are advising people to stay at home, you should avoid travelling.

See if your journey can be postponed or delayed, or if you're travelling to work, perhaps you can work from home instead?

Winter driving tips

You'll need to drive more carefully than normal over the winter, especially during extreme weather. Remember some of these top tips to keep you safe:

  • Drive a little slower to allow for a larger stopping distance between you and other vehicles - you might need up to 10 times the normal distance for braking.
  • Always reduce your speed slowly, avoiding harsh braking or sharp steering. Being aware and anticipating the road ahead is key.
  • If you start to skid, release the brakes and turn smoothly into the slide (so if the rear is skidding right, gently steer right).
  • Can't pull away easily in ice and snow? Try starting in second gear instead of first.
  • If you do get stuck, straighten the wheel, clear snow and ice from the tyres, then put some sort of fabric - like a piece of old carpet - in front of the drive wheels for traction.
  • When you get moving, don't stop until you're on a firmer surface.
  • If possible, try to avoid having to stop on a hill - wait for traffic in front to clear, then proceed at a steady pace in a sensible gear that will see you to the top without having to change down.
  • When approaching a downhill, leave as much space as possible between yourself and the vehicle in front. Reduce speed, choose a low gear and try to avoid using the brakes - if that's not possible, apply the brakes gently.
  • Most importantly, stay calm and collected - often driving in extreme weather conditions can be nerve-wracking, but stress won't help your concentration.
  • Extra usage of the lights and heating can strain car batteries, and they rarely last longer than about five years. If yours is approaching the end of its life, you might want to consider replacing it before it lets you down.
  • The low winter sun reduces visibility and salt on the road can dirty your car quickly. Keep your washer fluid topped up and store a large plastic bottle in the car for quickly accessible water. Make sure all your windows are clear, inside and out.
  • If you find that your windscreen wipers are smearing your screen when they're used, the blades need to be changed, or at least readjusted.
  • Make sure you clean dirt and snow off your lights and number plate, and be sure to get rid of any snow from your roof, bonnet and boot.
  • In your coolant system you need a 50-50 mix of antifreeze and water - check your handbook to make sure you have the right antifreeze.
  • Sunglasses can be handy, especially when the sun is low and, perhaps, reflecting off snow.

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