Driving in the winter months can be daunting, even for the most experienced driver. The weather conditions can play havoc with your travel plans, cause long delays and disruptions, and even be potentially dangerous. While you do have to be a lot more careful, if you know what you’re doing, you can drive safely in these cold dark winter months. We’ve put together a list of top winter driving tips to help you get through the season with confidence.
The one thing you can always count on is the British weather changing on a daily basis. Where one day can be a brilliantly fresh sunshiny day, the next can be cold dark and grim. If you are planning on making a journey by car the following day, no matter if it’s a short or long one, then have a look at the weather forecast.
If the conditions are going to be bad, make sure you give yourself much more time to complete the journey than you would normally. Bad winter weather can lead to a lot more accidents. Even if you manage to avoid one yourself, you will want to ensure you don’t get slowed down too much if you have to navigate past one.
Another thing you can do is to check your route on a GPS or phone app before you leave. They are often more up to date than the radio reports, and can show you an alternative route to take if there’s an accident on the one you were planning on taking.
The best advice to take in winter is to avoid driving if you can, if the weather is bad. Low visibility, poor road conditions, all ingredients for a bad driving experience. No road trip is essential if it means taking risks. So think carefully before you start every journey.
When we say check your fluid levels, we don’t mean hot cocoa or mulled wine (there’s a time and place for those!). No, we mean the fluid in your car. In particular, the level of antifreeze in the water.
Over the year, the level can become diluted, especially if you had to top up the water in the hot summer months. This can leave your car susceptible to becoming frozen solid. So you’ll want to top up your levels to ensure it doesn’t become an ice cube. If your car does become frozen, you’ll end up rushing to make up time once you manage to get the car going again, making it more likely you’ll try something dangerous. This is bad in normal weather, but if the road is icy or slick, it’s dangerous.
The chances of you having an accident in the winter are going to be higher than any other time of the year. That’s because of the road conditions and the longer nights. If you do break down, you’ll need to be able to do two things: 1) call for help, 2) stay warm.
If you have a portable phone charger, you should take it with you at all times in the winter. Not being able to call for breakdown assistance or the emergency services will leave you vulnerable in the winter.
Make sure you have some extra blankets packed in the car, as well as a thermos of hot drink if you’re making a long journey. Some snacks are also a good idea. These will all help you stay warm during the wait for help to come. Remember, you might not be able to sit inside the car with the heater on. So prepare yourself.
Icy roads mean you will have a lot less grip on the road than normal. So you’ll need to ensure your tyres are working to the best of their ability. Check the tyre tread and the air pressure before any long journey.
Tyre tread is what grips the road. Having the right tread depth will mean you have that extra traction when moving off, and will help your car to stop if you need to apply the brakes. The right air pressure is also vital, as this will help apply that tread to the road. If the tyres are underinflated, you won’t get the grip you want. Overinflated, and the tyre tread can distort, meaning you lose grip.
Winter tyres are not suitable for everyone. Most of us live in areas where snow and ice will only be an occasional issue, rather than a daily occurrence. The advice for most of us is to avoid driving in snow and ice if we can, so winter tyres should only be used in certain circumstances.
If you live in the countryside where the roads aren’t as high a quality, or they are less likely to be visited by a gritter lorry, then you may want to consider changing.
One of the most common incidents than can happen if you are driving in the winter is a skid. This is where you lose all traction on the road and find yourself sliding. What you need to do is to take your foot off the accelerator and slowly apply the brake. If you press the brake too hard, you will lose more control.
Then you should steer away from the skid, the opposite direction to the way you are turning. This will help to counter the movement and hopefully keep your car from spinning. Whatever happens, take your time and give yourself a breather after the skid has stopped. It can be a scary experience and you may need a moment to calm yourself.
Braking slower is advisable in all winter road conditions, as you will avoid entering a skid or sliding on the road. But it’s not just braking. You should be driving at a lower speed on icy or snowy roads. The poor visibility means you can’t see hazards as quickly. Slower also means you have more time to react to any potential problems that appear on the road ahead. Slow means time. Time means you can think and react.