With the mornings starting to get lighter, it may feel like spring is just around the corner. Now’s the time of year when many motorists become complacent about driving conditions. But make no mistake, winter has some significant implications for you and your vehicle.
Winter isn’t kind to drivers or their cars. Wear and tear on engines increase, corrosion goes into overdrive, batteries go flat and accidents are more likely. None of it is good news. Fortunately, a few common-sense tips can help you avoid the worst that winter can throw at you. With that in mind, here are our six top timely reminders:
Go easy on that engine
We’ve pointed out before that cold can be really tough on engines. The problem is that until the oil gets up to temperature, it isn’t lubricating the engine’s moving parts very well. You can do your engine a massive favour by waiting for it to warm up before you put it under any real stress. Does this mean sitting on the driveway for ten minutes? No, and in fact that might be counter-productive. Instead, just drive gently for a few minutes, drive in the appropriate gear and avoid high revs.
Don’t forget the anti-freeze
We know it’s obvious, but it’s so easy to forget. Anti-freeze costs so little, but without it a really cold snap could leave you with a huge repair bill. This may be particularly important if it’s your first winter with a second-hand car. Don’t assume that the previous owner has done it.
Check your tyres are up to the job
Winter means wet or icy roads, and that’s a whole different world for your tyres. Using Department of Transport statistics, ATS Euromaster estimates that snow and ice were responsible for 6,127 accidents in one year. One solution increasingly taken by motorists is to switch to winter tyres. Typically these tyres have about seven times more grooves in the tread, allowing them greater traction. But if swapping tyres isn’t for you, you should at least check the tread depth. Although the legal limit is 1.6mm, the wet-braking performance of tyres typically deteriorates well before then. If you’re in any doubt, get expert help to help you decide.
Watch out for glare
Most people love clear winter days, but the low winter sun can be dangerous for drivers. According to one estimate, glare from the sun is a contributory factor in 3,000 accidents a year. Pedestrians and cyclists are particularly vulnerable: when dazzled by a setting (or rising) sun, they can become invisible to motorists. The precautions to take are straightforward:
- ensure you keep your screen clean inside and out
- carry sunglasses with you
- reduce your speed appropriately
- avoid overtaking
- switch your headlights on when the sun is low.
Carry a winter kit
Most driving and safety organisations suggest a winter checklist of items to carry. Though recommendations vary, our own essential winter kit would be:
- De-icer and scraper — because using anything else, you’ll probably run out of patience before the screen’s been properly cleared.
- Torch — yes, we know there’s one on your phone, but you may need to save the battery on that.
- Warm clothes and/or blanket — if you have to wait two hours for a rescue vehicle in the freezing cold, these will come in handy.
- Warning triangle — with short winter days, it’s more likely that a breakdown or accident will happen in darkness. Warn other drivers and protect yourself and any passengers.
- Snacks — admit it, you’ve eaten the ones you had for emergencies! Time to replenish them: if you’re unlucky enough to get caught in really severe conditions, you could be stranded for a long time.
- Mobile phone and in-car recharger.
- Shovel — definitely a nuisance to carry around, but for snowy conditions in particular, it can be a life-saver.
And finally, please clean your lights
It never ceases to amaze us just how quickly our rear lights and headlights get plastered in mud. This can radically reduce the distance from which your car is visible to other road users. Giving your lights a wipe with a cloth or a piece of kitchen roll takes seconds but makes a real difference.