Your guide to… driving this winter

Whether you’re driving for pleasure or for essential journeys only, you still need your vehicle to be reliable and safe whatever the weather this winter. Here’s our guide to what to look out for on the roads in the months ahead and how you can protect yourself and your passengers from the elements while you’re in the car.

Flood risks

Roads can flood quickly from torrential downpours, high tides or rivers bursting their banks – and repairs following water damage to your car can be very expensive. Most fully comprehensive car insurance policies will cover unavoidable flood damage, but avoidable flood damage, such as if you drive in a deluged area despite knowing the risks, could prove extremely costly.

How to stay safe from flood water

If you live in an area that’s prone to flooding, check for weather warnings and even sign up for flood alerts. When there’s a risk of your locality being flooded, move vehicles to higher ground. If you’re out in your car and encounter large puddles or moving water, there are a few things to consider before driving through them.

First, weigh up the size of the problem. If it’s safe to do so, check the depth of the water you want to cross with a stick or similar object. It’s far better to get your feet wet than have water infiltrate your car or your car to start floating, which it can do in as little as one foot of water. If you discover or suspect it is too deep to cross, always find another way to get to your destination.

If the water is shallow enough – and bear in mind just six inches will reach the bottom of most cars and could cause problems – you then need to look out for any submerged objects that could cause damage and avoid them when crossing. Keep your vehicle in a low gear and the engine revs up to maintain momentum. When you’ve reached the other side of the puddle, pause to allow excess water to drain from the underneath of the vehicle – and when you start driving again, do so slowly while testing the brakes.

Snow risks

Snowy conditions present a number of challenges for drivers, such as reduced visibility during snowfall, getting stuck in snow that’s settled or drifted, and skidding on ice-covered road surfaces. For these reasons, driving in the snow should be avoided whenever possible. It’s good practice to ensure your car is ready for driving in freezing temperatures, though, and always thoroughly de-iced before setting off, even on the shortest of trips.

How to avoid issues in the snow

Driving in snow is hazardous but if you have no alternative, there are a few key rules. Use low revs, accelerate gently, change to higher gears smoothly and as soon as possible, and maintain as much as ten times your usual stopping distance. When going downhill, use low gears and avoid breaking unless necessary. Use dipped headlights in heavy snow and put your fog lights on if you can’t see 100 metres ahead, remembering to switch them off when visibility improves again.

There’s enough to concentrate on when driving in these conditions without having any unnecessary problems with your vehicle. Make sure your service record is up to date and that your battery’s in good working order. Before you set off on a winter journey, check your wipers, screen wash, antifreeze, tyres and headlights. If you need to remove snow and ice from your car, you’ll find some tips from Which? here. And don’t forget to clear snow, grit and grime from car lights, front and back.

Wind and rain risks

We’re all familiar with driving in wet and windy conditions in the UK as this could happen at any time of the year – but that doesn’t make these conditions any less dangerous. Roads will be more slippery than usual in wet weather and visibility will be reduced not only from the water falling out of the sky but from the spray thrown up by passing vehicles especially when overtaking. Added to that, strong winds can unsettle vehicles.

How to drive safely in the wet

Allow extra time for your journey so that you can slow down while on the road. Check your windscreen wiper blades (front and back) are in fully functional order and top up your screen wash before travelling. To prevent windows misting up on the inside, keep the air conditioning on throughout your trip.

Be sure you’ve got plenty of fuel for your journey too, as fuel economy will be reduced if you’re stuck in traffic or driving with lights, air con, heaters and wipers on. Driving safely is wet weather also means ensuring that your tyre tread depth meets legal requirements.

Whether the hazard is wind, rain or both, ensure you keep a safe distance from other vehicles and use headlights if visibility is seriously reduced – this isn’t just about you seeing what’s ahead, but being sure that other cars can see you too!

If it’s blowing a gale, stick to main roads so there is less chance of coming across fallen branches and debris, and keep a tight grip on the steering wheel when passing gaps between trees or buildings or when crossing bridges where you might be exposed to side winds.

Whatever conditions you’re driving in this winter, always take some extra warm clothing,food and water with you. You should also carry an emergency breakdown kit including a fully charged mobile phone, blanket, torch, first aid kit and high-visibility jacket.

In addition, ensure that your car insurance is adequate for your needs this winter. If you don’t already have Saga Car Insurance, you might be interested to know that you can get 10% cashback with our exclusive offer for current Saga insurance customers. Our policies are unique products designed by us specifically for our customers. They are underwritten by a number of carefully selected insurers that, like us, are committed to providing high standards of quality and service. Find out more.

Don’t miss our article on getting your home winter-ready too!

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