Winter driving tips for motorists in the UK
Whilst we might not have to put up with the long, cold winters that our North American counterparts endure, we still need to reassess our driving and car maintenance practices when the chillier months set in.
This winter driving checklist should help to keep you safe when the weather gets icy.
Battery and electrics
Battery failure is the most common cause of winter breakdowns as the extra demand on it from lights, heaters and wipers take its toll.
If you don’t use your car for days at a time, it’s worth a regular overnight trickle charge to give the battery a bit of extra help.
Start the engine before turning on the lights, heaters and wipers and other electrical systems.
Save the battery’s energy – switch off the rear screen heater if it doesn’t do it automatically and turn off the fan heater once you’ve got the car warmed up and windows are clear.
If the engine doesn’t start first time, try again in short bursts and give the battery a rest of about 30 seconds between each attempt.
How old is your battery? They rarely last longer than five years so if it’s reaching retirement age, best to change it before setting off on a long winter journey.
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Most modern cars use a long life antifreeze but it’s important to get the concentration right so if you’re not sure, get advice from your garage because a frozen engine block will cost hundreds of pounds to fix.
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Apart from remote, rural areas affected by heavy snow, winter tyres and snow chains are rarely needed in the UK. However, make sure your normal tyres have at least 3mm of tread.
Check your tyre pressure every couple of weeks, when the car and engine is cold, for a more accurate reading before the air has expanded and don’t be tempted to reduce pressure for better grip.
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Don’t let it get under a quarter of a tank – your journey may take longer than expected in winter.
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Locks & doors
A smear of polish or Vaseline on rubber door seals will stop them freezing shut and a squirt of WD40 works on locks.
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You can be fined for driving while your vision is obscured, so allow extra time for windscreens to clear properly and scrape snow and ice off wing mirrors, roofs and windows before setting off. Keep an ice scraper in the car for this so you don't freeze your fingers and snap your credit card!
Lights are not just so you can see but so you can be seen too. Make sure your lights are clean and carry spare bulbs.
Low winter sun can be blinding so don’t forget your sunglasses.
Keep the windscreen clean inside and out. The constant use of wipers on snow and slush makes it smeary; replace wiper blades if necessary.
Don’t leave wipers in the ‘on’ position when you turn off the engine – if they freeze to the screen it can cause damage.
Use screen wash. Normally use a 50-50 mix and always keep some extra in the car when travelling.
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Use common sense
It makes sense to anticipate delays in bad weather, possible diversions and, if you do break down, perhaps a longer wait for help.
Along with the usual essentials such as a first aid kit, warning triangle, high visibility vest, mobile phone and torch, some extra winter help may come in handy.
An old carpet or thick cardboard in case you get stuck and need a bit of extra traction under the wheels could be handy, along with a tow rope and battery jump leads.
It’s sensible to take bottled water, snacks and a flask of hot tea or coffee and obviously warm, waterproof clothes and sturdy shoes - even if you’re en route to a cocktail party!
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Stopping distances are ten times longer in ice and snow.
Pulling away in second gear gently will help avoid wheel spin but if you have an automatic, check the handbook for advice on which mode to select for winter driving when you don’t want to rely on the brakes so much.
Slow and steady is the safest way – particularly up and down hills where you don’t want to stop-start.
Apply the brakes gently and if the car starts to slide, take your foot off the brake immediately.
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