Things To Check When Driving in Winter
The colder months of the year are rapidly approaching, like it or not. We’re lucky in the UK that more often than not our winters are wet and mild rather than snowy and icy. But that doesn’t mean we are exempt from getting our cars ready for winter motoring. Preparations don’t have to be time-consuming or expensive, but a bit of time spent preparing now can save more expense and inconvenience down the line.
Address Issues Now
If your car has a weird knocking sound which has been coming and going all summer, or sometimes takes a couple of attempts to get it started in the morning, don’t wait until the freezing temperatures kick in to get your vehicle looked at. If your car is due to have its annual MOT check soon, any serious problems will be picked up during the inspection. Even if your car does have a current and valid MOT certificate, it’s still your responsibility to ensure that the car is roadworthy and safe. If it isn’t, you could be risking a fine. Any problems with the engine are only going to get worse in cold weather, so look around now for a trusted mechanic to listen to those weird noises and solve any other problems now. It’s only going to cost you more money if you ignore minor faults and allow them to develop into bigger faults.
Do You Have an Emergency Kit?
If you are unfortunate enough to break down in very cold weather or get stuck in a snowstorm, do you have what you need in the car to keep you going until help gets to you? Motoring organizations recommend keeping a small holdall or rucksack in the back of the car in case of an emergency. Most of the things which you should put in your bag are things which you probably have in the house anyway. Think about including in your kit the following items:
- Torch and batteries – this can be really useful when you’re trying to change a tire on the side of the road on a dark winter’s night.
- Warm clothing – the temperature can quickly drop when the engine stops running. Pack a heavy coat, extra jumper, scarf, or a blanket which you can wrap up in as you wait.
- Boots – If you have to abandon the car and walk, you don’t want to be doing that in high-heeled office shoes or flimsy dress shoes. Keep a pair of sturdy shoes, boots, or wellies in the boot.
- Jumpstart leads – A flat battery is one of the main reasons for winter break downs. If you have jump start leads, all you need is the help of another motorist to get you moving again.
- Snacks – don’t pack perishable items that might go off if you don’t use them. High energy snacks like cereal bars, dried fruit or nuts will keep you going while you wait for help to get to you. A bottle of water is a good idea too.
- Shovel – if you do get stuck in the snow, having a shovel can make it a lot easier to dig yourself out and get going again.
As well as your annual MOT check and servicing, there are other checks which you should be in the habit of doing regularly on your car, and even more so in winter. When it’s icy and salt and grit are spread on the roads, we go through more windscreen wash to keep our view clear. There are no laws around what sort of fluid you have to use in your windscreen wash. Although plain water will do the job in the summer months, overwinter you risk it freezing up completely. Choose either a concentrated or ready to use wash liquid which will stay liquid at lower temperatures. While you’re under the bonnet topping up the windscreen wash, check the oil level too. If you start to notice that your car is burning through oil much more quickly than previously, this could be a sign that something is wrong with the engine. Get a mechanic to look at it before it gets any worse.
In other parts of Europe which experience more prolonged cold periods in winter, it’s standard for motorists to change to winter tires in October, and back to summer tires in March or April when the weather starts to improve again. In the UK, this is probably a precaution too far, unless you live in a very remote area and don’t see a gritting lorry all winter. For those of us who live in towns and cities, it’s an unnecessary expense. Snow chains are the other option, and these are easy to fit and then remove when needed.
However, while we’re on the topic of tires, the start of winter is a good time to pay a bit of attention to your wheels. Check the tire tread depth, remembering that the legal minimum is 1.6mm. Any less than that, and you risk a fine and points on your license for every tire which doesn’t come up to scratch. Check the tires also for patches or uneven wear, which could indicate a problem with the balance of your wheels. Shopping around for tires is a good idea but don’t always plump for the cheapest option.
Dealing With Winter Roads
When it’s icy, wet, foggy or a combination of all three, leave more time for your journey. Anticipate that there may be delays or traffic jams, and factor in a potential delay. Try to leave more space between you and the car in front as braking distances are increased in icy or wet conditions. Check that your lights are all in working order, and use them when appropriate. Many drivers choose to leave sidelights on all winter as this helps you be spotted easily in dull conditions. If it’s snowy or icy, steady, slow driving is key. Avoid sharp braking and acceleration, and you may find that your car copes better if you try to start in second gear rather than in first.