Date Posted: 23rd Jan 2019
Ice, snow, high winds, fog and floods are all a part of the challenge facing winter drivers. Read our top eight cold weather driving tips to stay on the straight and narrow.
Many motorists get to these cooler months and begin fretting about the coming season. They worry about driving on black ice or recovering from a skid.
They wonder about the best way to clean their car in winter, or how best to warm it up or even get it started when the temperature falls below zero.
So here is our guide to get you safely through the winter. Read these top eight tips and you will never fret about a frosty morning again.
1 How to stop on black ice
Black ice is a hazard that many motorists fear. Invisible but potentially deadly, it lurks in the shadows, makes driving hard work and, because few people are able to identify black ice, it is difficult to avoid driving over it.
The best and most obvious advice if you’re driving in freezing conditions is obviously to take it slow and steady. Stopping distances increase by a factor of 10 when there’s ice on the road.
Take it slow: ice increases stopping distances significantly Credit: Getty
Mark Lewis, director of standards for the Institute of Advanced Motorists (IAM), says: “Once you’re in a skid, it is difficult to take evasive action. Your best bet is to avoid skidding in the first place, by taking things steady and avoiding risky manoeuvres.”
2 How to recover from a skid
Let’s imagine that, despite your caution, your car goes into a skid while driving on ice and snow. The question then is how do you recover from it?
Firstly, it depends on the type of skid it is – rear or front wheels? If it is your rear wheels skidding then steer into it, but if it is the front wheels then your best chance is to lessen the steering angle and if that doesn’t work, gently brake in a straight line.
Many new cars also have an array of safety equipment designed to minimise your risk of skidding, even in inclement conditions. So if you’re in the market for a new car it may be worth looking out for features such as traction control and electronic stability control.
3 When to wash your car in winter
Winter plays havoc with a car’s well-being. The grit on the roads clogs up the wheel arches and the chassis, slowly rotting the metal and storing up problems for the long term. It also obscures headlights and number plates, exacerbating the risks of winter driving, especially in difficult conditions such as ice and snow, rain, high winds or fog.
Clean your car weekly in winter. Do it in the middle of the day and use a microfibre cloth to dry it. That way, it won’t be damp when the frost comes, so water droplets won’t freeze in place, making them nigh on impossible to scrape off the next morning.
4 How to prepare a car before driving it on a cold day
Nobody likes the sensation of clambering into a freezing car, the icebox-like temperature chilling you to the bone. So wouldn’t it be wonderful if you knew how to warm a car up before driving in the ice and snow?
With the latest technology that’s easily achieved. Heated seats and heated front windows, which feature on many cars such as the new Volvo XC60, take the chill off in a matter of minutes. Indeed, using Volvo’s On Call app, you can turn on the heater from the comfort of your home. The result? A cosy car, all ready for the off.
Plan ahead: there are measures you can take to minimise the effects of winter weather
If you’re not blessed with such technology on your car, there is one thing you must avoid: however tempting it seems, don’t pour boiling water on your icy windscreen. It will make it shatter and you won’t be going anywhere.
One cheap fix you can deploy to keep your windscreen clear, on the inside at least, is to spread shaving foam on the glass. Leave it to dry, then wipe it off. This will stop it misting up next time you climb in. Bonus tip: it also works on bathroom mirrors.
5 How often should you start your car if not in use?
When the weather turns really grim, with ice and snow or floods, road safety experts such as Mr Lewis advise not travelling at all. But that can lead to your car standing unused for days on end. So how often should you start your car when it’s not in use?
Ready to drive: start your car every other day to keep it ticking over Credit: Getty
For older cars, the best advice is to fire up the engine every other day in cold weather and drive it for five minutes. This will ensure the battery stays charged, so it can do its thing when you’re ready to use it again.
An even better option is to invest in a newer vehicle. Leasing a car (aka personal contract hire) gives you more monthly spending power, so may make it easier to afford a new car that will start first time. Then you can rely on it even after spells of inaction during winter.
6 How to check your tyre tread
One of the key features of your car is the tyres. They’re the point of contact with the road surface and when that is slippery because of ice, snow or rain, it pays to have an appropriate amount of tread. Both the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (RoSPA) and IAM recommend a minimum tread depth of 3mm – way above the legal minimum of 1.6mm.
To check your tyre tread, buy a measuring tool from your local garage or motoring retailer. This pops into the tread, giving you an accurate reading of its depth. Otherwise a common trick is to use a 20p coin. Stick it in the tread in various channels and if the outer band is visible at any point, the tyre needs changing. (The outer band measures about 3mm.)
If you’re worried about the cost of buying new tyres, these can be incorporated into the maintenance of a car leasing agreement, making it easier than ever to stay safe.
7 How to stock up for winter driving
If you’re heading out in ice, snow, high winds and fog, you need to be prepared. Stock your car with blankets, spare clothes, a thermos of tea or coffee and a fully charged mobile.
Stock up: make sure you are well prepared for any eventuality Credit: Getty
Nick Lloyd, road safety manager at RoSPA, also advises checking your car’s fluid levels. “Make sure it has enough oil and coolant so it can cope with challenging temperatures and nasty conditions,” he says.
If you run out of antifreeze, there isn’t an obvious alternative. You could use a strong concentration of alcohol and water as a very short-term fix in an emergency. But far better to keep some spare antifreeze in the boot (make sure it’s the right type for your vehicle), so it’s there when you need it.
8 How to plan your winter journey
Any journey in snow and ice, rain, high winds or fog is going to be challenging. But at Christmas, for example, you may want to visit close family and friends. So be sure to plan your trip well in advance, plotting your route, ensuring you have plenty of fuel, confirming you have breakdown insurance, and making sure your car’s maintenance is up to date.
Think ahead: if possible, try to avoid traveling in extreme conditions Credit: Getty
If you have a vehicle on a car leasing agreement, you can pay a cost-effective set monthly servicing fee as part of the costs. This saves you facing untimely repair bills and gives you the assurance that your car is in top condition, ready for winter driving.
Mark Tongue, from Select Car Leasing, says: “Driving a car that’s reliable and safe is always important, particular in harsh winter conditions. Brand new cars give you peace of mind from the latest safety features, technology and in-car equipment, ensuring you are kept safe and warm in ice and snow, rain, high winds and fog. They also come with a manufacturer’s warranty and breakdown cover, meaning winter drivers have very little to worry about.”