Winter Driving Tips
Navigating UK roads in winter can be unpredictable, with weather conditions changing rapidly. Whether it’s your first time behind the wheel or you’re an experienced driver, staying safe is a top priority.
In this article, we’ll look at what it takes to prepare you and your car for winter. When it comes to safety on icy roads, there’s no such thing as being too prepared.
Table of Contents
How Do I Prepare My Car for Winter Conditions?
Getting your car ready for winter is crucial for both your safety and your car’s longevity. Simple checks and updates can significantly improve your winter driving experience:
- Check Car Battery: Cold weather is a notorious battery drainer. Before winter sets in, have your battery tested by a professional to ensure it has enough power to start your car in cold conditions.
- Fill Up on Fuel: Keeping your tank at least half full during winter can prevent the water in your fuel line from freezing, a common issue that can stop your car from starting. Additionally, a fuller tank adds weight to your vehicle, which can improve traction.
- Check Tyres: Tyres are your car’s only contact with the road, so their condition is paramount. Check for proper inflation per the manufacturer’s specifications because tyre pressure and air temperature drop. Consider investing in winter tyres to provide better grip in cold, snowy, or icy conditions.
- Fluids Topped Up: Fluid levels are your car’s lifeblood. Ensure that your antifreeze/coolant mix is correct to prevent freezing and boiling over. Your windshield washer fluid should be a winter blend with de-icer properties to improve visibility during snow or sleet.
- Check Brakes and Lights: Your brakes should be responsive and in top condition, as stopping distances can increase on icy roads. Lights are essential for visibility — both seeing and being seen. Make sure all lights and signals are working, and lenses are clean.
- Check your Wipers: Ensure your windscreen wipers are in good condition to deal with increased rain. Be sure to replace blades if they are worn to maintain clear visibility during adverse weather conditions.
Some additional checks for Winter Driving:
- Jump-Starting Skills: It’s handy to know how to jump-start your car in case the battery gives up on a cold morning. Remember to keep a set of jumper cables in your boot.
- Four-Wheel Drive Check: If you have a four-wheel drive, ensure it works well. It’s a lifesaver for getting a better grip on slippery roads.
- Refine Your Driving Style: Take it easy with the accelerator and brakes, and keep your steering smooth. Knowing how to handle a skid can also make a big difference.
- Exhaust System Check: Keep an eye out for any exhaust leaks. Carbon monoxide sneaking into the car is dangerous, particularly when sitting with the engine running to warm up.
Planning to Drive in Winter
Assess Whether You Need to Drive
Before setting off on your journey, it’s vital to question the importance of your trip. The winter weather can quickly make a routine drive dangerous. Consider the potential hazards, and if your travel can be delayed, opt for safety, and stay put.
If you must travel, be aware of the increased risks and be prepared for a slower pace. Always monitor weather reports and heed travel advisories — they are issued for your safety.
Proper planning can make a significant difference in the safety and efficiency of your winter travel. Check the weather forecast and road conditions before you leave.
Plan to use main roads, as these are more likely to be cleared and salted regularly. Allow extra time for traffic and slower speeds, and have a contingency plan, including alternative routes.
Clearing Windows and Lights
Visibility is compromised in winter weather, so taking the time to defrost and clear your windows thoroughly is non-negotiable.
Start your car a few minutes early to use the defroster to tackle any frost or fogging. A squeegee can quickly sort out the inside mist if you are in a rush.
Take some time to remove any snow and ice with a scraper. For icy exteriors, as much as it is tempting to pour boiling water directly onto your windscreen, the extreme contrast in temperature can cause the glass to crack. Instead, you can fit a frost cover the night before, or a quick de-icer spray will do wonders to get you ready to go in no time.
Do the same for all your lights. Remember, it’s not just about your ability to see — it’s equally important that other drivers can see you.
Ensuring Your Car is Visible
In winter’s darker days, making sure your car stands out is crucial. Use your headlights during daylight if snow, rain, or overcast skies limit visibility.
Reflective decals can enhance your car’s visibility. Regularly check that your vehicle’s lighting system is in complete working order; this includes headlights, brake lights, turn signals, and taillights. Being seen is just as important as seeing in winter driving safety.
Warming Up Your Car
Before setting off, give your car some time to warm up – warming up your car properly might seem like a chore, but it’ll make driving much safer. It will also reduce the risk of damaging your engine.
When you first put the key in the ignition, turn it, but don’t start the engine. This gives the electrical system a chance to wake up.
Turn on the engine and let it run for a bit; don’t hit the road immediately. Blasting the heater straight away is tempting, but hold off for the sake of your engine and the environment.
During this warm-up, avoid turning on other systems like seat warmers and radios – you want all power to go to your engine. After a minute or two, you’re good to go.
Top Tips for Driving in Extreme Weather
Driving on snow and Ice
Driving in snow can be daunting, but you can take a few simple steps to stay safe.
- When driving on icy roads, keeping a reasonable distance from the car in front is essential. You’ll need that extra space to stop safely, so don’t tailgate.
- Driving too fast is a recipe for disaster – in snowy and icy conditions, you need more time to slow down. Even if you’re in a rush, reduce your speed. Driving slower gives you better control and more time to react if your car starts slipping or sliding.
- Avoid sudden actions. Be gentle with your brakes, as sharp braking might cause skidding, so ease into them gently. Likewise, avoid sudden accelerating – this may lead to wheel spinning.
- Be mindful of gear changes. Pulling away in second gear helps stop your wheels from spinning on ice. When going downhill, dropping down a gear can help you stay in control without leaning too hard on your brakes.
- Don’t panic if you skid or slide. Do not slam on the brakes; instead, straighten the steering to allow the tyres to regain grip. If the car’s rear starts to drift, steer in the direction you are sliding to apply the opposite lock.
- If you get stuck in snow whilst driving in snow, try to move it as far off the road as possible. If the car starts to slide back down an incline, crank the steering to full lock and apply the handbrake to lock the rear wheels, while the fronts will build a bank of snow to slow the descent.
Driving in heavy rain
If you can, it’s best to avoid driving in heavy rain, but if you must take the journey, take it easy; slowing down helps you keep control on wet roads, and be sure to leave plenty of room between you and the car in front in case you need to stop quickly.
Remember to also have your headlights on for better visibility.
Dealing with floods? Here’s what you should know:
- Steer Clear of Floodwater: Looks can be deceiving; even shallow water can be detrimental as your car’s air filter may be low down and could suck in water.
- Find Another Route: If you come across a flooded street, it’s best to turn back and take a different route.
- Slow and Steady Wins the Race: If you must cross shallow water, go slow to avoid water getting into your exhaust.
- Brake Check: Once out of the water, test your brakes to ensure they’re still working fine.
Driving in High Winds
Driving in high winds requires your full attention. Make sure you’ve got a firm grip on the steering wheel, as sudden gusts can catch you off guard, especially on open roads or bridges.
Larger vehicles are more affected by the wind, so take extra care if you drive one. Watch out for cyclists and motorcyclists who might be unstable in the wind, and be vigilant for any debris on the road, too.
Pulling over and waiting for conditions to improve is perfectly sensible if the wind becomes too much. Safety always comes first.
Driving in Low Visibility
It’s crucial to ease off the accelerator in mist or fog and give yourself time to spot and respond to any risks.
The Highway Code stipulates that you must use your headlights when you can’t see more than 100m in front of you. You can also use your fog lights to improve visibility. Remember to switch your fog lights off when conditions improve to avoid dazzling other drivers.
Stay alert and drive carefully until the fog lifts and you can see clearly.
Winter Driving Myths
There are plenty of myths about winter driving safety. Here are some of the most persistent ones:
Myth: Winter Tyres Aren’t Necessary
The truth is that winter tyres are a game-changer in cold conditions. They’re made to grip better on icy roads and can shorten your stopping distance when it matters most. They’re worth considering if you drive in areas where the temperature frequently dips below 7°C.
Myth: Four-wheel drive Equals Complete Safety
While four-wheel drive can give you better traction for starting on slippery roads, it doesn’t give you superpowers when it comes to stopping. All vehicles rely on their tyres for braking, and a four-wheel drive can slide on ice just like any other car.
Myth: Cruise Control is Safe for Winter Driving
Using cruise control in icy or snowy conditions isn’t safe. It can prevent you from reacting quickly to sliding or skidding since you’re not actively managing your speed. When the roads are in poor condition, you must be in total control, which means keeping your foot ready on the pedals.
Myth: Reducing Air Pressure in Tyres Increases Traction
Under-inflating your tyres could do quite the opposite. You can keep on top of your tyre pressure with a digital tyre pressure monitor and inflator and ensure the pressure is correct as stipulated by the manufacturer.
What Should I Carry in My Car for Winter Driving?
When you’re getting ready for winter driving, it’s wise to pack some essentials in your car. Despite your best efforts, sometimes things don’t go to plan, and you could find yourself broken down.
You’ll need essentials like food, water, blankets, and a first aid kit in your car. But people often forget to pack handy items like these:
- Phone Charger: Keep it in your car to make sure your phone’s always ready to use.
- Battery-Powered Radio: Handy for when your phone is not getting a signal, you can still catch traffic updates and weather alerts.
- Clear Plastic Bags: These are great for keeping your shoes dry if you need to walk in the snow.
- Reflective Vest: If you need to get out on a busy road, this helps other drivers spot you.
- Kitty Litter: Sounds weird, but it’s great for giving your tyres extra grip if stuck on ice.
- Flashlight: A lifesaver if you’re stuck in the dark or need to change a tyre.
Book your Winter Service Today
As we wrap up, it’s vital to remember that safe winter driving starts with you. Take the time to practice and get comfortable driving in various winter conditions. Limit distractions inside the car, too — ensuring focus is vital when conditions are tough.
Of course, the foundation of safe winter driving is a well-maintained and suitable vehicle. To make sure your car is winter-ready, book it in for a 12-point visual winter health check at one of our Aftersales centres.
Our experts at T W White and Sons are always on hand should you need further advice or want to order items like winter tyres for your car. Get in touch today.
Navigating UK roads in winter can be unpredictable, with weather conditions changing rapidly. Whether it’s your first time behind the wheel or you’re an experienced driver, staying safe is a top priority. In this article, we’ll look at what it takes to prepare you and your car for winter. When it comes to safety on […]
As the weather finally starts to turn and we head out of winter, it’s time for a little car maintenance. But why is it important to change from winter to summer tyres, and when’s the best time to do this? While your tyres might not be something you think about often, an awful lot of […]
Parking Guide Infographic – An infographic by T W White & Sons NOTE: This article has been updated to include a description of the bay parking instructions. It was originally posted on 10th April 2013. Ever found yourself going backward and forwards as you hold up a whole queue of drivers while you try and […]