Prepare an emergency winter car kit
One of the most important things you can do before you set out on a journey this winter is to thoroughly check your vehicle before you set off. No matter the weather, carry some items such as a first-aid kit, road map and reflective warning sign. However, in winter make sure you also have the following:
- Ice scraper and de-icer
- Torch with spare batteries/wind-up torch
- Jump-start cables
- Food and a warm drink in a flask
- Sunglasses for the glare from the snow
- Mobile phone charger
- Warm clothes and blankets
Choose the right set of winter tyres
Check the condition of your tyres to make sure that the tyre tread is deep enough. Use this handy RAC tyre tread guide if necessary. Check the tyre pressure often, and make sure to look out for any splits or bulges.
If you live in an area at high risk of snow, consider buying winter tyres or snow socks which give your vehicle greater traction and control.
Car screenwash, wiper blades and lights
Make sure you have enough washer fluid in the tank, ensuring the concentration is suitable for cold conditions in the winter. Not all variants and brands are the same so look for the temperature it protects down to. The minimum protection you want is down to -35°C at a dilution of one part washer fluid, to one part water.
It’s essential to keep wiper blades working in cold months for when it rains or snows. They can become stiff, or frozen to the glass in winter, so take care not to break them when freeing them up.
Check regularly that all external and internal lights are working. It’s key to ensuring both you and other drivers are safe, especially when light levels are low.
Charge your car battery
One of the most common reasons our breakdown partner, the RAC gets called out in winter for is for flat batteries. They run down quicker in colder temperatures.
As far as vehicle maintenance goes, checking your battery is one of the most straightforward tasks to undertake by using a car battery tester. You will need to purchase a battery tester – some just show a green or red light for a charged or uncharged battery, whilst others offer a voltage read-out.
A reading of less than 12.4 volts is generally a sign that the battery needs to be charged, but always refer to the manual. It is recommended that you check your car battery at least once a week during winter and charge it if required.
Engine coolant and antifreeze
Ensuring that the level of coolant is between the minimum and maximum markers should be part your routine car maintenance. However, in winter it’s also important to make sure that there’s sufficient antifreeze in the coolant. Have a look at your handbook, browse tutorials online or get a local garage to check the strength. Anti-freeze is cheap while damage from a frozen engine can be very expensive to put right.
How to drive safely in the winter (snow and ice)
If there is a storm approaching, snow on the road or icy conditions outside, first consider if your journey is necessary. If you’re unsure, a good place to start is the Met Office Cold Weather Alert website which runs from 1 November to 31 March every year. If the warning level is yellow, amber or red, or police have closed roads near you, think twice before heading out.
Another useful resource is the Highways Agency site where you can check for congestion on major roads.
Before you set off
- Give yourself plenty of time to get to your destination, as there may be diversions in place due to adverse weather
- The nights are darker in the winter, so prepare for less light
- Clear your car of snow. It’s a legal requirement to clear all windows of snow and ice before driving. Also make sure to remove snow from the car body so it doesn’t fly into the path of other vehicles or pedestrians
- Make sure you have plenty of fuel to lower the risk of getting stranded, especially if you’re planning on making a journey in a remote area
Driving on icy and snowy roads
- Drive slowly - Taking the time to spot patches of ice or snow whilst driving can make all the difference, especially if you don’t have winter tyres equipped
- Use a higher gear - Travelling at lower speeds in higher gears will give you more traction and better handling. Try to brake as gently as possible to avoid skidding
- Keep your distance - Stopping distances can be up to ten times longer in winter conditions than in dry conditions. Don’t rely on traction control and ABS alone
Black ice is extremely dangerous and is not actually black at all. It’s a thin layer of transparent ice that sits on the road surface and is extremely hard for the eye to detect.
Braking or stopping the car on a stretch of black ice is incredibly hard. Our breakdown partner, RAC recommends you don’t hit the brakes. Instead maintain keep the wheel straight and maintain speed.
Recovering from a skid
Skidding whilst driving can be a scary experience. Try to remain calm and recover control of your car. Take your foot off both the accelerator and brake and continue to steer in the direction you want to take.
Driving in heavy rain or a storm
What is aquaplaning?Increased surface water can increase the risk of aquaplaning, which is when a vehicle continues to move after the brake has been applied. Reduce your speed and keep an eye out for excess surface water on the road.
Wind whilst driving
If the wind is particularly strong, reduce your speed as sudden gusts could impact both your driving and braking ability. Obviously the more exposed the road is the more likely your car will be affected by the wind.
Allow for other road users
Being hit by wind can mean your car is pushed off course. Pay extra attention to other road users, especially pedestrians, cyclists and motorcyclists. If you drive a motorcycle yourself, try to avoid driving in high winds as you are more likely to be blown off course.
Keep your distance
Just as with icy conditions, it’s important to keep your distance. Storms and wind can affect handling and your vehicle may not respond or behave as you expect it to.
Breakdown cover, insurance and claims
Having breakdown cover is invaluable if you break down in bad winter weather.
Remember to take your breakdown telephone help-line number with you on all journeys. If you’re affected by snow, storms or high winds and need help with making a claim, MORE THAN claims helplines are available 24 hours a day.