We have friends who live in Canada and every year without fail they get snow. And when it starts falling, they get out their snow gear and get on with it. The roads get cleared, the wrong type of leaves don’t fall on the train tracks, and nobody complains about the weather.
So when we get a few flakes in the sky here in the UK they don't understand the high level of hysteria that causes us to want to batten down the hatches and hibernate until Spring. That’s partly because they don’t understand that complaining about the weather is a national sport, and partly because they’re prepared for it and we are not.
Looking ahead there’s no actual snow forecast for this region until well into the new year, but there's plenty of cold weather ahead and it pays to be at least a little prepared for it.
Here are our top tips for driving in cold weather:
Driving a few miles an hour slower than normal will give you valuable extra milliseconds to react to hazards, and account for any lost traction you may experience on icy roads.
In general you should aim to keep your car in as high a gear as possible which will help you avoid spinning the wheels as you accelerate. If you drive an automatic check to see if there’s a ‘winter mode’, which will change you through the gears at lower revs, giving you the same effect.
Some types of road surface behave differently when they get cold. The surface of bridges, for example, can freeze before regularly tarmac’d roads and this sudden change in temperature and iciness can take you by surprise if you’re not expecting it.
You will also notice that portions of the road that have not yet had the morning sunlight on them are frostier than the parts that have, and once again these changes can cause sudden alterations in your grip.
Try to avoid heavy use of the brake and gas pedal as this makes it much harder to maintain grip in icy or wet conditions. When you’re approaching a sharp bend that requires you to reduce your speed, try to get as much of the braking done before you reach it. This increases the chances of your tyres maintaining traction whilst you corner.
When you’re pulling away from a standing start, using 2nd gear may help you to avoid spinning the wheels as they struggle to gain traction.
Your stopping distances will increase when the roads have less grip and you have poor visibility taking longer to react, so add extra distance between you and the car in front to accommodate for this. If there’s actual snow on the ground then these become even more important, but even with cold or icy conditions driving is potentially far more hazardous so take extra care!
When you’re driving downhill it’s even more important to leave extra space between you and the car in front. You have more momentum when travelling down steeper gradients than you do on the flat, which means it takes more force and more time to slow down your vehicle. Try using a lower gear and use the engine to dictate your speed rather than applying the brakes.
To find out the recommended stopping distance, check out the RAC website.
Make sure you have a ‘survival pack’ in your boot when you’re going out for longer journeys, especially in the snow. Extra warm layers, high vis jackets, a torch and power pack to recharge phone batteries, some bottled water and snacks, a small shovel and a first aid kit are all good starting points.
Not only will you and other drivers be driving more slowly, it also takes extra time to clear windscreens in the morning. So plan this in to avoid having to rush on the roads.
Your tyres are the only points of contact you have between you and the road, so make sure they have at least 3 mm of grip. 1.6 mm is the legal limit, but performance drops off noticeably below 3 mm.
Here's a recent blog from us which highlights how to check your tyres and what to look out for.
Oil, fuel, screen wash and anti-freeze should all be checked before setting off on a long journey, and as a regular check throughout the winter.
Click here to watch our video on checking the fluids on your car.
Why not bring your car in for our free Winter Health Check? We’ll do all of these tests and more for you, and then give you a report at the end to let you know how your car is doing.
There’s no obligation to have any work done, and it’s no substitute for an MOT or service, but it will give you peace of mind that you and your family are driving in a safe vehicle.