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Driving in the winter - Things to check

To ensure smooth and trouble free winter driving you should check the following things.

Battery - Get your battery checked at least once per year. An average car battery will last for approximately 5 years; most garages will offer you a free battery check so there's no reason for your breakdown to be due to battery failure. To maximise the life of your battery ensure you do not over use your car's electrics; turn the fan speed down and remember to turn off the rear heated window when it's done it's job. If you care fails to start due to poor battery condition, ensure that your activities that could drain the battery power are minimised, such as lights, wipers, music, and the fan. Try repeatedly turning the key for five second periods, with a gap of thirty seconds in between.

Antifreeze - An antifreeze to water ratio of 50/50 should be used in the winter, this will protect your car in temperatures of as low as -34c, far colder than you would ever expect to see in the UK. Check the levels at least once per month, if your unsure of the correct level, consult your manual. Antifreeze is very cheap to buy, costing only a few pounds, but the cost of repairing the damage caused by not using it could run into hundreds of pounds. If the radiator freezes your car will quickly begin to overheat during the first few miles of the journey, if this happens, stop the car immediately and wait for the radiator to thaw out to avoid any further damage.

Tyres - Ensure you have a minimum tread depth of 2mm on all of your tyres, although this is a minimum, we would highly recommend at least 3mm. Winter is the time of year when your tread helps your car stick to the road. Ensure your tyres are correctly inflated, over/under inflating your tyres will lead to uneven wear or cracked walls. Reducing your tyre pressure does not improve grip, this is a myth, you will instead increase driving instability and damage your tyres. Check you're manual if you are not sure of the correct tyre pressure for your car.

Ensure you have a working jack, correctly inflated spare wheel, and wheel brace in your car, and that you are able to change a tyre if necessary. Although breakdown recovery services will come and do this for you, they will charge you for the privilege.

Preparing to travel

Although it might sound obvious, get out of bed five or ten minutes earlier than normal, this will give you the extra time needed to de-ice your car. Ensure you completely clear all of your windows of ice, failure to do so can lead to either an accident, or a hefty fine and points on your license.

Use your cigarette lighter to warm a frozen lock, but never breathe on it as the moisture in your breathe will freeze inside the lock and make the problem worse.

Ensure you carry the following essential items as they could be very useful; ice scraper, deicer, fully charged mobile phone, torch, tow rope, blanket, warm clothes and shoes, and an old rug to put under your wheels if you get stuck.

Plan your routes in advance to include major roads as these are more likely have been gritted and be clear. Accept the inevitable - you might be late. The best way to remedy this is to leave early where possible. Put safety first and accept that you may be late; it's better to arrive late than never at all, this is unless the the weather is so bad that you are not able to travel at all.

Driving in snow & ice

Driving on an icy or snow covered road is can be very dangerous. It catches people out, especially when the weather turns and you can find yourself in a dangerous situation which you can not prevent from becoming an accident. Remember; stopping distances can be up to 10 times longer in icy conditions.

Slow and gentle manures are the key to success in these conditions, and pay attention to what's happening several cars ahead, not just the one in front. This will allow you to react to a situation much more efficiently.

Big boots might be good for walking in the snow, but they are no good for driving in the snow. Try to drive wearing smaller shoes, preferably one which are dry.

When driving up a hill; avoid stopping on the hill, as you may get stuck. By leaving a sufficient gap between yourself and the car in front, you should be able to approach and tackle the hill at a constant speed without the need to stop. If you are driving down a hill ensure that you slow down before the hill and maintain a slow speed by using your lower gears. Try to avoid the use of the breaks as this will increase the chances of a skid and be sure to leave sufficient distance between yourself and the vehicle in front, just in case you can't stop. 

Floods & surface water

Before traveling through a body of water, firstly ensure it is not too deep for your car. Drive through it slowly, and at a constant speed, with relatively high revs, as this will avoid the water from flooding your exhaust. Be sure to test your breaks as soon as you can, and only if it is safe to do so. Do not attempt to drive through fast moving water as your car could easily be swept away.

You should never drive quickly through standing water as it is dangerous. The force of your car against the still body of water will lift your car off the road (this is known as aquaplaning), causing your vehicle to quickly change speed and/or direction, which can cause a serious accident. If even an egg cup amount of water makes it's way through the engines air intake, this can cause hundreds of pounds worth of damage. And the bad news is that this is quite common as the the air intake is normally low down at the front of the engine, these problems are more likely to cause problems in diesel or turbo charged cars.

If you break down in the rain, do not leave your bonnet up while your wait for assistance to arrive, as this will dampen the engine and make it more difficult to restart.


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