Winter is here, weather conditions are becoming more inclement, events such as the ‘Beast From The East’ are nearly commonplace, but we all still need to travel and get around. Winter driving is essential.
So what should you do to make yourself ready for the ice, wind and snow? We’ve put together the ultimate winter driving preparation guide to make sure you’re ready for anything.
What to pack in your car for winter?
There are a few essentials you should chuck in your boot around early December, you may not need them, but they take up little space and as the Scout motto goes: Be Prepared.
The main winter driving essentials are to help if you get stranded, rarely do you hear of anyone dying in their car due to being stuck, but how often do you see scenes of motorists snarled up on motorways in thick snow for the night? You want to be warm and comfortable if that happens.
One thing that every other guide seems to miss or not cover, it’s a simple one but making sure your car is topped up before any wintery journey is a must.
You never know if you may be diverted, or get stuck for hours on end. Fill up before you make that trip.
These are the foil type blankets you see marathon runners wear after they’ve slogged it out over 26 miles. In their packed form they’re barely bigger or thicker than a wallet; they’re a small, light product so make sure you carry five or so in your car. They could well save your life if you were to get stranded.
You can also double this up with a regular synthetic blanket, these take up far more space so maybe take one along if there’s going to be heavy snow.
Glass Hammer & Seatbelt Cutter
This is something you should always carry in your car, preferably in your driver’s door pocket, so it’s within easy reach.
You can purchase numerous glass hammer, seatbelt cutter combos, it will either save your life if you’re involved in a bad accident, or it could well save another motorist if you happen upon a crash.
Another small item that will help you out if you get stuck is a torch. If you need to check on damage to your car, change a wheel, or fix something on a dark night, you’ll be struggling to try to use the tiny LED on your phone.
Ideally, you want to put some high protein bars in the boot of your car, the type mountaineers or endurance cyclists love to nosh on. These will give you all the calories you need in an emergency or survival situation. They usually have long use by dates, so you can buy them once and they’ll last you a few years.
Now you don’t need to keep this in your car all winter. Keep an eye on the weather if you’re making a long journey and only throw it in the car if snow is forecast over the time you’re away.
The little foldable snow shovels are all well and good, but nothing will shift snow and cut through ice quicker than a builder’s shovel.
Powerbank / Battery Pack
Many powerbank’s or battery packs have the ability to jump-start your car these days, so it could well get you out of two tricky situations. Duracell even make one that holds charge for up to a year.
There’s nothing worse than being in the middle of nowhere with 3% battery. Also, areas with low signal kill mobile phone batteries as they’ll continuously search for a signal.
If you don’t have a battery pack that’s capable of jump starting, throw in some jump cables too.
First Aid Kit
One of these should be in your car all year round, if it isn’t then shame on you. They take up precious little room and will contain everything you need to patch up small cuts while out and about to slings and wound dressings if anything more serious happens.
Again this should be standard kit that stays in the back of your car all year round. It’s vital you can be seen if you break down at night. A few quid spent on a reflective jacket may save your life.
Another winter essential, a decent heavy-duty ice scraper. Preferably one that’s man enough to clear thick snow from your windscreen too.
In colder temperatures, you need a screen wash that won’t freeze. Otherwise, you can’t clear your windows because your washer fluid is frozen solid. It’s also not great for your car if this happens, water expands when it freezes, so can easily break your washer pump or cause the washer fluid chamber to crack.
To prevent this, buy a screen wash with a low freezing point, these are mostly the undiluted ones. Use them neat, and you should be good to around the -20 degrees mark.
Yes, its old school, but they still make paper maps for a reason. You can get a far better idea of where you are on a map compared to a sat-nav or your phone. A trusty road map also doesn’t need battery power to work. Buy one and put it in your boot with the rest of the gear, you never know when you may need it.
How to drive in winter
Winter can throw all manner of challenges at us motorists, from the clocks changing, to ice, rain and snow. Here’s how to deal with them.
Night driving tips
With the clocks going back many of us start our day in darkness and end our day in darkness, which means commuting in low light conditions.
Make sure you keep your lights clean, the amount of motorists that neglect to wash their car in winter for weeks on end is astonishing. Your lights are what keep you visible to other road users, even if the rest of your vehicle is covered in road grime give your front and rear lights a clean before setting off.
Another thing that many drivers fail to realise is that over time light bulbs degrade, the amount of light they produce starts to drop, this is called lumen depreciation. LED lights also suffer from this, so it’s worth replacing older bulbs every five years or so even if they haven’t failed.
Bulb technology is also ever changing, the bulbs your car was fitted with when new won’t have the same output as the latest Philips White Vision ones will give you. Some aftermarket bulbs can give you more than 150% the brightness of OEM ones.
Older cars often have issues with plastic headlights clouding over with age, it happens if they’re sat in direct sunlight. There are a number of DIY kits on the market to fix this, not only will your car look better but the light levels coming out of the headlights will also increase.
Make sure you switch your lights on around an hour before sunset to give you the best chance of being seen.
Eyesight is another critical factor and something most of us tend to neglect. While you may have been able to read a number plate from 20 metres away when you passed your test, can you still do the same now?
You should have your eyes tested at least every two years.
If you wear glasses or contact lenses, make sure you wear them for night driving or keep a spare pair in your car just in case you forget them. There are also lenses that are specifically designed to cut down glare and reflections in low light, so if you drive a lot, it may be worth investing.
Being dazzled by oncoming lights is another factor that increases with the shorter daylight hours, and with the advent of LED and laser headlights even regular beams can become blinding.
Whatever you do don’t look at the oncoming light, you can end up like a rabbit in the headlights and focus purely on those becoming drawn toward them without realising. Instead, you want to look to the left-hand edge of the road ahead. Keep an eye on the white line or kerb for a few seconds until the car has passed.
Make sure you’re not dazzling others either, this means making sure your headlights are adjusted correctly. Most modern cars can change this based on the number of people or weight in your car. The little adjuster is often found to the right-hand side of the steering wheel on your dash. Take a look at your manual and see what it should be set to.
If you’re using high beams on country lanes, keep your hand on the wheel and be ready to flick them off if there’s a car ahead.
Different roads, different lighting
As we’ve mentioned country roads are nearly always pitch black. They’re also the place where fatalities are most likely to happen, 50% of fatal crashes occur on B roads. Partly that’s because of the ‘golden hour’, that’s the 60 minutes that often prove vital to saving lives after a major accident.
It takes longer for emergency services to get to you out into the sticks, couple that with a lack of lighting, hedgerows and infrequent traffic mean you may not actually be found for quite some time after an accident.
Bear that in mind the next time you’re speeding down a country lane at night.
Motorways, dual carriageways, towns and cities are often well lit. You still need your lights on and keep an eye out for cars in lesser lit areas where street lighting may be switched off or not working.
Snow Driving Tips
Snow is one of the trickiest situations for drivers in the UK to deal with, we often only get it once or twice a year, and many motorists simply don’t have enough experience to deal with it. In turn, this leads to many car insurance calls.
Slow is safe
You need to remember that grip levels are very low in snowy conditions, it’s akin to driving with slick tyres in the rain. So accelerate and decelerate slowly, make no sudden punches on the pedals and basically drive as if you were 80 years old. Winter driving is all about patience.
Slowing down should be managed mainly via your gears before using your brakes and give yourself plenty of room to come to a complete stop. You don’t want to have to jam the anchors on last minute which will result in a skid. If you can avoid stopping completely, do so, this way you won’t skid, nor will you get stuck when you try to set off again.
Ideally, you want to leave a gap between you and the car in front of roughly eight to ten seconds.
Don’t try and take on hills no matter how shallow they appear. Unless roads have been cleared or you have snow socks/chains, you’ll either get stuck or slide back down and risk damaging your own car or someone else’s.
When moving off from a standstill use second gear, this will help stop your wheels from spinning. Alternatively, some cars (mostly rear wheel drive) will have a snow mode, this limits the power and torque sent to the rear wheels.
Without a doubt, you’ll skid in snow at some point in your life. When you do, stay calm and steer into the skid, so turn the wheel the opposite way to where you want to go. Keep your hands firmly on the wheel and don’t brake. Ease of the throttle until you come to a stop.
Ice Driving Tips
Thankfully we have an army of gritters that keep the majority of our roads open when temperatures drop, but ice is still a big factor when it comes to winter accidents…mainly due to drivers not taking care.
In all modern cars, there’s a little temperature gauge that tells you how cold the outside world is, in winter it’s worth keeping a beady eye on that. Around 0/1 degrees C you can expect to encounter ice, now the freezing point of water is 0 and anything below, but you’ll often come across stretches of tarmac where the temperature can vary greatly.
A dip in a road will most likely freeze quicker than the level portion, bridges are always the first to freeze and last to thaw.
So when you see that temperature hovering around the 0 degrees mark pay extra attention. Drive slower and be ready to react to a skid.
If you realise you’re driving on ice keep a firm grip on the steering wheel and maintain your speed, don’t brake and make no sudden movements.
As with driving in snow sliding on ice needs to be controlled in the same way. Often a skid on ice will happen far quicker than one in snow, snow is stickier and more forgiving. Get it wrong on ice, and you’ll be through a hedge backwards before you know it.
If your car starts to slide to the right, then steer slowly to the right, into the skid. Make no sudden movements, back off the throttle and do not touch the brake. It feels counterintuitive, but it works.
Black ice is a very thin layer of surface ice, you’re less likely to see it as it blends into the tarmac. You can sometimes pick it out by the sunlight glinting on it, but the majority of the time you won’t see it until it’s too late, it’s one of the biggest winter driving dangers.
Try and avoid shaded areas of the road, be careful across bridges or under flyovers. Black ice can form anywhere where the temperature is lower. Quiet, unused roads are also more likely to be affected.
As with driving on snow pull away on ice in second gear, many automatics will let you move off in second. If your car has different driving modes, then select ice/snow.
Remember that braking distances on ice are far longer than in normal conditions, so leave up to 10 times the normal gap between you and the car in front.
Should I buy snow chains or snow socks?
A question that’s often asked when winter throws up the white stuff is snow chains or snow socks. Yes they help, but you have to remember that the vast majority of our main roads get cleared of snow, we rarely get packed snow that sits on our roads for weeks on end.
Snow socks and chains must be removed whenever you hit tarmac, otherwise they’ll start to ruin your tyres or shred through the socks. So unless you’re in deepest darkest Scotland where a snow plough or gritter can’t get, they’re a total waste of money in the UK.
Should I buy winter tyres?
Winter tyres on the other hand are a big yes, especially if you cover a lot of miles over the colder months.
They’re made from a different type of rubber that stays supple in minus temperatures, this gives them far more bite during the cold weather. They also have better tread patterns to disperse water and will even drive better on snow.
The only pain is having a second set of alloys or paying to get your winter tyres switched each year. But a second set of wheels also means you can fit chunkier tyres by dropping a few sizes on the rim, this will give far better bite than sporty low-profile tyres. Just make sure you inform your insurance company to make sure it doesn’t count as a ‘modification’.
Oh, and make sure you get all four wheels changed, just putting them on the powered wheels is a big no-no and can seriously destabilise your car.
We’ve given you all the winter driving tips to stay safe, follow our advice and there’s no need to worry when heading out on the roads this winter.