Given the severity of the last two winters, we have no excuse not to be prepared for more of the same this year. The most valuable and widely proffered advice from motoring and safety organisations regarding driving in treacherous weather conditions is DON'T!
Obviously venturing out onto the roads in severe weather is at times completely unavoidable... not much you can do if you're two hours from home when it starts. But certainly the feedback from the last two years has been that despite repeated appeals and warnings via the news channels, people's perception of what constitutes 'essential' varies widely.
Finding yourself stuck in blizzard conditions when you were on your way to the gym is not only foolish, but it puts others at risk. Getting to work, picking children up from school and shopping are all normal journeys that may have to be reconsidered in bad weather conditions. Walking, public transport, car sharing or taking a taxi all reduce the risk of you finding yourself in a potentially dangerous situation.
Prevention is better than cure
Modern batteries provide more power, but take longer to recharge fully. A regular long run is needed to maintain optimum performance. If this isn't possible it may be worth investing in an 'intelligent' battery charger. These are lightweight, simple to use and automatically switch off when the battery is fully charged.
It is essential to have decent tread to clear water and snow. The legal limit is 1.6mm, but a tread depth of at least 3mm is recommended for safe winter driving. Reducing the air pressure in tyres to cope with poor conditions does not work and reduces stability. If your driving regularly involves negotiating rural areas, you should consider fitting winter tyres.
Getting in and getting going
Give yourself at least an additional fifteen minutes to prepare your car before you set off. Do not attempt to clear windscreens or frozen locks with hot water, this could cause the screen to crack and the water will simply re-freeze in the lock. Use an ice scraper and an efficient de-icer. Don't use the wipers to clear snow from the windscreen, as this just risks damaging the blades and burning out the motor. Ensure you clear the screen fully, front and rear (peering out through a hastily cleared space on the driver's side is not just dangerous, it's also illegal) and also the wing mirrors and lights.
Turn off non-essential electrical loads like lights, rear screen heater and wipers before trying to start the engine. Use the starter in short five-second bursts if the engine doesn't start quickly, leaving thirty seconds between attempts to allow the battery to recover. In manual cars, depressing the clutch when starting a cold vehicle disconnects the engine from the gearbox so there is less drag and eases the load on the starter motor.
Antifreeze and screen wash
Antifreeze should be added to your vehicle's cooling system in line with the manufacturer's specification. Antifreeze costs only a few pounds, but a frozen and cracked engine block will cost hundreds of pounds to repair. A continuous squealing noise as soon as the engine is started could be a sign the water pump is frozen and the cylinder block could be frozen too. Stop the engine immediately and allow it to thaw out. This may take several days unless the car can be moved to a heated garage.
Screen wash should be of proper concentration to prevent freezing in winter. Top up windscreen washer bottle with a suitable additive to prevent freezing and check the washers are adjusted correctly. Check front and rear wiper blades for wear or splitting.
Ensure you wear dry, comfortable shoes when driving - keep the wellies in the back! Move off in second gear, lifting the clutch slowly to avoid wheel spin. Drive slowly and manouvre gently. Stopping distances are increased ten fold in snow and icy conditions, so adjust your speed accordingly. Avoid sharp, hard or sudden braking and turning at all costs. If you get stuck, straighten the wheels, clear as much snow from around them as possible an use an old piece of carpet or sack in front of the driving wheels for grip. Try not to stop the vehicle again until you are on clear ground.
It has not been unheard of for a 30 minute journey to take several hours in severe conditions. You may have your car in tip top condition but even this cannot guarantee you won't get stuck in a jam caused by other vehicle breakdowns or accidents. Keep as much fuel in your vehicle as possible, allowing you not only to complete your journey if it is unavoidably extended, but also ensure you are able to keep warm by leaving the engine running during enforced stationary periods.
Finally, the emergency and breakdown services come under extreme pressure at this time of year. Before calling them out consider whether they can actually help with the problem. If your engine is frozen, only time and warmer conditions will help. If your car doesn't start at home, think about whether you really need to pull a patrol away from vulnerable people stranded at the roadside to get it going.
Be patient - if you are stuck in a 10 mile traffic jam they will be too. And returning to where this blog began, if it's not absolutely essential, put it off until conditions improve.
Croydon Motor Specialists
If you are unsure as to whether your vehicle is 'winter roadworthy', or you just want to make sure that you have the contact details of a local garage just in case things go wrong, check out thebestof Croydon's recommended businesses.
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