It’s never easy driving in wintry conditions; ice, sleet, snow, fog, are just some of the perils, and then there’s the human risk; if it’s not you skidding and sliding all over the place it’s the risk of someone else skidding and crashing into you, so the risks of others hitting you are there, even if you’re perfectly adept at handling it. There are, however, certain steps you can take in order to somewhat mitigate the risk that you’ll be the one at fault when the conditions get particularly inhospitable.
It is doubly important that all fluid levels are checked and, if necessary, topped up, before the worst of the wintry weather starts to kick in. Things like screen wash, engine oil, brake fluid and coolant (antifreeze) are easy enough even for a novice to be able to check; with your owner’s manual at hand, you should be able to take care of these things. Ideally, you’ll time your annual service to coincide with the beginning of the coldest months. Probably the most important item in that list is antifreeze, because if the levels are particularly low your car is at risk of cracking or corroding occurring in its inner pipes and connecting tubes.
Your car’s battery is also going to be tested to extreme levels during winter; if it is having trouble starting, mid-winter is not the time to be seeing how far you can take it. Some telltale signs are an extra-long wait between ignition and motor starting, and electric windows and doors either delaying or taking longer than unusual to open. Screen wash isn’t such an urgent priority, although you will be using much more of it in winter months, so need to ensure that it’s topped up and that it’s the right brand which can withstand sub-zero temperatures (the container will normally specify how low it can go).
In your boot, it’s well worth storing some extra winter coats, high vis bibs or jackets, a shovel, tow rope, first-aid kit, torch, even some snacks and food; the kind that won’t easily perish or go mouldy. De-icer is useful, and a litre of water, both for you and your vehicle! These days, rather than a spare tyre you might have a puncture repair kit as standard. However, even if you don’t have one, you can purchase one inexpensively and, with a foot-pump, avoid the dilemma that could arise; walk to a phone miles away or try to change it yourself, assuming you have a spare on board and the confidence to do it yourself.
Talking of tyres, ensuring you have a set of winter tyres on could be a really good investment, depending on where you live, ie. far north? rural? isolated? They are not substantially different in price to regular, summer tyres, and you can pay a minimal amount to alternate between summer and winter tyres, if you are willing and able to store them carefully in your garage, wrapped protectively and not left near extremes of heat or cold.
Mud And Rain
Your car will not want to drive in either of these conditions because it is not an off-road vehicle. When raining heavily, ensure you leave an appropriate distance between you and the driver in front; a larger distance than usual is wise because it gives you more time to react and brake safely. Puddles of mud can cause your car to ‘aquaplane’, literally to ‘float’ over the surface rather than properly grip on. Your tyres could start to spin if you’re not careful, so go slowly and don’t worry about frustrating the traffic behind you.
If driving through a country lane which is partially flooded, keep your eyes open for diversion signs and, if you have to drive through a flooded area, stick to the middle of the road where it is likely at its most shallow, remain in a low gear with high revs, and give the brakes a squeeze as soon as you’re out the other end, to dry them off.
The worst thing about driving in fog is that visibility can be reduced almost to nothing, so you’re potentially not going to see an oncoming or ongoing vehicle until it’s too late! You shouldn’t set off on a trip if there are foggy conditions, unless it’s extremely important, even urgent. However, if you get caught up in foggy conditions along the way then try to go as slowly as possible; one accident can easily become a nasty pile-up. Dip your headlights, by the way, avoiding the temptation to put them on full-beam, which is less effective.
The low-lying sun can also be hazardous in winter months, obscuring your vision and resulting in collisions. Sunglasses are essential, headlights on (dipped) to increase vehicular visibility, and maintain as clean a windscreen as possible. Washer fluid should be kept filled to the maximum; you might end up using a lot of it during your various trips, and the conditions are nearly always going to be filthy.
Ice And Snow
The key to driving in snow and ice is to take it slowly, avoiding unnecessary trips if at all possible. Your tyres are not designed to drive in snow and a normal trip can take significantly longer and be full of surprises along the way. When driving downhill, press the brakes sparingly, even if in a 4 x 4, to avoid the wheels from locking, which would make you essentially a crash-test dummy! Ice, in fact, is more deadly than snow because you tend to drive higher speed over it and can’t even see it most of the time. Avoid high revs and stick to main roads and motorways, where possible; they will have fewer twists and turns and a higher likelihood of being salted or gritted by the local council.
Overall, be prepared, top-up fluids, ensure you have a few things that could come in useful in the boot, keep lights on (dipped), and avoid sudden twists and turns. Winter months in some ways can be a refreshing time for your car, in terms of it not requiring air-conditioning and the engine being at little risk of over-heating in the sweltering heat. However, certain precautions are necessary in order to help it not become a living nightmare.