Reliable Winter Driving
While unspoilt snow and countryside vistas might be the picture of winter presented by the media, the reality is painfully different for everyone who needs to travel by car.
On the roads, that pristine snow quickly turns to a filthy grey slurry, the crackle of the fire is replaced by the heart-sinking groan of the starter motor, and the cosseting aroma of mulled Rioja is substituted by the tang of windscreen de-icer.
Even when you are moving it’s likely to be slowly, mainly because the road is more slippery than usual, visibility is worse, and everyone else on the road is in a similarly tense state.
The winter months can be the toughest time of the year for a vehicle. Shorter days and generally unpleasant weather place great demands on your car’s systems, because the lights are on pretty much all the time, the wipers have to put in double shifts, and the heater is on overtime. On top of that, journeys tend to be shorter, so your car’s battery has less time to recharge.
Add in the fact that the battery itself is significantly less efficient in lower temperatures and you have the all the circumstances in place for a mid-winter breakdown.
That’s why a few pre-winter checks can save you not only a world of chilly discomfort precisely when you don’t need it, but also the expense of a breakdown and recovery.
First of all, the easy stuff, which can usually be done by walking round the car once or twice. Switch on all the lights to make sure they’re working, and don’t forget the fog lights. You can check the brake lights by reversing up to a wall and pressing the brake while you look in the rear-view mirror.
While you’re walking round the car, check the tyre pressures using a tyre pressure gauge. It’s best to do these when the car has been sitting for a while because the air inside tyres heats up when the car is moving, and therefore expands, increasing the pressure inside the tyres. So, let the tyres cool down after a run, or check the pressures before you set off.
Another easy win is making sure your windscreen washer bottle is fully topped up, with the fluid at the correct concentration to avoid it freezing. Petrol stations sell pre-diluted washer fluid these days, so just buy and fill up the reservoir as needed, keeping the bottle in the boot in case you have to refill on the go.
While you’re under the bonnet, take a second to check that your car’s cooling system is topped up, and if it needs more anti-freeze adding, do it. It’s essential because if there isn’t enough anti-freeze in the system the water can freeze and potentially even crack the engine block. Ice really is that strong.
Should you need to add anti-freeze, Texaco Havoline Xtended Life Coolant Concentrate is a particularly strong option. It works well at the lowest of temperatures and is designed to prevent internal corrosion of vital parts such as the engine block, water pump, thermostat and radiator.
Make sure your car’s oil is topped up, too. The last thing you need is to have done all the winter checks, only for your car to stop because the engine has seized. That’s where high-tech oils such as Havoline ProDS come in, because they keep your engine running with smooth efficiency, no matter what the outside temperature.
On top of these checks, your local car dealer can also help. If your car needs a service, it’s wise to get it done. If it doesn’t, it can still be worthwhile getting a winter check done by professionals and it offers a good value way to keep safe with many manufacturers and independent service centres running their own winter campaigns to check the key areas at risk in colder weather.
There’s an exceptionally easy way to avoid breaking down on a journey or getting caught out by the conditions – don’t make the journey in the first place. It sounds simple because it is.
There are hundreds of apps and online sites dedicated to telling us what the weather is going to be at any given moment, and some of them are even reasonably accurate, so look ahead, and if there’s inclement weather on the way, stay at home.
Of course, that often simply isn’t possible, so it pays to plan ahead.
Kit your car out with a ‘winter pack’ that contains all the essentials you could need should the worst happen. This should include:
Portable mobile phone charger
Warm, sturdy boots
Bottled water and some snacks
First Aid kit
Hazard warning triangle
De-icer and a scraper
On the day of your journey, get up earlier, and leave yourself more time. You’ll feel less anxiety about the possibility of being late, which will let you focus on driving safely.
Use your lights. You’ve already made sure they’re working, so get them on so others can see you.
Hang back from the car in front, because it can take you up to 10 times as long to stop your car in wintery conditions. If something happens ahead, you need to give yourself as much thinking and reaction time as possible.
To this end, depending on where you live, it’s also worth thinking about investing in a set of winter tyres. These are designed to work better in lower temperatures and on snow, and their increased grip can make a real difference.
You needn’t even buy new wheels, because the tyres can be swapped for a nominal fee, and many dealers can store your summer rubber.
Winter’s here – and you’re cool with it
Travelling by car in winter is undeniably more difficult than it is at the height of summer, but it really needn’t leave you feeling bitter.
Simply get your car as fit and healthy as it can be, fill it with the items you’ll need if something goes wrong, and make some small tweaks to your morning routine.
All of these small changes will have a tiny effect on your life before you set off, but they could have a major impact on the ease and safety of your journey.