Eskimo's live with snow for a lifetime, but many of the people reading this will only see real snow for a couple of days each year - or less.
This means that, despite the tail-slide that you luckily managed to recover from back in 2008, you are not an expert!
Getting ready for winter is essential for all drivers, especially salespeople and others who depend on driving to earn a living.
Whether you are covering long distances or simply making short journeys, it is worth making sure that you are fully prepared for the problems that can, and often will, arise in winter weather.
In the UK, most years seem to have one or two days of 'sudden' cold weather. This weather leaves many drivers stranded and sadly almost always results in one or two deaths from hypothermia.
The authorities could possibly do more but the starting point for winter safety is looking after yourself (and those around you!).
Whilst road deaths that are directly attributable to bad weather may be relatively rare, winter snow, ice, rain and fog can cause a lot of inconvenience and cost you dearly in both time and money.
In this section we look at the main things you need to know to stay safe starting with some general advice.
There are lots of ways of improving your winter driving technique, but is it worth it, especially in the south of the UK where poor conditions are seldom encountered.
If you want to really 'go for it', and you have enough cash for a holiday, visit a northern European 'snow school'. Alternatively, a handling control course could do a lot to help you stay on the road the next time that bad weather hits! Visit Don Palmer's site for the ultimate car control courses...
First of all the best advice for winter motoring is probably to stay at home!
If you have to go out check the weather forecast and make sure that you are fully prepared for whatever you might encounter. Here are a few basics to get you started:
When making long journeys in poor weather conditions take a break more often than you normally would. The extra concentration needed will make you tired more quickly. Not only do you want to arrive alive,if you are driving as part of your work you also want to arrive in a fit mental state to do business.
Start long journeys with a check on the weather conditions and forecasts. In high, or exposed areas (such as crossing mountains or wide plains) roads can become impassable very, very quickly.
It is often said that slowing through the gears is better in poor conditions, however, engine braking can momentarily lock the wheels in the same way that normal braking can. I would recommend normal slowing techniques but with feather light use of the controls.
It is also worth noting that anti-lock brakes , while an almost always an advantage in poor weather, do not increase the available grip.
If you have to turn your car around for any reason, keep the driving wheels on the firmest surface. Be aware of the differences between front and rear wheel drive in this respect - know your car.
Signs and markings will be hidden in snow. You may know the roads and be aware of who has priority, but does the other driver?
Drive in space:
Other drivers may not know as much as you think you know about winter driving techniques. Give them lots of space!
Sat-navs and snow:
You might have seen stories of drivers who have ended up in rivers, fields, on railway lines and in other situations after blindly following their sat-nav - it's easy to fall into the trap of believing that this can't happen to you. but even sensible sat-nav users can get caught out in the winter snow.
Unless you set your device for specific road types, most sat-navs will default to the shortest or fastest route - and this might include B roads or country lanes; no problem with this in good weather but in the winter, especially in these times of cut-backs, the chances are that these road will not be gritted.
So, when making winter journeys in the snow set your sat-nav to stick to main roads, and/or check the route against an old-fashioned paper map...
A pre-winter check or service is essential if you want to avoid problems during the winter. I have listed some of the items you should pay attention to:
Most cooling systems specify that anti-freeze should be used all year round as a corrosion inhibitor, however it is a good idea to check the strength of the coolant at the start of the winter. How are your hoses? If your car is more than a couple of years old check for perished hoses and minor leaks.
Electronic ignition is now fitted to many vehicles, however, damp can still cause problems. Make sure that all ignition circuit contacts are clean and spray the system with an ignition sealer (moisture repellent).
Check that your battery is topped up and healthy ... Be kind to your battery in winter by minimising the load placed on it ...
Don't over use the starter motor, short bursts with long pauses between ... Switch off all auxiliary equipment when starting the car ... Switch of the screen de-misters when the windows are clear ... And so on ...
Check to see if your air intake has a winter position, if so, make the appropriate adjustment.
Trying to squeeze the last five-hundred miles out of a set of tyres can be counter-productive in winter. You want as much grip as possible when the snow comes (at least 3mm of tread). Plus, of course, changing a tyre in the snow is no fun!
You should carry a spare set of light bulbs all year round (police patrol officers love to stop vehicles with defective lights!), however, this is probably more important in winter when your lights are getting extra use. Make sure that you have wash leathers and/or rags to keep your lights clean in the winter (snow can build up around lights, check to ensure that they are clear and clean as often as possible).
It may seem obvious to state that brakes should be in good order, however, your wheels will lock earlier on ice than in other situations and so even the slightest problems (with wheel cylinders, etc.) can cause major skids in winter.
These are less likely to freeze up if the system is clean. Keep a supply of screen-wash additive in the car, this prevents the washer-bottle contents from freezing. Don't use engine anti-freeze in screen washers, apart from smearing your screen it may well strip your paintwork!
These will have to work harder in winter so make sure that they are in good condition (well used wiper blades rarely last more than 12 months in our climate).
When moving off in snow and ice use the highest gear possible - this will usually be second. If you encounter wheel-spin, ease off the gas, otherwise you will simply 'polish' the snow and ice, making it more slippery. 'Rock' the car back and forth to get it moving (clutch up and down).
Sacks under the rear wheels can help the tyres to grip. If you tie them to the 'tow ring' you can pull them along, that way you don't lose them!
Once you are moving, keep your speed down and use the highest practical gear. Gentle use of all controls is essential.
Although we all consider ourselves to be expert, smooth drivers, it is not always the case.
You might spend some time on an icy car park to improve your finesse, but be careful not to upset the local council or police.
Climbing hills can pose particular problems on slippery roads.
Always leave plenty of space between yourself and the car ahead before starting your ascent. Stop and wait for a clear road if necessary, otherwise you may end up being stuck (literally) behind less skilful drivers.
For short hills you may consider reversing up in front-wheel-drive vehicles - this way the driving wheels will carry more weight and have more grip. Zig-zagging can also help your wheels to grip.
Use low gears to help hold you back when descending slippery hills. Select the gear as early as possible.
Try to avoid using the brakes or changing gear while descending.
It's very easy to be lulled into a false sense of security when sitting in a warm car. Remember that it's freezing out there and so there are likely to be icy patches!
Snow can be deceptive. Often your tyres will have more grip on newly fallen snow than on slushy snow. Whatever kind of snow you are driving on you must remember that the car is more likely to go sideways than is normally the case! Gently test your brakes from time-to-time - this will give you a feel for the surface conditions and available grip.
Thankfully, it's not often that we hear of winter deaths due to people being frozen in their cars, at least not in the UK. However, as weather patterns become more extreme, you can minimise your risk by keeping a 'winter survival kit' in your car. This is especially important for people who live in rural or remote areas - you can't always rely on being rescued.
Some roads can be so badly hit by drifting snow that even large mechanical shovels have difficulty clearing them.
Perhaps the most important advice is that you are safer inside your car than out. It can be tempting to walk a couple of miles home, but in freezing blizzard conditions, this can lead to disaster for anyone who is not fully fit and kitted out with the appropriate winter clothing.
The winter kit:
- Use a hold all or rucksack to keep your winter kit together and pack it with the following essential items.
- A couple of blankets or good sleeping bag
- A spare, warm coat
- A pair of good outdoor boots and warm socks
- A hat (a woolly/thermal hat is best)
- Warm mittens or gloves
- Chocolate bars
- Dried fruit and nuts (avoid salted nuts)
- At least one bottle of water
- Kitchen roll
- Torch and batteries
- A fluorescent vest or jacket
- Medication - if you are on regular medication ensure you have a supply
In addition always ensure that you have a fully charged phone and car charger.
If you live in a remote area such as Dartmoor, parts of Wales, the Peak District, Highland Scotland, etc., it might be worth taking a trip to your local camping store and getting a few extras - people have been stuck in vehicles for 24 hours or more ...
- Space blankets
- Backpack meals (some are self heating)
- At least a gallon of clean drinking water
- A small camping gas ring (not for use inside the car)
- A plastic or tin mug
- Multi-purpose tool (Swiss Army Type)
- A shovel
- Hand warmers
Stay in your vehicle but be careful about keeping the engine running - there is a real danger of fumes filling the car and so you must ensure that there is a good clear area for the exhaust fumes to dissipate (you might have to clear snow to do this). Only run your engine for about 20 minutes in each hour.
- Only leave the vehicle if you can see your destination close by (a building or other vehicle).
- Don't waste valuable energy trying to get the car free if there is no realistic chance of success, especially if you have run off the road.
- If you have space blankets, use them to cover the windows inside and reflect body heat - most heat is initially lost through the windows.
- Cat litter is useful if you get stuck - it can give the traction you need to drive off
- If you are in a remote area and there is an air search make your car visible - clear snow off the roof, fly a fluorescent vest from the aerial.
- Use your phone to let people know where you are and that you are OK every hour or two.