Top tips for winter driving

It appears the big chill is set to continue throughout the UK this February which means you need to be extra vigilant when driving. With ice, rain and potentially snow falling it makes the roads a lot more slippery! Not to mention the fact that the amount of traffic on British roads will increase during the half term. Half term aside, according to the 2016 National Travel Survey, on average, each person made 591 trips travelling around 5,079 miles in the UK in 2016! This means the average UK driver is driving, on average 97 miles a week! That’s a lot of traffic on the roads.

Most people rely on their cars to get to work, take the children out for the day and generally get from A to B. With this in mind, we have come up with tips to help prepare your vehicle and to keep you safe during the final weeks of winter, fingers crossed!

What essentials should you keep in your car?

Have you ever thought about keeping some safety essentials in your car if you ever did break down? We can’t stress how important it is to consider a winter kit for your car. Make a note of the items below.

1. A blanket

Just in case you breakdown in the freezing cold and your heating stops working, you’ll need something to keep you warm as the heat inside your car won’t last long. Just keep this folded up in the boot so it’s there if you need it.

2. Shovel

If you’re unfortunate enough to have snow and you leave your car at work for eight hours, then it will most probably block your vehicle from moving. Although this is unlikely, it’s best to have a small shovel in your car to remove any snow if needed. Would you really want to remove it by hand? It’s a good idea to have a shovel in your car just in case you come across others in trouble and can help them.

3. Ice-scrapper

The icy mornings are now here which means we will all be spending a bit more time clearing the car and ensuring it’s safe to drive. If temperatures continue to drop, you may need to clear ice from your windows before you leave work. It’s a good idea to keep a bottle of de-icer and scrapper in your car throughout winter and ensure the de-icer is replaced. For more information on car windscreen maintenance, click here.

4. Torch

Winter unfortunately brings darker evenings, and the chances are you’re going to be driving in the dark a lot more than you were in the summer. If you were to breakdown on a country road, would you have access to a light? Most smartphones have a torch but if you’ve broken down, you wouldn’t really want to use your battery. Take a small torch and always keep some spare batteries in the glove box.

5. Food and water

If you’re going on a long journey, it might be worth taking a bottle of water and some snacks with you, just in case you get stuck in traffic. Just remember to keep the water fresh, as water left in a bottle for over 12 hours can start to go flat and carbon dioxide in the air starts to mix in with the water. This decreases its Ph causing the water to taste stale.

What checks should I do on my car before I drive?

Now your car is prepared with items that you may need in case of an emergency, it’s time to check the car itself to make sure it’s ready for those winter drives. Now we’re not expecting you to be an expert in car mechanics but there’s plenty you can do to make your drive safer.

1. Check your tyres

The tread is the rubber on the outside of your tyre and is the part that makes contact with the road. The more the tyre is used, the more the tread wears and eventually erodes. Tyre tread is a vital part of your car so it’s important that it’s monitored to make sure that 1. It is legal and 2. It’s safe for you to use. The law states that all tyres must have a minimum tread depth of 1.6mm. The best way to test if your tyre tread is legal is to do the 20p test. All you need to do is a place a 20p coin the in grooves of your tyre. If the band around the coin is not visible then you tread is legal. If you can see the outer band, this means that you need to replace you tyre.

Now if you do decide to replace your tyres, you may want to speak to your local garage about getting some tyres that have been designed for winter. There are a range of different tyres available, some even designed for driving on snow. It may be worth paying just that little bit more just to make sure your car is that extra bit safer throughout the winter months.

2. Oil checks

It’s probably been a while since you last checked your engine oil levels and there’s no better time to have a quick look than now. It’s often a job we think about but put off, or simply forget. To check your engine oil ensure your engine is off, open up your car bonnet and look for the dipstick, often a yellow or bright colour. Pull the dipstick out and wipe any excess oil off the end. Put the dipstick back in the tube and push down firmly. Pull it back out and you’ll be able to see where the oil reaches on the dipstick. There should be a low level and full level marker on your dipstick. You will be able to tell how much oil is in the engine from this test. If you’re unsure or need some more information there’s plenty of tutorials online to help you or you could speak to your mechanic.

3. Checking your battery voltage

Testing your battery is an important test that should be done regularly and not when you first notice a problem. If a car battery is fully charged it should measure at 12.6 volts and this can be measured using a multimeter. If you don’t own one of these, there’s a simple test you can do using your headlights. Simply start your car and turn on the headlights. If they are dim it could indicate your lights are running out of battery and no charge is produced by the cars alternator. If you rev your engine and the light gets brighter, it would mean that the alternator is producing a small amount of current but not enough to charge the battery when the car is stationary. If your lights seem normal and don’t change when the engine is revved, this would suggest your battery is functioning properly.

4. Check your number plate

This time of year isn’t ideal for keeping your car clean however it’s important that your number plate is visible at all times. Make sure that all the letters and numbers are clear as it is illegal to drive with a number plate that isn’t clearly visible to other road users.

Now your car is fully winter ready which means you’ve done your bit to keep yourself safer on the roads. Why not read our driving techniques below to help you when you are out and about on the roads this winter.

Do you know when and how to use your fog lights?

Have you ever been driving along a road and wondered whether you should be using your fog lights? Well fog lights are there for when mist causes a driver’s visibility to fall below 100m. Measuring 100m is difficult, but 100m is roughly the length of a football pitch. If you can’t see anything less than 100m away, you should use your fog lights. It’s important to ensure that these lights are used to improve the safety of you and other road users. If you were to have an accident during the fog and you didn’t have your lights on, it could affect your insurance claim.

The other side to this is using your fog lights when you shouldn’t be. The Road Vehicles Lightning Regulations 1989 states that it’s illegal to use your lights to dazzle other drivers coming towards you. Therefore switching your fog lights on a cloudy or rainy day could be breaking the law. It’s important to assess the weather before you set off. If you are unsure where to find your fog lights, the information can be found in your vehicle log book (V5C) or speak to a family member or friend for some advice.

Low sun

During this time of year you can expect gloriously sunny mornings despite the freezing temperatures. Don’t be fooled, this lower winter sun can often cause havoc on the roads, with poor visibility making it a nightmare for drivers. Here’s a few things you can do to make your drive is less stressful when the sun is out.

Keep your windscreen as clean as possible – when your windscreen is dirty, the glare makes it harder to see. The sun highlights the dirt and reduces what you can see in front of you. Firstly, ensure that you clean your glass, both inside and out and prevent smearing by using a cloth to wipe away any excess.

Find you’re sunnies – you’ve probably not used your sunglasses since August however it may be time to get them out again. The low sun reflecting off the roads and cars make it very bright so it may be worth keeping a pair of glasses in your glovebox so you’ve got them if needed.

Everyone is in the same boat – there’s no hiding from the glare, which means most drivers are experiencing the same issues. Try to keep a safe distance from the vehicle in front at all times and maintain a constant speed. Avoid late breaking as the reaction time of the driver behind may be affected by their visibility.

Driving in rain

Did you know the wet weather can be as dangerous as snow if careless driving takes place? It’s important to consider the surface water when driving at certain speeds, as stopping distances can double in wet weather in comparison to when the roads are dry. It’s best to familiarise yourself with the dangers and adjust your driving slightly to make your trip that little bit safer. Follow these steps below to improve your driving in the ice and rain.

1. Give yourself extra time

When you get held up in your daily commute, it can be really frustrating. So to avoid getting frustrated and potentially having, or causing an accident, allow yourself extra time. If you know the weather is going to be bad, allow an extra 30 minutes to be safe.

2. Plan your route

It may be worth planning your route before you set off on your journey. If you usually travel on country roads to get to work, it may be worth seeing if there’s an alternative route as smaller roads are more likely to hold surface water. It’s best to stick to the larger, well-lit and maintained roads during these cold weeks.

3. Accelerate slower

When setting off, ensure you accelerate slower than what you normally would. Not only does this keep your car steady but is also gives you better traction. It gives you more time to assess the road ahead especially when visibility is poor.

4. Know your brakes

The last thing you want to have to do is slam on your brakes because of wet and slippery surfaces. Start slowing down earlier than you would in dry conditions and don’t be put off by impatient drivers.

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