Winter driving is a skill. Wet weather, snow or ice can make your car feel unstable. You may find it tricky to keep your car under control. But fortunately, winter driving is a skill that can be easily learned. What it’s all about is car control and a smooth driving style. That way you can reduce the chance your car will lose traction with the road.
Here’s a couple of top tips that will help you on your way to tackle even the most horrendous weather conditions.
Braking in wintery weather
Gentle braking is key in wintry weather, that way it will be easier to keep your car under control. Anti-lock brakes will go a long way in preventing the brakes from locking up but will do little once the car skids sideways. Just remember, braking hard for no reason is one of the worst things you can do in these winter months.
A better option is to slow down and to anticipate other driver’s behaviour. In other words, learn to read the road so you can react quickly and appropriately.
If you are concerned about your brakes and if they are still in good condition, have them checked and get a brake pad or disk replacement for maximum safety.
Steering on slippery and icy roads
Steering in winter is all about doing it smoothly. Reduce your speed when approaching corners and gently steer through a corner. This will enable the tyres to do their job of gripping the road much better.
Remember, if the car does start to slide it will be hard to regain control. You can recover your car whilst it slides sideways, but it will take a lot of skill and practice to master this. As you’re probably not quite Lewis Hamilton just yet, the best cure, again, is prevention. Just direct your car smoothly and neatly around those bends.
Changing gear smoothly will help keep your car in check. If you have a manual gearbox then make sure to cut your use of the first gear down to a minimum. That way you’ll make it less likely that your wheels will spin through on a slippery road surface. Speed up with care and try to use the higher gears to improve traction and to stay safe.
Make sure you wear clothes suitable for winter weather. If your hands get cold, wear gloves that grip well onto the steering wheel to maximise control. Also, consider wearing a pair of driving shoes instead of clunky boots which can make you lose the feeling for gentle braking and accelerating. What you want to prevent is your shoes slipping on the pedals.
Remove your thick winter jacket before you get behind the wheel. Wearing a thick coat or jacket will keep you warm but will also impact how securely your seat belt is tightened. Studies and tests have shown that in accidents a seat belt worn over a padded jacket can cause additional injuries.
Having taken all this into account bear in mind that driving in snow or heavy rain can still be pretty dangerous. And in many ways, it is probably just best to not drive at all. A good rule is to only use your car if you really need to. And if you don’t really need to go somewhere, consider using public transport or staying at home.
Of course, if you are in a rural area and do really need to use your car to get to places then make sure you’re prepared well. We would always recommend doing an advanced driving course if you are in any doubt.
Preparing your car for winter will help make sure it takes you safely through the winter months. It’s important to get things sorted before the first freeze kicks in.
If we look at our own data, it’s clear that in winter we get lots more requests for typical winter problems. Heater blower motor replacements and battery checks are high up on the list. Starting problems and frozen locks are common too. Which is not what you want if you’re rushing to an important meeting.
Many of these things can be nipped in the bud by maintaining your car well and carrying the right kit to tackle any problem.
Winter checks to do on your car
- Antifreeze Check
Make sure you’re all topped up on antifreeze so that your engine does not freeze up overnight. Read our more in-depth guide here to find out why this is so important.
- Windscreen wipers & Screenwash Check
Keeping your windscreen clear of debris is of course important to ensure you can actually see through your window. If there is frosty conditions then de-icing the windows is the first thing to do before setting off. Keeping your windows clean whilst driving is the second step. To do that it may be worth changing your wiper blades and screen wash.
- Tyre Check
Check the condition of your tyres. Look at the tread depth, the legal minimum is 1.6mm, but it’s advisable to have more. That way you’ll have better traction on the road. Often it is worth getting a set of winter tyres if you live somewhere particularly cold and wet. If you’re not sure they would work for you then check our dedicated winter tyre blog.
- Lights Check
Check that all the lights are working properly and replace any bulbs that are faulty or are weak. It’s important to stay well visible in adverse weather conditions like hail or snow storm. Making sure the lamp lenses have no debris on them will help with that too.
- Battery Check
Your battery is more prone to go faulty in winter than in summer. They are in fact one of the most common breakdown causes in winter. Checking the output of the battery is a good way to find out if it is up to the job. Remember, whilst your car may start fine one day, a flat battery may fail to start it the day after. Imagine that when you’re miles away from home and it’s freezing cold! Check our battery guide here.
- Doors and Locks Check
One of the classic winter issues is that doors will not open. Just think back about the times you’ve seen your neighbour across the road pouring warm water over the door locks to defrost them. Here again, prevention is a much better alternative. Some water dispersant sprayed in your locks will stop them from freezing up. Lubricating your rubber door seals can help stop your doors from freezing shut.
Apart from making sure your car is ready it’s important to make sure you’re ready to tackle bad winter weather. Here’s a couple of things you should carry with you in your car:
- Ice scraper
- Emergency car hammer
- Emergency food and drink: like cereal bars and water
- First aid kit
- Travel phone charger
If you’re not quite sure how to tackle all the checks then a winter service for your car is the way to go. That way you can be sure the checks are done well and your car is all ‘winterized’. A winter check-up is a service offered by many mobile mechanics and garages.