Making sure your car is in good working order in winter is as much about protecting other road users as it is about reducing your risk of breakdown.
Winter is the time of year you are most likely to break down in your car and the most common fault is a flat battery. Many parts of the engine face strain during a cold start on a winter’s morning; the starter motor is turning an engine full of thick oil and the ignition system is working with fuel that is colder than usual. Modern cars are well up to the job of starting reliably on even the most bitter of mornings, but heaters, lights, heated windows and even the satnav all place additional demand on the battery. Your local garage can test your battery very quickly and if there is any doubt over its condition at this time of year it’s wise to invest in a new one.
Before you set off make sure all your car’s windows have had a chance to defrost and are free of condensation. It’s advice that sounds obvious, but many drivers set off on winter mornings peering through a letterbox-sized area of frost-free windscreen. It’s also important that you can be seen, so take time to remove any snow and ice from your vehicle’s headlights, brake lights and indicators.
Don’t use fog lights unless absolutely necessary – their use in conditions other than the thickest pea-souper is possibly more of a danger than anything else as motorists behind you are unable to make out your brake lights
During the winter you use more windscreen wiper fluid than usual, so make sure you have windscreen washer fluid anti-freeze mix in your car’s water bottle. You don’t want to find yourself stuck behind a lorry trying to clean your windows only to find your washer liquid has frozen.
Checking the condition of your tyres is important throughout the year, but when there’s snow and ice on the road it’s vital. When checking your tyres first make sure that the tyre treads are the correct depth – ideally more than 3mm for winter. Secondly, make certain the tyres are inflated correctly as the cold weather can lower tyre pressure. Don’t be tempted to let some air out to get more grip as this doesn’t work, and can seriously reduce stability.
If you are driving and become snowed in, conserve your fuel. Run your engine every twenty minutes to warm the car. Fitting snow chains to your car’s tyres will enable you to continue your journey should you be caught in snow.
In slippery conditions avoid sudden acceleration and braking – driving as smoothly as possible will make it less likely that you slide and return better fuel economy, too. If you start to skid, gently lift your foot off the accelerator and steer into the slide. Allow more time for your journey if the weather is poor, drive more slowly and leave a bigger gap between your car and the one in front.
Keep an ‘emergency bag’ in your boot containing a bottle of water and some non-perishable, high-energy food. Space blankets – the metallic sheets marathon runners wrap themselves in at the end of a race, pack down into the size of a cigarette packet. They are an extremely efficient way of keeping you and your passengers warm should you break down in winter. You may find you have a couple already in your car’s first aid kit, but if not they can be bought cheaply and are useful to keep in your glove compartment just in case.
Ensure your mobile phone is fully charged and that the number of your breakdown recovery service is stored in it contacts
Electronic stability control
Your car may be fitted with Electronic stability control (ESC) – a gizmo fitted to some modern cars that in the event of a skid automatically applies the brakes to individual wheels However, you may find that ESC hinders your progress up a snow-covered incline. Do not use cruise control in snowy or icy conditions
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