Top Tips For Driving In Winter
Snapshot: During the winter months, many fluctuating and extreme weather patterns make driving more difficult and potentially very hazardous. While we may not get Arctic conditions here in the UK during the winter months, it still gets cold and icy, and there can also be a nasty glare from the low sun – so it’s important to prepare properly. To combat these conditions there are many tips to help aid your winter driving and make your travels as safe and incident-free as possible. Use our driving in snow and winter checklist to ensure you’ve got all the essential preparations in place to drive safely in the UK this winter.
Winter driving in the UK checklist
As a first port of call you should always check the weather forecast and avoid non-essential journeys when extreme ice or snow is forecast, and if you do have to travel, give yourself plenty of time to de-ice your car before setting off. After that here is a quick winter driving checklist you should ensure are done to prepare your car for icy roads or a winter glare, so that you have a much safer and less stressful winter driving experience:
- Check all fluid levels: that’s screenwash, anti-freeze, coolant, oil and fuel
- Check your car battery is working properly
- Clean your windows inside and out
- Check and clean all your lights
- Check your tyre pressures and tread
- Consider fitting winter tyres
- Check your wiper blades front and back
- Clear leaves, dirt and grime from under your bonnet and vents
- Keep a phone charger with you in the car
- Consider buying a car cover.
Related Reading: Key Safety Tips When Driving In Poor Weather Conditions
By following these steps your car is ready for winter driving across the UK. However, if you don’t want to, or are unable to carry out all these points yourself, get a reputable garage or your local dealership to provide the necessary professional attention your car needs. Ensuring you are up to date with servicing also gives you peace of mind your car is road-worthy. Both a full service and your MOT are worth getting done in the autumn or winter months so you are safe in your vehicle and know that it is running optimally in these most hazardous seasons.
1. Check ALL fluid levels: screenwash, anti-freeze, coolant, oil and fuel
Using a screenwash in the winter is very important to remove dirt and grime from your windscreen and wiper blades. The UK roads are notorious for throwing up slushy dirt, especially when busy with traffic, so make sure you have plenty of screenswash and do not run out mid-journey.
Screenwash also contains a small amount of anti-freeze to help prevent the water within the mix from freezing. Always use screenwash, not just water / water and washing up liquid. Do not put actual anti-freeze (engine coolant) in your screenwash bottle as it can damage the paintwork of your vehicle.
Engine coolant, or anti-freeze, helps prevent the engine from overheating or freezing. You should use a 50/50 mix of antifreeze and water, which you add to the water in the engine’s cooling system.
Always ensure your coolant level is between the minimum and maximum gauge. You shouldn’t need to top it up very often, if at all (if you regularly service your vehicle). Do not open the filler cap unless the engine is cold.
A common winter driving issue in the UK is cars breaking down because the oil level is low. Having dirty or low oil levels cause damage to the engine that is often very costly to fix. Check the oil level in your car regularly, it should be comfortably between the minimum and maximum indicators.
Dirty oil thickens in colder weather, so it struggles to flow properly through the engine. To reduce the risk of engine damage consider changing the oil at least once per year for optimum performance.
We all know that there are two types of people that buy fuel for their car. 1) Those that top up their fuel tank only when the car is running on fumes, or 2) Those that fill up at the most convenient moment once the fuel tank is under half or quarter full. If you let your tank go down to practically empty, do not do this in the winter. Try to ensure you always have plenty of fuel for the journey ahead and for any subsequent journey’s in the coming days.
During the winter months UK roads get congested, which means you spend longer on them. Idling in stationary or crawling traffic, using the heater and window defroster uses fuel, so always have plenty to get you from A to B.
Related Reading: Get Your Car Ready For Spring
2. Check your car battery is working properly
If we get a spell of extremely cold weather it can affect the performance of your car battery, in that it struggles to ‘fire’ and start the engine. Exacerbating this strain on the battery, winter driving requires a lot more from the battery than warmer months as it not only requires more power to start a cold engine but also to then operate so much other functionality such as car heating and window defrosting.
According to the AA, the average life expectancy of a car battery is 5 years, so if yours is older, consider getting it replaced. You can test this with a home battery tester or at your local garage.
3. Clean your windows inside and out
A critical part of driving in the winter is having a full field of vision throughout your entire windscreen and windows. But during the winter this is problematic as a combination of dirt and grime, and low glaring sun makes it difficult to have clear visibility on a consistent basis. To make sure you do, clean your windscreen inside and out.
It is also advisable to always have a pair of sunglasses in your car to combat the winter suns glare, and to have plenty of cleaning clothes, de-icer and other demisters to keep your vision clear.
4. Check and clean all your lights
As important as the lights on your car are for you to see where you are going, your lights are also essential for other drivers to see you, what you are doing, distance apart, behaviours on the road, etc. It is a legal requirement that all your lights are working to ensure you and they are safe, especially when it is dark, foggy, icy and more on UK journey’s in the winter. It only takes a quick check to see if your headlights, indicators, brake lights and fog lights are all clean and working properly.
One of the biggest ‘fails’ of an MOT is issues with car lights. So always ensure they are well maintained and functioning as they should.
5. Check your tyre pressures and tread
Checking that your tyres are in good condition with the correct tyre pressures and grip is another essential of winter driving safety. Obvious faults such as a tear or crack should be replaced immediately and any lack of grip with the correct tyre pressures and you should consider fitting winter tyres (more on this below). But tyre pressure is a simple and easy checkpoint, it also makes a huge difference to driving economy and safety in the winter. The wrong tyre pressures make your car much more likely to slip, skid, slide and run far less economically.
The legal minimum tread depth is 1.6 mm, but in the winter months the RAC advise a minimum 3 mm of tread for the necessary levels of control and grip. For tyre pressures, consult your handbook and make sure you are aware that front and back tyres will NOT have the same pressure requirements, so don’t just make all four tyres the same.
Related Reading: Top Tips For Driving At Night
6. Consider fitting winter tyres
Contrary to popular belief, letting air out of your tyres does not create more grip on the roads, it is also extremely unsafe and uneconomical to do so. Instead, if you feel you need more grip on the road during the winter months consider a set of ‘winter tyres’.
Standard tyres often do the job in major urban areas where roads are cleared and gritted regularly, but for roads with less throughput of traffic and in periods of heavy snowfall or major ice buildup, winter tyres are essential. Just remember to swap them back off your vehicle when the bad weather has passed and certainly by spring as winter tyres wear quicker and require more fuel to run.
7. Check your wiper blades front and back
Another big no, no! Never use old wipers if it is frosty or your windscreen is ‘grimey’ with dirt. They will not do the job you need and they will make visibility through the windscreen worse (smearing slush/ice/dirt across more of your field of vision).
As such it is highly recommended to replace worn or damaged wiper blades as soon as you see them deteriorating. And to check for any cracks, splits or debris build up on your wiper blades to ensure they have full surface contact and are clean to smoothly run across the glass.
8. Clear leaves, dirt and grime from under your bonnet and vents
Leaves and other natural foliage can be a real pain when driving in the winter, not just on the road where they cover potholes and make the roads treacherous, but also on your vehicle too.
Leaves can damage your car in many ways, blocking vents that disperse water safely, decomposing to create a build up of gunk that can ruin paintwork, or worse impacting the functioning parts under the bonnet. Always check for and clear any leaves, twigs and other foliage from the edges of your bonnet.
9. Keep a phone charger with you in the car
Hindsight is a wonderful thing and so many people who break down in the winter say the no.1 thing they wish they had was phone charge during that time of emergency. So many run out of charge.
Of course, as the risk of breaking down is heightened in the winter months, and as it takes longer for roadside services to reach you, fix issues, etc. having connectivity via your phone can be not only a ‘nicety’ but also a ‘necessity’.
Always consider having a separate phone charger that simply stays in your car for times of emergency, and keep a separate note of emergency contact numbers and breakdown services in your glovebox so you have them to hand in case your primary phone which stores them has run out of charge.
10 Consider buying a car cover
This final one is not a necessity for winter in the UK as we do not suffer from extreme cold weather, but a car cover can help in so many ways. It prevents fluids in your car from freezing, saves you time having to de-ice in the mornings and helps protect your car from the elements.
We suggest a car cover as part of a winter emergency kit, which may sound a little extreme but does provide the absolute confidence you need that whatever the eventuality you can make the journey as safely and efficiently as possible.
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