With winter fast approaching, it’s that time of year again to ensure your vehicle is ready for those blustery, wintery and snowy conditions. Our winter driving guide provides tips on preparing your car for the cold season, advice on staying safe on the roads and a list of the best 2018 winter cars.
Whilst you should check your car regularly throughout any season, there are priority area you should inspect during the winter to ensure you are ready to tackle hazardous weather conditions. Here are some checks to help you prepare:
Antifreeze helps prevent the water in your engine’s cooling system from freezing, costing only a few pounds. Choosing not to use antifreeze can lead to a frozen engine, offering far greater repercussions, such as a damaged engine with a heavy repair cost.
*Tip: If you hear a continuous squealing noise when you start your engine, the chances are that your water pipe is frozen. You should stop your engine immediately and let it thaw out to prevent any further damage.
Invest in a screen wash that will protect you against icy temperatures such as -35 degrees celsius. This will prevent the water from freezing, and without it you run the risk of your windscreen wipers not working in extreme weather conditions. We are more likely to encounter muddy roads and puddles in the winter, which will often mean you use your screen wash more frequently.
*Tip: If you’re buying screen wash suitable for winter, look out for deals. Having a spare bottle stored in the boot can give you a quick top up so you never run out.
Cars generally have a battery life of 5 years, but with extra demands in the winter, batteries are made to work much harder. You can get your battery tested at your local dealership, ensuring it is in optimal condition and fully charged. As a contingency plan, it’s always best to carry some jump cables with you.
*Tip: Ensure you turn your lights, heating and wipers off when not required. This will help conserve battery life. Watch out for interior lights or leaving side lights on too: if a light is left on by accident you could drain the battery without even knowing.
Ensure your windscreen wipers are cleaning your screen properly. They shouldn’t leave behind any residue. If they are, squeaking, juddering or damaged in anyway, they should be replaced immediately.
Wintery weather conditions result in increased stopping distances. Check both your brakes and brake lights are functioning correctly. As winter nights draw in earlier your brake lights protect you and other drivers.
Check your car has sufficient oil. Oil levels are important for the engine to function efficiently, low oil can consequently lead to damaging your engine, resulting in high repair costs.
Make sure you have a sufficient amount of petrol or diesel in your tank. You will naturally use more petrol in the winter months with journeys taking longer and the use of more heating.
Deemed as a high priority check, you should make sure your tyres meet the required tread depth. The legal tyre tread depth for UK and European cars is 1.6mm, however 3mm is recommended for the winter. Worn tyres result in less grip, especially when driving in wet and wintery conditions such as snow and ice. If your daily commute requires you to drive down side roads that might be prone to snow, you may want to consider changing to winter tyres or all-season tyres with a deeper tread.
*Tip: Invest in some winter tyres, they provide more grip on the roads in bad weather conditions
If you’d like a professional opinion on any of these checks, you can book in at your local dealership for a winter check
There are series of features on your car that could help when it comes to combating the bad weather.
The cold temperatures outside cause regular tyres to become harder, resulting in less grip on the roads. This can become hazardous in bad weather conditions and can increase your chances of skidding. Winter tyres are designed to be softer and come with an alternative tread pattern, which helps to improve grip on snow.
Tip*: Winter tyres should not be used all year round, since they are less responsive on corners during the summer. Make sure you swap them out in spring or summer.
The majority of cars will have front-wheel drive. These type of cars have engines that accelerate all power towards the front wheels only, providing more grip on slippery surfaces.
Tip*: Getting winter tyres on a front wheel drive vehicle will provide you with more protection against icy winter conditions.
Four-wheel drive (also known as all-wheel drive) operates by providing power to either the front or rear wheels to create grip. Once the car is moving the technology will send power to all the wheels at once. Because four-wheel drive provides you with more traction and control while accelerating, it decreases your chance of getting stuck in the snow or on slippery surfaces.
Tip*: Four-wheel drive does not provide more grip while accelerating around corners so take extra care.
With the winter months drawing in, rain and snow will become common hazards for us as motorists, resulting in the need to use our windscreen wipers, lights and brakes more frequently. Many cars now come with in-built automated car technology that take care of these tasks for us.
Triggered by the sense of rain, sleet or snow, automatic windscreen wipers offer both convenience and safety when driving through heavy rain. The wiper speed is adjusted based on the intensity of rainfall helping to improve visibility whilst driving and reduce the need to manually control the wipers.
Heavy rainfall, snow or fog can affect our visibility on the road, especially at night. In their simplest form, our headlights provide us with extra light on the road ahead, when driving in the dark or under bad weather conditions. Automated headlights operate through the use of sensors, detecting how much light there is outside and activate automatically when it is dark. This removes the need to manually control this function while driving.
Automatically switching between main and dipped beam lights, high beam assist distinguishes when there are oncoming vehicles ahead at night. This helps to improve visibility or the need to take your hands of the steering wheel.
Anti-Lock Braking System (ABS)
Winter driving can often become more chaotic with an increased number of hazards, affecting our visibility on the roads. These circumstances can result in the need to make unexpected manoeuvres and brake more suddenly to avoid any collisions. All modern cars in Europe now come standardised with ABS. ABS uses sensors to prevent wheels from locking during heavy braking in order to prevent skidding. This allows the driver to maintain steering control while braking.
Tip*: While it’s an incredibly useful safety device, ABS is no substitute for cautious driving, especially on icy roads.
While safety is key when driving in any conditions on the road, the winter months require us to be extra vigilant and reactive to hazards on the road, requiring us to adapt our approach to driving. Whether you are for business, pleasure or planning a winter road trip, here are some tips to help you prepare:
Driving in the winter naturally adds time on to your journey, so give yourself extra time to account for this. Before you even set off on the road, you’ll need to ensure you defrost your windscreen and wait for your car windows and mirrors to clear, ensuring you have full visibility. Once on the road, other vehicles will drive slower and stopping distances increase to prevent any skids and collisions. For this reason, we advise leaving more time to reach your destination in good time, as well as using a route planner to avoid roads with poor conditions such as heavy traffic and flooding.
Arguably the biggest challenge of winter driving is dealing with icy roads and snow. Always reduce your speed and keep a large gap between you and the car in front to prepare for increased stopping distances.
Avoid sharp braking and steering at all times, especially around bends. Instead, go into a lower gear earlier on and allow your speed to smoothly reduce before gently hitting the brake to avoid skidding. If you do find yourself skidding, don’t panic. Gently steer into the skid to straighten up and regain control.
Condensation in cars is a more regular occurrence in freezing conditions as there is a greater difference in temperature and moisture levels inside and outside of the car. This can build up during a journey which can be dangerous if visibility decreases. Fully turned up heaters can also lead to drowsiness – increasing the need for fresh air.
Avoid using air recirculation settings during winter as this closes off the vents that allow outside air into the car. Opening the windows slightly will also help create more of a balance.
In Britain we’re used to regular rainfall all year round, but we tend to receive substantially more during the winter months. Avoid driving in the event of severe floods. Always check weather reports and if there’s a chance of flooding, plan your route accordingly and stick to main roads.
If you do encounter a flooded road and you are unsure of how deep the water goes, turn back and find an alternative route. If you’re certain the water is shallow enough to drive through, drive slowly in first gear to avoid stalling, as attempting to restart the engine while stranded in water can cause large repair bills.
Stick to the middle of the road where water will be at its most shallow and always press your brakes when you reach the other side to dry them off.
Traction and grip are the key components needed for safe motoring in wintery conditions. Grip helps your car operate safer on the roads, whilst traction allows the car to move. Here is a list of our top 10 Cars perfect for winter:
BMW 3 Series Touring Estate
Features: Four-Wheel Drive | Efficiency | Tech Innovations
Ideal For: Business Travelling & Adventures
Land Rover Discovery Sport
Features: Comfort | Fuel Efficiency | Four-Wheel Drive
Ideal For: Off-Road Adventures & Families
Features: Safety | Four-Wheel Drive (4Matic) | Innovation
Ideal For: Families & Luxury Lifestyles
Audi A4 Quattro
Features: Four-Wheel Drive | Comfortability | Tech Innovations
Ideal For: Business Travelling & Families
Porsche 911 Carrera 4
Features: Four-Wheel Drive | Tech Innovations | Safety
Ideal For: Luxury Sports Car Enthusiasts
Toyota Land Cruiser
Features: Safety | Terrain Friendly | Tech Innovations
Ideal For: Adventures
Features: Four-Wheel Drive | Cost Efficient | Safety Features
Ideal For: Families & Business Travellers
In addition, to undertaking vehicle checks, it’s always a good idea to keep an emergency kit in your car at all times. Here is a roundup of the essential items to pack: