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Cold Weather Warning How to Stay Safe on the Roads this Winter

Breakdown in the snow

Winter sees more breakdowns and road accidents than any other season, and the AA reports that their rescues and call-outs almost double during the coldest months. Driving in extremely cold weather can be uncomfortable, hazardous and even life-threatening. Make sure you're prepared for all weathers if you take your car out in the chilly months.

General Good Practice

There are things you can do all year round that will help reduce the risk of accidents and breakdowns during winter.

  • Take your car for regular services to ensure it is functioning at its peak, and have any faulty parts replaced or fixed.
  • Make sure you have arranged reliable breakdown cover and keep the phone number for your emergency breakdown company in the car at all times.
  • Storing your car in a garage can greatly reduce wear and tear and protect it from harsh weather conditions. If you don't have access to a garage, use a heavy-duty car cover instead.

Plan Your Journey

In hazardous weather, good forward planning can help you avoid potential accidents.

  • Check the weather forecast. If extreme weather is coming your way, it's best to stay indoors. Don't venture outside into blizzards or storms.
  • Plan your route carefully. Stick to main roads as much as possible as these are more likely to be clear of snow and ice. Avoid bridges, narrow passes and areas prone to flooding. Try to stick to built-up areas and avoid quiet roads in the middle of nowhere.
  • Allow extra time for your journey and remember that being punctual is not as important as being safe.
  • Be aware of local hazards that could become dangerous in cold weather. Avoid steep hills that you know are prone to ice, areas where the roads are poorly serviced, and places that are difficult for emergency services to reach.
  • If you have to head out in bad weather, tell someone where you're going. Acquaint them with your route and make sure you have their phone number. When you reach your destination, let them know you've arrived safely.
  • Take a map. Don't risk getting lost in poor weather conditions as this will only make things worse. Make sure you stick to your planned route as much as possible. If you use sat nav, take a paper map as well in case your device loses power.
  • When you set off, if conditions are slippery pull away in second gear to avoid wheel spin. Use brakes gently and control your speed carefully.

Vehicle Maintenance

Ensuring that your car and its components are all in top condition is essential when facing cold weather conditions. Make regular checks of all systems before setting out to avoid breakdown disasters.

The Battery

  • It is recommended that you change your car battery every five years. After this period, it will become less able to hold a charge and may give out on you right when you need it the most.
  • Avoid draining the battery by unplugging all non-essential equipment such as phone chargers, Bluetooth kits and sat navs.
  • Keep electricity usage to a minimum by turning off the heater fan and interior lights whenever possible.
  • If your car stands idle for several days, give it a trickle charge regularly to revive the battery.

Fuel

  • Running out of petrol in freezing conditions is a nightmare, so make sure you have enough fuel to get you where you're going.
  • Take extra in case you are forced to follow a long diversion.
  • Garages and petrol stations may be closed during very bad weather so don't rely on being able to top up along the way.

Fluids

  • Frozen water pumps and radiators can cause damage and breakdowns. Keep your fluid systems topped up with anti-freeze. A 50:50 anti-freeze to water mix should provide protection against temperatures as low as -34 degrees centigrade.
  • Spray locks and mechanisms with WD40 to prevent them seizing up in cold weather.

Visibility

  • In bad weather, good vision is paramount. Driving with dirty or snow-covered windscreens, windows, headlights and license plates can incur a weighty fine or even endanger your life.
  • Keep your windscreen washer fluid topped up and highly concentrated to avoid freezing.
  • Ensure your wiper blades are down in the park position when you turn off the engine to avoid them becoming frozen to the windscreen. Replace your wiper blades with special winter blades to combat heavy snow and frost.
  • Scrape snow and frost off your windscreen and wait for the screen to fully clear before pulling off.
  • Ensure your front and rear lights are working, with fresh bulbs, and are not covered in snow or dirt. Use fog lights in low visibility but turn them off when conditions improve to avoid dazzling other drivers.
  • Make sure your license plate is easily visible. It is not only an offense to drive a car with an obscured license plate, but a bright visible plate is much easier for emergency services to spot if you break down at night.
Winter Tyres

Tyres

  • The AA recommends a minimum tread depth of 3mm for wintery conditions.
  • Maintain air pressure and check tyre pressures regularly.
  • Snow chains can help in very extreme weather, but you must remove them before driving on cleared roads.
  • Switch to winter tyres or all season tyres for a better grip on the road.

Be Prepared

In the cold months having the right equipment to hand could mean the difference between life and death. Keep these items in the boot of your car so you're ready for anything.

  • A car phone charger to ensure you can top up your phone's battery in case you need to make an emergency phone call.
  • A torch to help you see if you breakdown in the dark. Make sure you have plenty of spare batteries.
  • A folding shovel for digging your car out of deep snow or mud.
  • A tow rope so your car can be towed by another vehicle.
  • Warm clothing and a pair of waterproof boots to wear in case you get stranded in freezing conditions, or need to leave your car to get help or find an emergency telephone.
  • A high visibility jacket to wear at the roadside in the event of a breakdown or an accident. This will help other drivers to avoid you and guide rescue services to your position.
  • A towel or an old sheet to place under rear wheels. This will create traction on slippery surfaces.
  • If you are stranded somewhere very remote, flares are a good way of drawing attention and alerting emergency services to your position.
  • A small stockpile of bottled water and imperishable food to keep your energy up. If you are stranded for several hours you'll be grateful for these!
  • A first aid kit for treating minor injuries. If you are in a serious accident, make sure you call an ambulance straight away and only administer first aid if advised to do so by the emergency operator.
  • A car-jack and a spare tyre to carry out repairs in the event of a puncture or burst tyre.
  • Jump cables or a trickle charger to restart a flat battery.
  • An ice scraper to rid your windscreen of heavy snow and frost.

Special Advice for Flooding

With the UK seeing its wettest winter since 1993 and flood warnings on high alert across the nation, knowing what to do in the event of heavy rain or flooding is essential if you're planning a drive. In addition to the above advice, here are some tips specific to dealing with flood waters.

  • Avoid or delay your journey if possible. If flooding is forecast in your area, it's best to avoid taking your car out at all. Lock it in a garage if you have one, and use sandbags to help prevent water getting in. Excess water can cause catastrophic engine damage and you may have trouble claiming on your insurance for a replacement.
  • If you have to drive, plan your route carefully and avoid any areas prone to flooding such as riverside roads or fords.
  • Make sure your windscreen wiper blades are working properly and replace them if necessary.
  • Drive with dipped headlights and avoid using rear fog lights as these can be dazzling in heavy rain and potentially cause an accident.
  • Reduce your speed and leave plenty of space between you and the car in front. Remember, in heavy rain stopping distances are significantly increased.
  • In the event of a breakdown in heavy rain, keep your bonnet closed to protect the engine and electrics from water damage.
  • Try to avoid spraying pedestrians when driving through large puddles.
  • If the area ahead is flooded, do not venture forwards without knowing the depth of the water. Do not risk it if the water is more than six inches deep. Driving into very deep water can cause complete engine failure.
  • If the water has a fast-flowing current, do not enter as you may be swept away.
  • If you believe it is safe to proceed, drive slowly through the water and, if there are other vehicles around, in single file.
  • If your engine fails while you are in the water, do not attempt to restart it. Doing so could cause serious damage. Instead, cut your losses and call for breakdown assistance.
  • After leaving flood water, test to make sure your brakes have not been affected.
  • If you accidentally drive into very deep water or your car begins to sink, you may have to leave your vehicle and swim to safety. Do not attempt this if you are a poor swimmer or if there is a fast-moving current, as you might be swept away. Open the window as quickly as possible and exit the vehicle through the window. Don't attempt to open the door as it will likely be held shut by the pressure of the water.
  • Remember: if extreme weather of any kind is forecast, it's best stay at home.