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.
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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.