With the cold snap definitely upon us, and the hard wrap over the knuckles that is winter coming, here are some maintenance and driving tips to get you through the cold and icy conditions ahead. Winter is the season that requires the most care and preparation if you’re to stay safe driving in your car.
Defrosting your car
The first thing to do on reaching your car on a cold day is to start your engine. Turn on your heating, put your front fans on and switch on that heated rear windscreen.
Although every extra minute in bed is a luxury, on a cold morning you are going to have to sacrifice a few duvet-minutes to give your car time to warm up and defrost.
If you find the lock has frozen use a cigarette lighter to warm the key. Whatever you do don’t breathe on the lock to try to defrost it as the moisture will condense and freeze.
Never drive off in your car as if you were driving a tank with just a tiny hole cleared in your windscreen to see through. You should clear all your car’s windows with a scraper and deicer. Clear any ice scrapings that have landed on your bonnet or they could spray up and obscure your vision once you are on the road. Never pour boiling water on your windscreens or windows: it is liable to refreeze as ice and may crack the glass.
Lift your windscreen wipers carefully to detach them from the windscreen. If you have an automatic setting make sure it is turned off because scraping your windscreen could trigger it.
Protect your car with antifreeze
If your car makes a continuous squealing noise as soon as it starts it is likely its water pump is frozen and, as a result, the fan belt is slipping on its pulley. Your car’s cylinder block could be frozen too. You should stop the car immediately and allow it to thaw out: unfortunately this could take several days without the help of a heated garage.
If you have driven just a few miles from home and your car begins to overheat it is quite likely that its radiator has frozen preventing and coolant can no longer circulate freely. To avoid damaging your car you need to stop until the radiator thaws.
Antifreeze costs nothing compared to a cracked engine block. Protect your car by using some: most modern cars use long-life antifreeze but you should check your manual and never mix different types. Glycol-based antifreeze needs to be changed every two years. In winter you need a 50-50 mix of antifreeze and water in the cooling system for effective protection to temperatures as low as -34° centigrade.
Driving on icy roads
Pull away in a higher gear: select second gear and ease your foot off the clutch gently to avoid the car’s wheels spinning.
Gentle, calm manoeuvres are the secret to safe driving in winter. You need time to think and react without sudden, erratic actions.
Stopping distances are 10 times longer in ice and snow than under normal circumstances. Keep your distance from the car in front. This is especially true before driving up a hill as it helps you avoid having to change down or stop.
Look far ahead of you so that you can recognise potential hazards early and have plenty of time to react.
Drive slowly, smoothly and steadily avoiding any sudden moves such as sharp turning, panic braking and furious accelerating. This is the best way to avoid skidding. If you do skid on an icy road, calmly regain control of your car by decelerating and turning the steering wheel in the direction of the skid.
Use a low gear when going down hills to control your speed without braking. If you do have to use brakes then apply them gently and release the brakes and de-clutch if your car skids.
Baby its cold outside
Just like you dress differently during winter so should you be driving differently. In the same way that you wrap up warm for winter your car needs a coating of antifreeze to keep itself running. Drive safely this winter because it is icy as well as cold outside.