Essential guide to driving in winter

Snow, winter, ice

Snow, winter, ice - Credit: Archant

The temperature is plunging below freezing overnight and barely scraping above it during the day. Time, if history repeats itself, for everyone to panic and start crashing into things.

Did you know you’re six times more likely to have an accident in the winter than in the summer? Or at least you are if you leave your summer tyres fitted. Mark Griffiths, safety expert at Continental Tyres, gives us his top 10 tips on winter driving.

1. Carry an in-car winter kit. It should include a few litres of bottled water, non-perishable food, blankets, extra clothing, de-icer, an ice scraper, a couple of wind-up torches, a car phone charger and of course, your breakdown cover. If you break down on a cold roadside, you’ll be thankful if you’ve prepared.

2. Check your tyre tread depth. It should be 3mm and above for maximum safety. A good way to check this is by placing a 20p piece in the groove of the tread. If you can see the coin’s outer edge this means your tyres may be illegal and definitely not safe for wet or icy surfaces.

3. Ensure your tyres have enough pressure. Check your tyre pressure frequently – you will find the recommendations for your car in the owner’s manual, on your car’s door sill or inside the fuel filler cap. Not only does the correct pressure keep you safe on winter roads, it also helps with fuel economy and tyre wear.

4. Do a visual check on your tyres. Take a look at your tyre rubber for any unusual bulges, marks or tears. If you’re in doubt you can always take to your nearest tyre retailer for a no-obligation check.

5. Ensure your vehicle has enough anti-freeze in it. Engines can be seriously damaged if there isn’t enough anti-freeze in them, so your local garage will be able to test this for you or you can buy an anti-freeze checker from your local auto shop.

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6. Check your lights are clean and working and that windscreen and windows are clear. Visibility is vital on short wintry days when daylight is scarce, so ensure the lights are working at their best and that the car is de-iced and de-misted. Again, anti-freeze in your car’s radiator and windscreen wash will avoid them from freezing up.

7. Increase the distance from you and the car in front. Leave a generous space between vehicles in all weather conditions. A cold surface gives less purchase for summer tyres than a warm one. In rain, snow and ice your stopping distance is increased (sometimes vastly), so you need to allow enough space to stop safely.

8. Use a lower gear in bad weather conditions. If the road is slippery or icy, drive slowly and avoid harsh pressure on the brakes or accelerator. Use a lower gear to enable the engine to act as a brake and only apply the brakes gently when necessary. At low speeds it is worthwhile using second gear, rather than first, to avoid spinning the wheels.

9. Take regular breaks. Busy lifestyles, long working hours and shorter winter days can make a lot of people feel tired. Recently it was reported in the media that tiredness can be as dangerous as driving when under the influence of alcohol as reactions can be impaired. Make regular stops if you need to travel a long distance.

10. If possible, fit winter tyres to your car. It’s a common misconception that winter tyres are just for use on snow and ice. Winter tyres are made from a different rubber compound and this means that they don’t harden at cold temperatures as summer tyres do. This gives them extra grip in cold, wet or icy conditions, which means you are safer with winter tyres when the temperature drops below 7degC. The results speak for themselves – if you use winter tyres and drive on an icy road at 20mph you’ll stop up to 11m sooner than you would with standard tyres.

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