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Winter driving guide: our tips to keeping you and your car safe through snow, sleet or slush

It doesn’t seem long since we were talking about driving in the summer and the potential problems of being out and about in a heatwave. Alas, it is time for our thoughts to turn to winter journeys; dealing with shorter days, sub-zero temperatures, and everything the weather can throw at us.

It’s really important that our cars are up to the job of keeping us safe as we make both long and short trips over the festive period.

Here are our 10 top tips for making sure you’re prepared.

Keep the fuel topped up

Picture showing a car being filled with fuel

It’s always important to ensure you have enough fuel in the car to complete a journey, but even more so when running out could leave you stranded in horrible conditions.

Driving in wintry weather also takes more of a toll on your car, which means fuel can be used up more quickly.

If you’re someone who tends to risk driving on fumes for as long as you can brave it, winter might not be the best time to test your luck!

Make sure your lights are in good working order

It is so important in the dark and when visibility is limited by the weather that you can be seen by other road users and pedestrians. As well as checking all the bulbs are working, also keep an eye on the lenses as muck from dirty roads can build up quickly.

Check your tyres are in good nick

During winter it’s not a good idea to be driving around with barely legal tyres – like your shoes on ice, the more tread there is, the better the grip you will have on the road.

It’s also important to make sure they have the correct air pressure (check when the tyres are cold rather than at the end of a journey).

Wintry weather can take its toll on our roads as well as our cars, and potholes can be easily concealed under snow and ice. Hitting a pothole, kerb or other hidden hazard can knock wheels out of alignment, so if this happens, get them checked out.

Keep your battery happy

The cold is no friend to car batteries, as you will know if you’ve struggled to get yours going on a frosty morning.

You can get a free battery check from garages and places like Halfords and Kwik Fit to ensure yours is in good health, which is a particularly smart idea before embarking on any long festive journeys.

Regular use is also important to keeping a battery in good working order, so if your car is parked up for a while before a journey, make sure you check it in good time to discover any problems.

Make sure your brakes are up to the job

The last thing you want when driving in more challenging conditions is problems with your brakes. It’s especially important to make sure they’re working properly when your grip on the road is poor.

The most obvious sign of a problem would be a warning light coming on in the car, which you shouldn’t ignore. Even if you don’t get a dashboard alert, you might notice strange sensations when pressing the brake pedal, which could be anything from a grinding or squealing sound, a vibration or wobbly feeling, the car pulling to the side, or a spongy feel. You might even notice a burning smell.

If you experience anything out of the ordinary it’s important to get it checked out as soon as possible.

Keep your wiper blades moving and windscreen clear

Having a clear view of the road and what is going on around you is crucial anyway, but especially when the weather turns nasty. When clearing the windscreen and windows of ice, it’s important to use de-icer rather than something like hot water, which could cause the glass to crack.

If your wiper blades are frozen stuck, repeatedly trying to get them to move could blow a fuse or damage the motor so wait until they are defrosted and ready to move before trying to switch them on.

It’s also important to keep your screenwash tank topped up through the winter, but make sure it is with something fit for the job, so not just water or water with a squirt of washing up liquid. Screenwash has additives that offer freeze protection as well as cleaning properties, so will be effective through the low temperatures and not cause damage to your car’s system.

Have an emergency supplies kit in the car

Even if you drive carefully and take all precautions, there’s not much you can do about it if you get stuck behind an accident and the road is blocked, or if poor weather stops you in your tracks.

Whether you’re stuck for a few hours or longer, it’s always a good idea to have supplies in the car to keep you warm and comfortable. In fact, it’s a good idea to carry these items in your car at all times, as you never know when you might have problems.

Ideas for things to keep to hand include de-icer, an ice scraper, shovel, jump leads, warning triangle, first aid kit, high-vis vest, warm clothes, blankets, long-life food and drinks, a torch (with spare batteries), and a way of keeping your phone charged. If you have children in the car, extra distractions for them if you’re stuck for a while might also come in handy.

Plan your journey in advance

During winter it’s a good idea to put a bit more forethought into journeys that you will take, especially if the weather is due to be bad (so make sure you check the forecast).

The safest route might not be the quickest route, but it is often better to stick to main roads, which are more likely to be gritted and also kept clearer by other road users, rather than the shortcut back roads you know.

Having said that, you need to be flexible enough to change course if you come across a road closure or problem. Having your phone (used safely and legally) or a road map to hand to work out an alternative route is important to keep you on your way.

Journeys potentially taking longer than usual is another good reason to make sure you have ample fuel when you set off.

Keep friends and family aware of your whereabouts

Once you’ve planned your journey, it’s a good idea to share your route with at least one other person who will notice if you don’t arrive when expected.

It’s easy to share your location throughout your journey through driving and messenger apps – making sure you only use your phone when it is safe and legal. Keep your phone charged with an in-car charger if you can, or consider carrying a spare.

Some people like to keep a basic phone, which does little more than make phone calls, in the car just in case their main phone loses charge.

Stay up to date with your service

Many of the basic checks that have been mentioned as being so important to driving safely through winter are covered in a car service.

If you haven’t taken your car for a service for a while, now is a good time to ensure you’re prepared for any bad weather. Crucially, a garage might pick up on potential problems that haven’t become apparent to you yet, which you don’t want to suddenly rear their head half way into a journey.

Next steps

Travelling in winter, especially if you experience a near-miss or accident, can be a reminder that it’s important to keep our driving skills topped up throughout our life on the road.

As well as teaching people to drive, we also run Pass Plus courses for new drivers to ensure they feel confident driving in different conditions, as well as refresher lessons for people who would like to top up their skills. Feel free to get in touch to talk to us about either.

You can read more driving guidance, news and tips in our other blog posts.