Driving in cold weather can be stressful, but most seasoned motorists are familiar with the basic rules of winter car care. However, many of us may have false impressions about driving during the coldest months of the year. It’s time to rethink the way that we drive, in order to keep ourselves and our vehicles safe. Here are some of the most common misconceptions and what to do instead.
De-icing your windscreens
If you’re in a hurry, hot water might seem like the quickest way to defrost your windscreens and start your journey, but it certainly isn’t the safest. There’s a chance that boiling water might crack your windscreen, and you certainly don’t want to risk having your soaked car icing up again and causing you even more problems during a spell of chilly weather. Instead, invest in a snow and ice cover and put it on the night before your journey. You can also buy de-icers designed to spray on windscreens ahead of an icy night.
A rear-wheel drive and ice
Many people advise against even attempting to drive a rear-wheel drive (RWD) car in the snow. While a front wheel drive or all-wheel drive vehicle makes life a bit easier, you can secure your RWD car by fitting snow belts or snow chains to the back wheels, giving you a little more traction when you’re on the road. It’s incredibly important that you choose the correct size of snow chains, and don’t forget the necessity of having good-quality winter tyres either.
Starting the car up
Back before cars were computer controlled or fuel injected, warming up the engine manually by revving it up before heading off on your drive was our only option in cold weather. But unless you’re driving a classic antique, which isn’t recommended in cold weather, there isn’t any need to rev your engine to get it going. Nearly all modern cars are designed to calculate and respond to a major temperature difference. If you tend to run the car on a chilly morning to heat it up, be aware that this will waste fuel, cause wear and tear and do more harm than good. Check out these 10 ways to turn your freezing car into a winter wonderland instead.
Going the long way round
It’s tempting to try to sneak through some ‘B-roads’ and cut down your journey time when you know the weather is going to be bad. After all, ice and snow can add hours to your trip, and it’s easy to think that you can outsmart the problem by going off route. However, this is nearly always a bad idea. Quieter roads don’t get cleared, they’re often not well lit, and if you get stuck, you’ll be really stuck. It’s better to be bored and waiting in a queue with hundreds of other motorists than frightened and waiting in a snow drift.
Disconnecting your battery to reserve power
Again, this common misunderstanding came from a time when cars were older, and power was harder to conserve. You might think that disconnecting a battery saves on power and stops it from going flat, but modern cars are designed to use their batteries in several different ways, and the battery can be integral to running the car’s computer and retaining information. Instead, purchase a portable charger, which will give you peace of mind. If the battery runs down on a cold day, you can simply top it up.
Overtaking in poor weather conditions
On a warmer day, if you were stuck behind a slower, larger vehicle on a clear road, you probably wouldn’t think twice before overtaking legally. When the weather is bad and the speed drops down, this is even more tempting, especially when cars are queuing up behind you. However, slow and steady wins the race. It’s much harder to overtake vans and lorries on slippery roads, and visibility might be deceptive. Just because it looks clear, it doesn’t mean it is.
When in doubt, hit the brakes
Most cautious winter drivers like to keep their foot close to the break in case they run into trouble, but if you start to slide, steering might be your best option. The parking break especially is best avoided, because if it’s pulled fast in a panic, it’s harder for the car to activate the anti-lock braking system, and actually come to a stop. Do your best to steer around obstacles rather than slamming the brakes on.
Deflating your tyres
Some people believe that reducing tyre pressure will create better driving traction but it can be dangerous, increasing the risk of a blowout, as well as causing problems with premature wear and tear. Before you travel, check that the tire pressure is at the optimum level, as advised in your car’s manual.
Clearing snow and ice
When driving in wintry weather, you might want to do the bear minimum of maintenance. Surely all that matters is that you can see out safely, right? Is there any point clearing the snow on the roof if there’s more snow forecast for later? Yes! In the UK, the Highway Code stipulates that you have to be able to see out of every clear glass panel on your car. So, no matter what’s happening when you set off, if that snow slips down, or onto the windscreen of another car in the road, you risk a fine. Thoroughly scraping and de-icing your whole vehicle will save you time and money, as well as setting your mind at rest.
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