Driving in the winter is a challenge. If it’s not ice, it’s snow. If it’s not snow, it’s reduced vision. And if it’s neither of those, it’s cold and simply downright unpleasant.
But it doesn’t have to be so unpleasant. There are simple checks and neat little tips that make it less of a challenge — like the ones listed in this blog.
Check your lights and mirrors
Believe it or not, but rule 229 in the Highway Code states that all lights, windows and mirrors must be clear before you set off. And clear doesn’t mean a letter-box-sized section across the centre of your windscreen. It means clear… fully clear.
Ignoring this rule could result in a £1,000 fine. But while you’re cleaning your lights, check that they work too. All it takes is a quick walk around your vehicle when it’s dark. Pay attention to your number plate lights as this is a legal requirement too.
If any of your lights are out, you should replace them right away. It’s also a good idea to keep spare bulbs in your car during winter.
Which leads nicely onto…
Can you see (and can other road users see you)?
A clear windscreen is an absolute essential, regardless of the season. But you can further aid your vision by using dipped headlights — especially during the day. It’ll improve your vision and make you visible to other road users.
If your car has daytime running lights, you won’t need to worry. But owners of older cars, it’s worth taking note.
Listen to the traffic (and turn down your music)
Hands up if you turn down the music when you manoeuvre into a tight space… Or, when you approach a busy junction… I know a lot of people do.
Fact is, as bizarre as it sounds, turning your music down to see better works. While some may laugh, muting your music to listen to the traffic can increase your concentration. And so, it’s another top tip for winter driving.
Keep a safe distance (from the car in front)
You should never tailgate. In inclement weather, we amplify this message.
Stopping distances can be up to ten times longer when the roads are icy. For context, it’ll take you an extra 120 metres to stop when travelling at 20mph. Shocking, right? Well, it’s not much better in the wet — where it’ll take you 46 metres to stop at 30mph.
Fact is, you’ll need to give yourself (a lot) more time to react. And the only way to do this is by holding back from the vehicle in front.
Honestly, it’s that simple.
Do you have the correct tyre (and are they grippy and inflated)?
Holding back from the car in front is all well and good, but you still need tyres grippy enough to stop. If you’re worried about grip levels in winter, winter tyres will give you peace of mind in below zero temperatures. Likewise, on snow and ice.
Tyre type is only half the battle, though. Your tyre’s tread must be above the legal limit of 1.6mm. And the pressure should match the figures in your vehicle’s handbook. (See our advice on checking tread depth here.)
Here’s a driving tip: take it easy when manoeuvring, avoid harsh braking (refers back to point three), and slow down.
A note on tyre pressure: a sudden drop in air temperature can cause it to fluctuate, so check this every week in winter.
Check your car’s battery (and be prepared to replace it)
Your car’s battery has to work harder in winter. If it’s not the heaters, it’s the foglights. And if it’s not the foglights, it’s the extra power to kick-start the motor.
It takes 30 to 40 kilometres of driving to start recharging a car battery. Thus, avoid doing short journeys if you can. And if you can’t, make sure you turn everything off that drains the battery at the end of your journey. Including the lights (inside and out), radio, heater, etc.
Look out for cyclists
Even if it’s dark, cold and wet, there will still be cyclists on the road. The only difference being, they’re harder to spot.
While ‘most’ cyclists will have bike lights, some won’t. Don’t take any risks and slow down in dim-lit areas. You’ll also want to double-check your blindspot when pulling away from a junction or standing position.
Watch out for spray (and check your wipers)
It’s raining, it’s pouring, and your vision is blurred. A common sight during winter, but one you can avoid.
Not only will you need to shift dirt, muck and grime, but you’ll want a spray-free windscreen too. A lot of spray can impact your vision in front, and for that reason, your wipers must be working well.
Smudging and smearing are signs that they aren’t. Thus, if your wipers aren’t leaving your windscreen completely clear, you should replace them right away.
Unsure whether your wiper blades need replacing, check out this section.
A winter weather checklist
That concludes our list of winter driving tips. But it’s also a good idea to carry a few essentials in the boot of your car.
The AA recommends you keep the following items in your car in winter:
- A hi-vis vest/jacket
- Tow rope
- Phone charger
- Ice scraper
- Spare fuel
- Spare bulbs
- First aid kit
We hope you stay safe on the roads this winter. And when it’s time for new tyres or an MOT or service, locate your nearest First Stop store.