Winter Driving

Battery and Electrics

Lights, heaters and wipers put high demands on the vehicle battery. If your driving is mainly dark rush-hour trips, the battery will give out eventually. Avoid running electrical systems any longer than necessary – turn the heater fan down and switch the heated rear window off once windows are clear. Turn off non-essential electrical items like lights, rear screen heater and wipers before trying to start the engine.

Antifreeze

Most modern vehicles use long-life antifreeze - it is important to use the right type and avoid mixing different types. However, a continuous squealing noise as soon as the engine is started is a sign the water pump is frozen - it's the fan belt slipping on the pulley. The cylinder block could be frozen too. Stop the engine immediately and allow it to thaw out. This may take several days unless the vehicle can be moved to a heated garage.

If the vehicle begins to overheat a few miles from home it's likely that the radiator has frozen preventing coolant from circulating. Stop straight away to avoid serious damage and allow the radiator to thaw.

If you are unsure of your vehicle's requirements, check the handbook, or ask a dealer for advice.

Vision

It is important that you keep the windscreen and other windows in your vehicle clear - if your vision is obscured through dirt, snow or even sticker infested vehicle windows you could face a hefty fine. Make sure you clear snow from the roof as well as from windows as this can fall onto the windscreen obscuring your view. It can be a hazard to other road users as well.
Dazzle from a low winter sun can be a particular problem. Improve your vision by making sure that the windscreen is clean both inside and out. Scratches, abrasion and chips on the outside can also worsen the dazzling effect of the sun.

Use air conditioning for faster demisting and to reduce condensation on cold windows. Also check your windscreen wipers and replace them if necessary. Make sure that wipers are switched off in the park position when leaving the vehicle when there's risk of freezing. If you don't and the blades freeze to the screen, you could damage the blades or wiper motor when you turn the ignition on. Top up the windscreen washer fluid and treat with a suitable additive to reduce the chance of freezing. Don't use ordinary engine antifreeze as it will damage the paintwork.

See and be seen

Make sure that all bulbs are working and that lenses are clean. When roads are really dirty you might need to clean lights after every journey. Keep the number plates clean too, as you can be fined if they are dirty and illegible. If you have to clear snow from the vehicle it's important to clear it from the lights - front and back - as well as from the windows and roof.
You must use headlights when visibility is seriously reduced - it's not just so that you can see, but also so that you can be seen by other drivers. You may also use front or rear fog lights but these must be switched off when visibility improves as they can dazzle other road users and obscure your brake lights.

Tyres

Don't reduce tyre pressures to get more grip – it doesn't work, and reduces stability.

It's rare to need snow chains unless you live in an isolated area hit with heavy snow, and where the roads are not cleared. They must be removed to drive on a metalled road without a reasonable covering of snow.

Driving in ice and snow

Gentle manoeuvres are the key to safe driving in ice and snow - stopping distances are 10 times longer.

Wear comfortable, dry shoes for driving. Cumbersome, snow-covered boots will slip on the pedals.

Pull away in second gear, easing your foot off the clutch gently to avoid wheel-spin. Avoid having to stop part way up a hill by waiting until it is clear of other cars or by leaving plenty of room to the car in front. Keep a constant speed, choosing the most suitable gear well in advance to avoid having to change down on the hill. If you need to go downhill, reduce your speed before the hill, use a low gear and try to avoid using the brakes. Leave as much room as possible between you and the car in front. If you have to use brakes then apply them gently. Release the brakes and de-clutch if the car skids.

If your car has an automatic gear box, under normal driving conditions (motorways, etc.) it's best to select 'Drive' and let the gearbox do the work throughout the full gear range. In slippery, snowy conditions it's best to select second gear, which limits the gear changes and also makes you less reliant on the brakes. Some autos have a 'Winter' mode which locks out first gear to reduce the risk of wheel spin. Check the handbook.

If you get stuck

If you get stuck, straighten the steering and clear the snow from the wheels. Put a sack or old rug in front of the driving wheels to give the tyres some grip. Once on the move again, try not to stop until you reach firmer ground.