Winter is without doubt the worst time of the year for motorists. Roads can quickly become treacherous or even impassable and what started off as a normal journey to work or a friend’s place can suddenly turn into a nightmare. Hundreds of motorists found themselves trapped in their cars overnight and stranded in snowdrifts and snow flurries in parts of Scotland and the north of England when police had to close roads and shut off motorways which had become blocked because of heavy snowfall and temperatures as low as -20C.
But even a trip down to the shops, school or the local supermarket can end in an accident or even tragedy if you fail to take some precautionary measures and prepare yourself, and your car, for this bitterly cold and totally unpredictable time of the year.
Here are a number of valuable tips and some good sound hands-on advice that will help to get you through the winter and make sure that your next journey is a safe one.
- Winter tyres: There is still a small percentage of the population who staunchly believe that they can make it through the whole year with the same set of tyres. Opponents of winter tyres are often quick to point out that we don’t get enough snow in these thar parts to warrant kitting your car out with winter tyres. Well, this year proved them wrong. Winter tyres are not just better on snow: due to the rubber compound used, they are also better when the road surface gets colder. In Germany there is legislation in place that clearly states that as of the beginning of this month all cars, buses, lorries and similar vehicles which are travelling through Germany have to be equipped with winter tyres when there is snow or slush on the roads or roads are covered with frost or ice. By failing to comply with this law motorists and other road users risk being fined anything upwards of 40 euros and also losing their insurance cover.
- Tread depth: Don’t forget to check the tread depth of your tyres. The tread depth can seriously affect the way your car handles. Worn out tyres spell less grip, less performance and longer breaking distances. Current legislation requires a tread depth of at least 1.6mm across 75% of the tyre, and although some tyre manufacturers claim that their tyres function just as well with 1.6mm of tread as with 9mm, there are enough experts who recommend that you change your tyres when a minimum tread depth of 3mm has been reached. If you want to see if the tread depth is sufficient, all you need is a 10p coin or a euro, depending on which country you live in. If the tread covers the dotted rim of the 10p piece or the gold rim of the euro, then your tyre tread is within the legal limit.
- Tyre pressure: Although most motorists know that it pays to check the pressure of the tyres on their car regularly, some uncanny hidden force still prevents them from doing so. Driving with underinflated tyres can put pounds on your petrol bill, increase the CO2 emissions of your car, cause your tyres to wear down much more quickly and most importantly of all they can seriously affect the way your car performs. Tyre pressure gauges at service stations are often unreliable and poorly serviced. That’s why it makes sense to invest in a digital tyre gauge and check your tyres fortnightly at least. And one more word of warning: be sure to check them when they are cold.
- Clear visibility: Car windscreens have a tendency to mist up as soon as you get into the car when it is parked outside in winter. Do not under any circumstances set off until you have clear visibility as you are endangering your life as well as the lives of others. So what can be done to remedy the problem? Try laying out newspaper in the footwell of your car. The newspaper absorbs the moisture inside your car and stops it from settling on your windscreen. And don’t forget to stomp the snow off your shoes either before you swing into your car. The less snow, slush and moisture inside your car, the better.
- Check your car battery: According to a renowned motoring association, problems with car batteries are one of the most common reasons why cars break down. And who wants to break down on a remote stretch of road or the hard shoulder on a motorway when the temperature dips to below zero? In winter you need to be able to rely on your car battery, because car batteries do overtime. Of course you don’t want to buy a new battery if you don’t have to. But remember: they power your fan, the electrics, the heating and your lights. Get wise and check to see how much life is left in your battery before the winter gets a firm grip on you.
- Fill her up, please: Over the past few weeks the price of petrol has continued to rise steadily and many motorists are understandably reluctant to fill up their car and tie up their savings in a full petrol tank. But things can get worse. And being stuck on the side of the road at sub-zero temperatures because your car has run out of petrol is anybody’s nightmare. You really don’t need to top up your car every time you drive past a petrol station, but you should make sure that there is enough petrol in the tank, and one or two warm blankets in the back perhaps – just in case your luck ran out too.
These tips – or better still golden rules – can all change the outcome of your next journey this winter. Please be sure to follow these precious guidelines so that you reach your destination safe and sound!