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Winter Driving - 7 Tips to Stop you Slip Sliding Away!

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Published: 14 Jan 2013      

Well the forecast is for snow. How much – nobody knows. Having lived in Canada for over 30 years, I’ve seen my fair share of winter conditions – everything from sleet to ice storms to blinding blizzards, and I’ve driven in all of them. Winter driving  - aka driving in the ice and snow – can be a scary thought to most of us, enough to ‘freeze’ us in our tracks! But with a little forethought and a bit of preparation, you can be ready to handle the blanketed roads like an Ice Road Trucker. Follow these 7 tips and you will be leaving the others in your spray.

  1. Prepare your car – it’s mind boggling how many people forget that in order to be a good driver in the snow, you need to have prepared your car.  Just a few simple things will ensure that you give yourself the advantage should the unexpected  flakes turn your journey into a fairground ride. Firstly make sure that your car fluids are topped up and there are no leaks.  With today’s computerised cars, we expect them to tell us everything and forget the fundamentals. Check your engine coolant levels (and make sure you have a good anti-freeze in there), check your windscreen washer fluid (and make sure it also has antifreeze in it), You can’t drive if you can’t see where your going! Check your brake fluid.  It undergoes some severe abuse as it is under pressure so much and needs to be regularly checked to ensure it’s at optimum levels. And lastly check your steering fluid.  Today’s power assisted steering requires a hydraulic fluid just like the brakes (but it’s not the same fluid as your brakes so DO NOT mix them! ) And check you tyre pressures.  In the snow a bit softer is better than a bit harder as a softer tyre gives you more surface area to contact with the road. Between 28 and 32 PSI is suggested, unless you have high performance tyres in which case, I suggest you change your tyres!
  2. Get a grip – you never know when the white stuff will hit.  If you happen to be out and need to make your way back home, you may not have all the gear like shovels to help get you going.  The best and cheapest way to give yourself that bit of extra grip you need to get you moving and onto the road is to raid you cat’s storage room and throw a bag of Tig’s kitty litter in the boot of your car.  It works a treat when your car is spinning its wheels on a bit of snow or ice.  It will give you just enough traction and grip to get you moving.  Just sprinkle a bit under each of the drive wheels and you should pull yourself out of nearly any situation. It’s never failed me yet!
  3. Get a view – it’s shocking the number of drivers I see on the road with nothing but a peep hole out the front windscreen, the rest of them covered in snow or frost. It only takes 2 minutes to clean your windows and give yourself the most visibility when driving in snowy conditions. Put a small scraper in your car to clean off any snow or frost from the windows (all the windows!).  Turn your car on and get the defrosters going for both front and back windows.  You’ll find that the back will be defrosted by the time you’ve finished the other 5 windows.  Oh and don’t forget to clean your headlamps and tail lights.  You can severely reduce the affects of them by not cleaning the snow that builds up on them.
  4. Know your limits – when driving in winter conditions, you must realise that the limits of your car will change. But it’s also good to know what those limits are so you know if you are getting close to them or are still well below, which means you can probably speed up and stop holding others up so much! Every year, the first time I drive in the snow, I follow a simple routine to help me get my ‘snow wheels’. As I start off from home, I accelerate slowly then punch the accelerator just a little so see if the traction slips. This gives me a good feel for how quickly I can accelerate in traffic. I do the same with braking.  When I’m sure that there is no one else on the road and no parked cars, I will accelerate to a good speed then hit the brakes, and see what the car does.  If it starts to skid and lose its line, then I know that I’ll need to keep it a bit slower. But if it slows normally then I know not to go at a snail’s pace. 
  5. Keeping it safe - But regardless of how well you know your limits, others may not so it’s always good to increase your separation between you and the car in front when driving in the snow by 2 to 3 times what you would normally drive at in dry conditions.  Give yourself every opportunity to stop in case the person in front decides to brake unexpectedly (and especially if they haven’t bothered to follow step number 3 and clean their tail lights properly!)
  6. Expect the unexpected – Sod’s law says that if your car is going to suffer a breakdown, it will always happen in the worst weather.  So be prepared to have to wait by the side of a busy motorway or road, in the freezing cold, for the road side assistance to come to the rescue.  Keep a blanket or two in the car to help keep you warm. Also keep a goody bag with some snacks. You never know how long you have to wait, and if you have small kids, it could get uncomfortable for them. Keep a few of those little hand warmers in the car.  They stay warm for up to 4 hours and are great for keeping little hands and feet warm. And most importantly, keep a bottle of drinking water in the car.  Just because it’s cold doesn’t mean you don’t dehydrate, so if you’re stuck waiting for help, don’t dry out.
  7. Why bother – the last and most important tip is simple.  If you really don’t have to drive in those blustery, slippery, wintery conditions – DON’T!!  Stay home!  Keeping safe in wintery conditions is like contraception – avoidance is the most certain solution. So curl up next to a fire, watch TV and turn on the news so you can pity all the other sad souls who weren’t as lucky as you!