Snow is beautiful, isn’t it? A simple dusting of the white stuff is all it takes to turn even the most hideous metropolis into a picturesque winter wonderland, but don’t be fooled by its charms: the stuff is evil, particularly if you’re a motorist. According to figures from the Department for Transport, 38 people were killed as a result of snow or ice on the road in 2012 and over 5,000 were injured. If Santa Claus does come to town, he’ll probably leave on crutches.
However, wintry weather does not have to mean total doom and devastation. We’ve put together 10 tips, presented in no particular order, that can help winter-proof your car and make life easier when driving in the impending snowpocalypse. Don’t set off without them.
10. Buy winter tyres
Buying a set of winter tyres is one of the best ways to counteract snowy conditions. A good set costs less than £400 and will significantly improve your car’s ability to handle slippery surfaces. In fact, it’s been proven that two-wheel-drive cars fitted with winter tyres cars are better at stopping and cornering than equivalent 4×4 cars using regular rubber.
9. Adjust your tyre pressures
If winter tyres are out of the question, or you have them fitted already, you should check your tyre pressures. There is a common misconception that reducing tyre pressures can increase the size of a tyre’s contact patch, thereby increasing grip, however, the AA advises against it. They say: “It doesn’t work and reduces stability”.
Instead, inflate your tyres to the recommended PSI level (you’ll find this info on the tyre sidewalk) and ensure you have at least 3mm of tread on your rubber.
8. Keep an emergency kit in the car
Failing to prepare is preparing to fail, they say. But sometimes you car will decide it has had enough of being cold and, for whatever reason, will end up breaking down. At this point, an emergency kit could be a life-saver.
Extra engine oil (cars burn a lot more in the cold), washer fluid, spare wiper blades, spare tyre, warning triangle, tyre pump, jump leads, torch, and salt will all come in handy when your car has given up and you’re stranded in the middle of nowhere fighting a blizzard.
7. Carry warm clothes in the car
Wrapping up is absolutely vital — try changing a tyre in sub-zero temperatures wearing flip-flops and shorts and you’ll see what we mean. And don’t count on your car’s heating system – when your engine fails, that will too. Carry a blanket, thick socks, wooly hat, and spare jumper to keep warm. We’re sorry to sound like your grandmother, but it’s all important stuff.
6. Buy an ice scraper
When Jack Frost comes to visit, you need to have a decent ice scraper. Carry gloves too, because the mix of low temperatures and freezing snow will soon take their toll on your digits. Ice scrapers will help ensure you aren’t tempted to leave the car unattended with the engine and heating running, which is all very tempting to thieves. It also means you’re less likely to pour hot kettle water onto your windscreen. Whatever you do, don’t do this — the hot water could…
5. Keep your fuel topped up
Nobody wants to run out of gas miles from home when it’s Christmas Eve and you’ve got a boot full of last-minute presents. But that’s not the only incentive to avoid running on fumes. Low and changing temperatures can cause condensation to occur inside your gas tank which, when mixed with the fuel, could freeze as it makes its merry way along the fuel lines. A blockage means no driving home to mulled wine and mince pies for you.
4. Replace windscreen wipers and wiper fluid
Visibility is limited when driving in heavy snow, and old windscreen wipers can smear the dirt around rather than remove it. It’s also worth topping up wiper fluid to help rinse off the slush kicked onto your windscreen by cars travelling in front. Just be sure to buy proper screen wash ─ plain old water freezes more easily, rendering it useless in the extreme cold.
3. Check your oil, coolant and anti-freeze levels
You should be sure you have a 50:50 mix of coolant to water in your radiator. If the water freezes in this part of the car, temperatures could soar in your engine and leave you stranded and potentially out of pocket. The right mix will allow the water to stay as a liquid well below freezing point. Engine oil, meanwhile, keeps everything running smoothly in the engine. You could try using an oil with a lower viscosity. If that seems a bit drastic, just ensure your oil level is what it should be. Remember, cars are much thirstier when they’re cold.
2. Test the battery & electrical systems
Batteries hate cold weather. In a typical car, snowy weather puts your engine under more strain, which in turn means the battery has to work harder. When it works harder, it uses up more juice, meaning it’s likely to run flat more quickly. Therefore a battery charger is a good idea. These clip onto your battery’s positive and negative terminals and give it an extra boost, allowing you to start your engine again. Look for damage around where the battery connects to the car. You may have to unscrew a cover to check.
1. Clean your car
This last tip may seem strange, but wintery months really can take their toll on a car’s bodywork. We’re not suggesting you strip down to your bikini and lather yourself up in foam like this girl. Well, not unless you want pneumonia anyway. A good car shampoo and a layer or three of an equally reputable car wax will protect from the mud, snow and road salt you’ll encounter with each frosty journey. This will also make it easier to scrape the snow and ice off. It may also be worth lubricating your door hinges and handles as they can freeze up. Being locked out of their car is not a good way to kick start the new year.