Don't get caught out by winter weather

 Published 4th January 2021
Driver Guides  General Guides 

In case you hadn't noticed, it's winter. While you're warming your toes in front of a roaring log fire and sipping a glass of your favourite tipple the outside world has other ideas. With severe weather warnings and snow and frost affecting many parts of the UK the experts are out in force to share their winter driving tips. Useful for when you suddenly realise you've run out of life's essentials and have to take an unplanned trip to the shop.

We all know British weather generally tends towards damp and grey rather than crisp and white, but when temperatures drop to low single figures we all need to be aware of how the change in conditions can impact our driving. Snow, frost and ice can all cause issues and create unpredictable driving conditions. Changes in the weather often happen suddenly, so it's important to adjust driving habits to cope with potentially treacherous conditions.

Many drivers feel more anxious on the roads during winter so it's important to take precautions when it comes to safety. Even simple things such as clearing snow or ice from your windscreen have to be done safely so it's always worth taking your time. A quick fix might be tempting but they can also be costly. If not done properly, you could inflict damage to your windows, causing scratches or cracks which will need to be fixed and could even take your car off the road.

De-ice windows safely

It should go without saying but do not use hot water to dissolve ice unless you want to risk shattering your windscreen. It's also tempting to just use a bank card but that could leave you with a snapped card and scratched glass. It's easier to just spend a few pounds on de-icer and a proper scraper and keep them in your car.

If damage on a windscreen is 40mm or bigger, your car will fail its MOT. It's also illegal to drive your car if it has a crack in the windscreen, meaning you could face up to three penalty points and a fine - or worse if you're involved in an accident. You must remove snow from your lights, mirrors, roof and windows as the Highway Code states ‘you must be able to see, so clear all snow and ice from all your windows'. Police have the right to stop and fine you £60 if any of your vision is obstructed.

Do not leave your engine running while unattended

Although warming the car may take a while, you should never leave your engine running and the car unattended. If you do and your car is stolen, your insurers will be unlikely to pay out. Obviously that's slightly less of a risk if you're the Queen and you've left the car running outside a palace surrounded by armed soldiers, but for the rest of us it's wise advice.

For those of us with regular houses and parking spaces on the road it's also worth remembering that if you leave your engine running on a public road, you could be slapped with a fine. This contravenes rule 123 of the Highway Code and is an offence under regulations 98 and 107 of the Road Vehicles Regulations 1986. You could be handed a £20 fine, and refusing to turn the engine off will see it doubled to £40.

Use winter tyres

Although not essential, and for most of us the thought wouldn't even occur, but winter tyres are a much safer option for harsh weather conditions. It's actually relatively cheap to get yourself a spare set of wheels for your car and fit them with winter tyres. If you've got the space to store them for the rest of the year it's well worth it. Even the most inept home mechanic should be able to swap all four wheels in around half an hour using just the basic tools that came with the car.

Check tyres and fluid levels

While we're on the subject of tyres. Regularly check tyre pressure and make sure your tread depths are at least 3mm to be safe for winter conditions. If your tyres are below 2mm, consider whether it is worth the risk of waiting rather than just replacing them now. If you don't have a tread depth gauge, use a 20p coin as a guide – insert the coin at three points across the tread pattern and at various points around the circumference. If you can see the border at any point, get your tyres checked professionally. The legal limit for cars, vans and all vehicles below 3.5 tons is 1.6mm; 1mm for motorcycles over 50cc. A potential £2500 fine and three penalty points can be applied on each tyre found to be below those limits.

As well as your tyres make sure you regularly check and top up screenwash, antifreeze and oil levels if they're low.

Keep your registration plates visible

Remove snow from your registration plates when defrosting your car as you could face a fine of £1,000 if both your front and back plates are not visible. It stops your car from being registered by cameras and police, who use your number plate to check if you're taxed, insured, have a valid MOT, and that you're not wanted in connection with the suspicious disappearance of a large quantity of gold bullion.

Your paperwork may be bang up to date and completely legal but it will still be a bit of an inconvenience if you get pulled over by the police for a check just because you forgot to knock a bit of snow off your number plates.

Emergency kit

Pack an emergency kit in the back of the car with essentials, such as an ice scraper, de-icer spray, torch, first-aid kit, warm blankets, jump leads, and even a small shovel. It sometimes feels like overkill when you open the front door and you're faced with a damp drizzle rather than an arctic snowstorm, but you never know.

Yes, you're carrying around extra weight that uses fuel and probably won't be needed, but the other side of that is being featured on the evening news alongside other motorists stranded by a sudden snowstorm and a lack of snowploughs. As the saying goes: It's better to have and not need than to need and not have.

We hope you find these winter driving tips helpful. As ever, the best advice is just to give yourself more time. More time to prepare your car for driving, and more time on the road - keep a good distance from other vehicles on the road in difficult icy and snowy conditions, and stay safe.

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