Winter is coming - how not to be caught out when driving
We’ve had lots of wind and rain recently but the really cold stuff has yet to strike this winter. With global temperatures on the rise, it’s tempting to think that winters might get warmer and wetter. Don’t be fooled because those cold snaps could still arrive at any time. Over a quarter of us spend between one and two hours driving every day and the shorter days and dreary weather means drivers will find themselves spending more time behind the wheel in the dark, cold, and wet.
And this is obviously our way of leading up to one of those “are you ready for winter driving” pieces.
It is absolutely crucial drivers are ready for the falling temperatures and short winter days in order to minimise the risks. We can’t do much about the weather but we can make sure we don’t make matters worse for ourselves.
We should all be doing our bit to ensure our cars are properly maintained, that our lights and wipers are doing their job, that our tyres have enough tread to cope with the conditions, and that we have everything we need in case of emergencies.
And as more drivers are switching into electric vehicles (EVs) we should also consider these as well.
It’s great that so many of us are making the switch to an electric car but when winter comes they can bring slightly different pros and cons to the equation. The basics of car maintenance remain the same of course, but if you’re driving an EV have you factored in the difference a drop in temperature could make to your battery’s efficiency.
Cold weather can have a significant impact on the range of your car
In which case you might want to consider charging more often to make sure you have the miles to get home. A lot of EVs also offer preconditioning features – that’s when you have the ability to programme your car to warm up before you get in so it’s nice and cosy for the drive ahead (and you don’t have to spend ages in the cold scraping the ice off the windscreen). This is a brilliant feature for your own personal comfort, but not so nice if you’ve neglected to charge up and it ends up reducing your range and leaves you stranded on the motorway in rush hour.
On the plus side, EV drivers can also take advantage of one of the clever features of most electric cars, namely regenerative braking.
If you’ve driven an EV at some point you may have noticed that when you lift off the accelerator the car slows a bit more quickly than a petrol or diesel model. In simple terms, when you freewheel in an EV the electric motor works a bit like the old dynamos that used to power bicycle lights. Instead of taking energy from the battery to drive the wheels, the system is reversed so the motion of the wheels turns the motor which then generates a little bit of electricity that can be sent back to the battery. That extra bit of rolling resistance is great for a few extra miles of range but it can also be useful in slippery conditions to slow the car without applying as much braking force and reducing the risk of skidding.
EV-specific quirks aside, we all just want to get where we’re going as safely as possible at this time of year. Which inevitably brings us on to the annual reminder to be prepared and be safe…
How to prepare for winter driving
1. Always take a fully charged mobile phone with you and ensure you have a working in-car charger in case of emergency. Getting stuck is bad enough, not being able to call for assistance is far worse.
2. If your car is frosted over make sure you completely de-ice your windows, lights, and mirrors before setting off. Peering through the tiny square you could be bothered to clear isn’t just ridiculous, it’s illegal.
3. Don’t boil the kettle to clear your windows of ice. As tempting as it may be to go for the quick fix it won’t seem like such a good idea if your windscreen cracks. Buying a windscreen cover to keep the ice off in the first place is never a bad idea either.
4. Carry a winter car kit with you so you’re always prepared. It might seem a bit extreme given that our winters are generally milder than some of our neighbours, but simple things like a torch, a blanket, ice-scraper, road atlas, warm clothes and de-icer are usually lying around the car anyway and don’t take up much room.
5. Bad weather can bring unexpected delays with it so make sure you have enough fuel or electric range to get you where you need to be. If you get stuck in traffic or hemmed in by freak weather it’s much better to have a full tank or charge so you can keep yourself warm.
6. A healthy battery is essential for starting petrol or diesel cars in cold weather so it’s not just EVs that might need charging. All cars require electricity to work and all of them need properly charged and maintained batteries or you won’t be going anywhere. Batteries work less well in the cold and if your battery is already showing signs of losing power, best get a new one before it goes dead on you on a frosty morning.
7. If you’re approaching a snow-covered hill, drop well back or wait until it’s clear of traffic so you won’t have to stop part way up. It’s a lot easier to reach the top safely if you can keep a constant speed and it’s infinitely preferable to attempting a hill start on a ski slope.
8. Check your tyre pressure and tyre tread depth to make sure it meets the minimum legal requirement. In the winter it’s advised to check your tyre pressure every two weeks. In slippery conditions it’s your tyres that are going to keep you on the road so make sure they’re up to the job.
9. If you lose grip on a slippery surface, don’t panic. Take your foot off the accelerator, turn into the skid, and avoid braking or steering too sharply or you’ll probably just make it worse. If you have an EV, the regenerative braking should help to alleviate this risk but you’ll still need to be careful.
10. Stopping distances are increased by up to ten times in poor conditions, so hang back to give yourself more time to react and stop. Your reaction time may not change but bad weather can make it more difficult to spot hazards giving you less time to avoid them. Regardless of your reaction time, the fundamental laws of physics guarantee it will take longer to bring your car to a safe stop in wet or slippery conditions.
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