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Home > car maintenance > Guide to winter driving

Guide to winter driving

Although cruising along with the top down and the wind in your hair during the summer is arguably the most fun way to drive, there's still plenty to enjoy while driving in the UK during winter - most notably the stunning scenery that a little frost or snow can create.

It is, however, the most tumultuous time to drive. It's chilly, it's dark and road conditions can challenge even the most confident drivers. You're far more likely to breakdown in the winter, too, requiring extra roadside service patrols to be on call.

While you shouldn't be afraid to head out into the winter wonderland, you should also take more care than usual. To ensure you're not left out in the cold, here's our guide to driving during winter.

Car maintenance tips:

1. Take care of the car!

First and foremost, if you think there might be something wrong with your car, get it checked out sooner rather than later. There's no worse time for your car to breakdown than when it's freezing outside. There are often special 'free winter-check' deals available at garages, so have a hunt around.

One of the most common afflictions for drivers during winter is having their water pump or cylinder block freeze. Check with your dealer or call your car's manufacturer to find out which type of antifreeze you should use, and keep it with you at all times. For just a couple of quid, it could end up saving you hundreds.

2. Turn off non-essential electrical items

When you're driving in the winter, your battery can find the ordeal very demanding. The car's lights, heaters, wipers (and blasting music through your speakers) may cause the battery to give out, so ensure you only have them on when necessary. Turn everything off when you're first starting the engine, and if it struggles to get going we recommend leaving thirty seconds between each attempt.

3. Keep the windscreen/windows clean

It's crucial your vision is never impaired on the road, even slightly; not just for your own safety and the safety of other drivers, but also because you could face a fine if you're found driving with dirt or snow covering your windscreen and windows. Clean them regularly, and while you're at it you should clear any snow or dirt that may have gathered on your roof, to boot and don't forget to top up your wash wiper system with a winter strength wash.

4. Don't let your tyres get dire

As the coldest season commences, you may want to consider switching to winter tyres or all-season tyres. They can give you far more grip on the roads and won't harden like others might. The AA recommends a minimum tyre tread of 3mm (definitely no less than 2mm), and don't think that reducing your tyre pressure will improve your traction - it won't.

Driving tips:

1. Make sure you're rested!

This is a driving tip that applies regardless of the season, but it's one that should be especially adhered to when winter conditions become particularly gruelling. As the days become darker and the roads are more likely be affected by rain and snow, getting the right amount of rest before a journey can make a big difference when it comes to reaction times and avoiding risks.

2. Give yourself time to prepare

We all know what it's like to get out to your car in a rush to get to work only to find the windscreen iced over. Make sure you've allocated enough time to de-ice the windows and ensuring that the car and windows are warming to from the inside to avoid them steaming up or re-freezing once you start driving. Carry a good quality scraper and a can of de-icer in the car, you never know when you might need them.

3. Accelerate/decelerate slowly

Regardless of how much of a rush you're in, don't try to get going too quickly. Likewise, give yourself time to ease into the brakes so that you don't end up skidding. When the streets are icy it can take your car longer than usual to slow down.

4. Avoid cruise control

While cruise control is great every time of year, it's not the best idea to switch it on during winter. It can sometimes have a difficult time manoeuvring on wet, icy and gritted surfaces, so it's a good idea to sacrifice the convenience for control. Keep your wits about you - stay in charge.

5. Stick to clear and gritted roads

The better you can plan your journey in advance, the smoother it will be. Where possible, stick to main roads that you know will have been cleared and gritted. Your satnav may tell you that a certain route will be quicker, but if you go against your better judgement and follow it you may end up having to try and plough your way through dirt and snow.

Quick tips:

  1. Leave extra time to complete your journey.
  2. Change into comfy, clean shoes when driving so your feet don't slip on the pedals.
  3. On long journeys, have a substantial amount of petrol/diesel at all times.