We are now all of course only too aware of the havoc caused by the so-called ‘Beast from the East’. Damaged cars, stranded motorists, communities cut off by the snow; it showed just how unprepared the UK is when the weather really turns.
With the MET office issuing warnings of snow and ice as a cold snap from Russia once again heads our way, we felt it was worth highlighting a few tips for driving in the treacherous conditions for those who don’t necessarily have the luxury of postponing their journey until spring has finally sprung.
What to take
Chances are you’ll already have a can of de-icer to hand to clear your windscreen, but make sure you also throw a few cold weather essentials in the car just in case you do get stranded. We’re talking a hat, gloves, scarf, blanket, torch and a portable phone charger. If you own a shovel that’ll fit in the boot then all the better, and a couple of patches of old carpet can be surprisingly effective for extricating a car from deep snow.
Last but not least make sure there’s at least half a tank of fuel in the car, just in case you get stranded and need to leave the engine running in order to keep warm.
How to drive
Before you even get behind the wheel it’s worth letting somebody know where you’re going, plan your route to include major roads which are more likely to have been gritted, make sure any snow or ice has been cleared from the car, and switch your headlights on to dipped beam.
Once on the move the name of the game is slow, smooth progress. With that in mind keeping the engine revs low will help you control the car’s speed, so use a low gear when travelling downhill and try to avoid touching the brakes unless you need to.
For the same reason, if you come to a stop and are struggling to get going try pulling away in second gear rather than first as this will keep the engine revs down and help prevent the wheels from spinning.
If the car does begin to skid look down the road where you want to be heading and turn the steering wheel in that direction. You’re more likely to regain control this way. Again, keeping off the brakes is recommended unless absolutely necessary because by using them you risk unsettling the car and thus exacerbating the skid.
No matter how well you drive you’ll also need to factor in what other motorists might be doing. Leaving a much larger gap than normal to the car in front is a good start, because it’ll give you more time to react.
As already mention, if your car does get stuck and isn’t in a vulnerable position it can be worth staying inside with the engine running to keep warm, but only once you’ve made sure the exhaust pipe isn’t blocked by snow – the last thing you want is to have toxic fumes being forced back into the cabin.
The right tools
If you own a 4×4 and are secretly relishing the prospect of putting the technology to good use in the snow it’s worth bearing in mind that while four-wheel drive can help you get moving it’s not of much use when you need to stop. That’s why it’s considered best practice to also fit all-season or winter tyres (also known as cold weather tyres), which offer dramatically more grip in freezing conditions. In fact, any time the temperature drops below 7°C you’ll start to benefit from the softer compound and different tread patterns of cold weather tyres compared to regular summer ones.
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