WINTER is the worst time of year to break down, but it’s also the time when your car is under the most stress, so it’s more likely to have problems.
And not just that: accidents are far more likely at this time of year, too, when the roads are less grippy and drivers all too often fail to take account of it. Government statistics showed more than 6,200 accidents attributable to ice and snow last winter, and those are just the ones that were reported.
It’s National Road Safety Week this week and fleet management company LeasePlan UK, whose job involves helping to minimise accidents wherever possible, has offered a few nuggets of advice for motorists braving the seasonal weather.
David Brennan, Managing Director, LeasePlan UK, said: “While we may be some way away from the first snow flurries, now is the ideal time to start preparing your vehicle for winter conditions.
“Extreme weather, even in the relatively benign UK, should never be underestimated. Sometimes choosing not to travel can be the best preparation of all, so no matter how important that meeting or appointment, consider whether the conditions are really safe for driving.
“Many business drivers will get into their vehicles almost every day of the year, and with this familiarity can come a degree of complacency. Making a few considered preparations can break this cycle and will help drivers ready themselves and their vehicles for the challenges posed by winter weather.”
The advice is equally useful for private car owners. Have a look at these top tips for how not to fall foul of treacherous conditions.
:: Plan ahead: Cars are much cosier than they used to be, but that can give you a false sense of security. Where possible, try to avoid travelling in extreme weather conditions. If you do travel, stick to the biggest roads you can, as these will be gritted first and most often. Many councils will post road gritting updates on their websites so you can plan the best route.
:: Adjust your driving style: Heavy rain, ice and fog are all unfortunately hallmarks of a traditional British winter. Visibility goes down and stopping distances go up, so unless you want to end up squished into the back of the car in front, slow down and leave more space.
:: Prepare your vehicle: This is so simple. Changing your tyres at 3mm is best, because the difference in their handling through standing water from there to the legal minimum 1.6mm is genuinely shocking. Check your car’s manual for the correct tyre pressures and pump them up (or down) to the right levels. Most petrol stations have pumps if you don’t have your own. Keep your screen wash topped up with a strong dedicated fluid and make sure that all your windows are properly clear of snow, ice and condensation before driving anywhere. Clear that snow off your roof and bonnet, too, unless you want to risk a fine from the police.
:: Prepare yourself: A Rocky-style montage isn’t compulsory here, but it helps. Take care and most winter journeys will pass without a hitch, but imagine if you broke down somewhere without things like a warm coat, a torch, a drink and so on. Think about what you’d really need in an emergency. Don’t forget sunglasses to deal with the low sun and blinding glare off the wet roads, and store the non-emergency number of your local police service in your mobile phone, just in case you break down.
:: The worst case scenario: If you break down on a motorway, it’s absolutely essential that you don’t stay in the car. Imagine if a truck veers off onto the hard shoulder, as they often do, but straight into your car. You don’t want to be sitting in it! Once you’re a safe distance away behind a barrier, keep warm and make yourself visible. Motorway location markers (small, frequent rectangular blue signs) can help recovery services find you faster. If you have to abandon your vehicle to seek shelter, remember to give the local police as many details as you can and, where possible, park out of the way to allow other vehicles to pass.