After the long hot summer of 2018 it doesn't seem possible that winter could come again, and yet here we are in December with the temperatures dropping, the rain falling and the word 'frost’ not far from the forecasters’ lips. The time to prepare your car for winter driving is now.
Firstly get your car serviced and the battery checked. Cold weather is often the kiss of death to an elderly battery, and finding that you've got no transport on an icy day is an experience to be avoided at all costs, especially when a new battery is not an expensive fix.
While you are there, check the antifreeze levels in the car's engine. It's one of those jobs that are easy to put off, but the consequences of not doing it can be catastrophic for your engine (and therefore your wallet).
Next, check your visibility aids. Are all the lights working and clean enough to see? No one wants to be that irritating driver without a full set of working lights but without checking around the car there's no way of knowing. The windscreen wiper fluid also needs topping up - with snow comes grit and wipers alone won't clear your windscreen enough to see.
Lastly there's the tyres - your car's only direct contact with the road. What you choose to do for winter depends on your driving conditions and to a certain extent on your available storage area. The gold standard is winter tyres on a spare set of wheels (much easier to change out than just the tyres). Winter tyres hold the road so much better in low temperatures and also in rainy conditions. If you're driving long distances in cold weather it's definitely worthwhile. If on the other hand your main driving is a city commute then it's not likely to be worth the effort.
If you don't change to winter tyres you should at the least check the tread depth - the legal limit is 1.6mm but if you are close to that then replace before the winter. If you'll be doing it anyway later then take advantage of those deeper tyre treads when you need them most.
When you're driving through the winter you need keep additional kit in the car both for getting going and in case you break down. Obviously you'll need deicer and a scraper, and I cannot recommend strongly enough that you get some warm waterproof gloves to use for this - they make a horrible job into a mildly annoying job, and that means that you are less like to skimp on side windows and mirrors to save your fingers. A car cover or windshield reflector can also be a worthwhile investment if long periods of bad weather is forecast.
Despite all your safety checks and preparations you may still break down or become stranded, and in that case you'll be grateful that you chucked a few things in the boot at the beginning of the season.
Your first priority if you are stuck in cold weather conditions is going to be getting unstuck, so make sure that you have mobile phone and a charger/battery pack. Consider changing your car mats if they aren't rubberised, mats under your tyres can give enough purchase to get moving on ice. If you're likely to encounter drifts then a shovel and a rope could either dig or tow you out of trouble.
If you are stuck for a while you'll need everyone in the car to be warm enough. A car rug and some space blankets take up no room at all but will make a massive difference in a cold car, and everyone should have warm coats and footwear in case you have to walk. You're very unlikely to be stuck in this country for long enough to starve, but something to drink and a calorie-boosting packet of biscuits will cheer the spirits and help keep you warm.
Of course the most important tip is to drive safely. Slow down in poor conditions, watch out for black ice, use higher gears for snow and ice driving, and if it's not safe grab your sled and leave the car at home.
By Jools Crowley at 10 Dec 2018, 00:00 AM