DAVE MOORE: Winter driving tips

23/05/2017

Snow is already here in some areas, get ready for the worst!

Winter has already taken a grip on parts of the country taking many drivers by surprise, but steps can be taken to improve the odds in case winter weather tries to ruin your driving day says DAVE MOORE.

Preparing yourself and your car

Always carry a survival pack in the car, including food, drink, extra-warm clothes and a blanket. You might never know how welcome that old overcoat will be if things go badly on a winter drive.

Also carry chains if you have them, and some old sacks or bits of carpet which can prove a real face-saver when you get stuck. This could mean in mud and rain as well as snow and ice. If the unthinkable happens and you get stuck without some old sacks in the boot or chains, try reducing your tyre pressures. This gives you more grip by putting more tyre tread in contact with the ground. Another tip about chains is to practice their fitment a few times before you leave home, as it's better to make mistakes in your driveway than with frozen fingers in a distant lay-by.

Ensure your phone battery is fully charged, and you have an in- car charger. Your phone could be your only safe contact for recovery. Carry a shovel in case you need to dig yourself out of trouble.

Consider fitting winter tyres, but if you can't afford them, have your summer tyres checked. Winter driving means that tyres should have plenty of remaining tread, and if you're not sure, go to a tyre expert, their advice can be invaluable at this time of year. Even when it's not icy or snowing, grip is at a real premium in winter conditions and a tyre with only the legal minimum tread depth displaces as much as 85 per cent less water than a new tyre. If your tyres are on the edge of needing to be replaced, act now.

Have your air conditioning serviced. An effective air con system will demist windscreens much more quickly, helping visibility. Have the health of your battery checked. Batteries have to work extra hard in the cold. Make sure your windscreen washer fluid is topped up with the correct concentration of screenwash. Windscreens get particularly dirty in the winter months and screenwash will help prevent the liquid from freezing. Also have your coolant checked.

Driving in snow and ice

Adjust your driving style to the conditions - be sensible in the rain, snow and ice, leave greater following distance, imagine major hazards all the time, keep your lights on, but dip, don't dazzle.

While ice and snow are obvious hazards, the invisible threat of black ice can cause the biggest problems. A tell-tale clue that you are on black ice is when all goes quiet in the car and you suddenly can't hear any tyre noise and if you find yourself in this situation, don't brake or make any sudden steering inputs, but ease off the accelerator and proceed slowly and smoothly.

Know your car. This may sound daft, but it is essential to know whether your car is a front, rear-wheel-drive or all-wheel-drive vehicle so you can react accordingly in icy conditions. (I have one friend who thought his old Saab was rear-driven, simply because the engine ran in-line with the car.)

On a slippery road if you approach a corner too quickly or even at what you thought was an appropriate speed, there is a good possibility that your car will slide. This is even more likely if you also brake harshly while taking the corner the symptoms being that, as you turn the steering wheel to corner, there is no response and the car continues on ahead. This is a classic front wheel skid, and if this happens, remove your foot from the accelerator, as this shifts the weight balance of the car forwards and helps the tyres find grip. Do not use the brake.

The stopping distance for a car travelling at 50kmh is more than twice as long in icy weather as it is in normal conditions, so it's really important to keep a greater distance between you and the car ahead.

One universal truth for driving in slippery conditions is to accelerate, brake and change gear smoothly, gently and with care so precious traction is less likely to be broken. Another universal truth is that all-wheel-drive does NOT preclude the use of winter tyres and chains - there are thousands of once stranded motorists and even 4x4 experts who may once have thought so, but no longer do.

Some of the little things

Lights, and this includes both the front and rear clusters and indicators, can quickly become caked in winter and the range of your car's headlamps can be reduced greatly when road grime accumulates on them. Clean them regularly, even mid-journey in severe conditions, so you can see and be seen.

An ice-scraper is one of the most valuable winter tools to keep in your glovebox. I've already used mine three times this year on early mornings at the airport to scrape the front, rear and side windows of my car. By failing to use a proper de-icer and ice scraper, motorists can cause permanent damage to their cars – notably by scratching glass or by damaging the surrounding rubber seals. Don't just leave a slot to look through and clear all the windows and the side-mirrors, you'll need them even more in winter than usual.

Another don't is using very hot  water to melt ice from their windscreen, putting it at risk of cracking or shattering due to the extreme change in temperature. Warm water at most is advisable.  For all that, one good bit of winter driving advice that's very easy to follow, is to consider whether your journey is really necessary at all.

HINTS AND TIPS

- Using a screen scraper bought from an auto supplier for less than $5 is the best way to go clear on Winter mornings. Their rubber blades also work just as well on dewey screens. Keep it in the car.

- It may not quite get this bad in the Winterless North and Auckland, but the advice on screen clearing and driving techniques in low friction conditions are as valid for flooded roads and driving in the rain as they are for snow and ice.

- Never think that all-wheel-drive precludes the need for chains. Even this 4x4 Bentley makes good use of them, though having a set of winter tyres to swap into at the beginning of the season is a good idea. Though those too aren’t as effective as chains.