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Getting Ready for Winter Driving

Although our winters here in the UK aren't normally severe enough for us to have to consider going as far as changing over to specialist winter tyres, the cold weather still brings its fair share of challenges. The best way by far to cope with these challenges is to be prepared for them rather than reacting to them when they happen, so here are a few things we can do to get ready for what winter might be preparing to throw at us.

Battery and Electrics

Your battery and the associated electrical systems really do get put through their paces during the winter, and it's not just the cold that puts a strain on things. The extra amount of time we spend driving in the dark during the winter also means more strain will be put on the battery by more frequent use of lights. If the battery in your vehicle is now five years old or older, just before the winter really kicks in is a good time to get a new one. Five years is about the lifespan for most batteries before they start to show signs of being past their best, so getting a new one fitted can avoid being stranded in a vehicle that won't start.

Even with a relatively new battery, it's still a good idea to reduce the strain by avoiding running systems such as heated screens, heaters, lights and wipers when they're not actually needed.

Check Your Fluids

It's always important to keep the various fluids in your vehicle topped-up and in the best possible shape at all times, but it's even more vital in winter. Anti-freeze is obviously the big one at this time of year, but it's amazing how few people ever bother with checking it outside of routine servicing. If the water in your engine system freezes, at best it can prevent you from starting the car, but at worst it can cause very serious and expensive damage. If you're not sure about the mix or type of anti-freeze your vehicle needs, getting a garage to sort it for you is a small but wise expense that could save you all manner of grief and expense later on.

Cherish Your Vision

Making sure you're able to see properly might sound about as obvious as things get, but there are a number of things you should check to make sure you're ability to see out of your vehicle isn't impaired. If dirt, snow or even stickers cover your car windows you could potentially be liable to a hefty fine. Clearing snow from a vehicle's roof as well as its windows prevents it falling onto the windscreen and obscuring your view. Make sure the windscreen is also properly clean both inside and out, as scratches, abrasion and chips on the outside can make the dazzling effect of the low winter sun even worse than it already is.

If you haven't changed your windscreen wipers for a while now, this is definitely the time to do it. The rubber can perish in hot, sunny conditions during the summer, and most of us know how bad it can be driving behind another vehicle on wet roads with wipers that are not clearing your screen properly. Also make sure there's plenty of water and screen wash in your vehicle before setting out, particularly on long journeys.

Treasure Your Tyres

As it says here in the intro, specialist winter tyres are probably a step too far for most of us here in the UK, but that doesn't mean we shouldn't pay serious attention to the tyres we do have on our vehicles. It may be that 1.6mm of tread is the legal minimum requirement, but anything less than 3mm isn't a good idea in the winter. Keep pressures at the recommended level and forget about the idea that reducing pressure gets you better grip; it doesn't at all, but it does reduce stability.

Even though not essential, if you are happy to fit winter tyres you'll certainly feel the benefit when there is snow and ice around. You might not believe it unless you've experienced it, but modern high-quality winter tyres are so effective they can actually squeal while doing an emergency stop on ice. So, you might want to think what that kind of stopping power is worth to you?

28 November 2016

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