Winter Driving

This winter has been a tough one in the UK so far, with lots more snow and ice than we normally have. At the time of writing, we have some cold weather still to come, and as we've already experienced, it can strike suddenly.

Here are some tips to make sure you and your car are prepared, so that you can survive the next cold snap:

Take care of yourself

Make sure you have your breakdown membership details and contact telephone numbers with you. Store the telephone number in your mobile phone now. Keep yourself warm, safe and comfortable by packing gloves, a blanket, a small shovel, a torch and some cash. Always keep a fluorescent / reflective tabard or jacket available in your car to help you to be seen if you do have to leave your vehicle.

Keep your petrol tank at least half-full. You'll be able to keep your heater running for longer if you get stuck in the snow and have to wait for a rescue.

Make sure you're up-to-date with maintenance

If you didn't get your car serviced before the winter set in, consider getting a professional to check it out now. Make sure, in particular, your brakes are performing exactly as they should.

Ensure you have the correct mix of antifreeze and that you check and top it up regularly. Check oil and brake fluid levels - refer to your car's manual if you need to. It's also a good idea to keep a bottle of water - or a mixture of water and de-icer - to top up your screen washer. Remember, it's an offence to drive with an empty screen washer reservoir.

Can you see through your windscreen?

In cold weather mud, grit and salt get thrown all over your windscreen, reducing visibility and making driving hazardous. So check that your windscreen wipers are working effectively. Make sure your wiper blades aren't worn or damaged - if they're leaving smears across your windscreen, it's time for new blades, and if split, cracked or perished, the car will fail the MOT.

Clean the windows inside and out, and keep a can of de-icer and a scraper in the car. A useful tip is that the de-icer can be used to unfreeze locks on doors and petrol caps - you can even keep a small tin with you in case you have difficulty getting into your car.

Get a grip on your tyres

Inspect all your tyres, including your spare. Make sure they have plenty of depth of tread - 1.6mm over at least three-quarters of the tread is the legal minimum, but you should aim for more for driving on winter's difficult roads. While you're inspecting your tyres, look for signs of uneven wear and for cuts or small nicks in the sides of the tyres.

See and be seen

Check all your lights are in working order, and replace any faulty bulbs. Clean accumulated road grime from lenses, at least as frequently as when you wash you car. Check your front and rear fog lights, in particular - and remember that you can only use them when visibility is less than 100 metres.

Check your brake lights. If you don't have anyone to help you with this, back up to a garage door or a wall and see if both the lights illuminate the surface. Make sure your number plates are clearly visible, and that your horn works.

Safe driving on snow and ice

Drive slowly. Everything takes more time on snow and ice. Accelerate and decelerate gently, so you have you car under control at all times. Increase your following distance to an eight to ten second gap. Don't stop unless you can avoid it - particularly if you are going up a hill. You may find it difficult to get moving again.

Most of all, listen to the weather forecast and don't go out unless you have to. If you're not confident, stay at home.

David Williams MBE is the Chief Executive of GEM Motoring Assist, a leading road safety organisation in the UK. GEM Motoring Assist is a multi award-winning provider of car breakdown cover and has policies which also cover motorbikes and caravans.

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