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Driving in the winter - Tips

Driving in the winter - Tips
08 December 2019

Breakdowns are most common in the winter and road conditions can be extremely challenging, especially when snow and ice strike. Here's how to stay safe...

No matter how well equipped your own vehicle is, if an accident takes placeahead of you, you'll be stuck along with everyone else, so if you're driving, its best to be equipped with an emergency kit, just in case.

Batteries and electrics

Turn off electrical loads like lights, heated rear window and wipers before trying to start the engine.Batteries generally have a life of 4-5 years and they are most likely to fail in colder conditions. There is also extra demands placed on the battery and vehicle electrics during colder conditions, i.e wipers, lights, heating and cold starting

  • If your vehicle is a diesel then allow it to pre heat
  • Allow a few seconds between turning the ignition on and starting the car. This is to allow the fuel system to prime
  • Use the starter in short five-second bursts.
  • If the engine doesn't start quickly, wait 30 seconds between attempts. This will prevent component overheating
  • If you don't use your car often, give it a regular overnight trickle charge. This will keep the battery voltage up and also condition the battery


Antifreeze only costs a few pounds, but a frozen and cracked engine costs hundreds to repair. You need a 50-50 mix of antifreeze and water for the winter – this protects your engine down to -34C. Most modern cars use long-life antifreeze. Make sure you use the right type. Some types of antifreeze need changing after only two years. Check your service book or consult with a workshop.


A continuous squealing noise when you start up could mean that the engines water pump is frozen - it's the fan belt slipping on the pulley. Stop the engine straight away and let it thaw out. This could take days unless you can move it into a heated garage.

If your car overheats a few miles from home, it's likely that the radiator has frozen.  Stop straight away so you don’t cause more serious damage.


  • Clean your windscreen both inside and out.
  • Keep the windscreen and other windows clear of dirt, snow and stickers, to avoid a fine.
  • Clear snow from the roof – it can fall onto the windscreen and block your view.
  • Air-con demists the screen faster and reduces condensation.
  • Replace worn or damaged wiper blades.
  • Don’t leave your wipers on auto when you park up if there’s a risk of frost. If the wiper blades freeze to your windscreen, you could damage the blades or wiper motor when you turn the ignition on.
  • Use a suitable additive in your screenwash to reduce the chance of it freezing.


  • Make sure all lights are working and lenses clean.
  • If the roads are really mucky you might have to clean your lights after every trip.
  • Keep number plates clean, to avoid fines.
  • If you have to clear snow, don’t forget the lights – front and back.
  • You must use headlights when visibility is seriously reduced. If you use fog lights, remember to switch them off when visibility improves so they don’t dazzle other drivers or obscure your brake lights.


  • We recommend at least 3mm of tread for the winter.
  • Don't let air out of your tyres to get more grip – it doesn't work, and it’s unsafe.
  • Only use snow chains if there’s enough snow to prevent damage to the road.
  • Think about getting winter tyres or all-season tyres – these are made from a special rubber that gives better grip in cold, wet conditions.


Snow and ice

Take it slow – with stopping distances 10 times longer, gentle manoeuvres are the key to safe icy and snow conditions

  • Wear comfortable, dry shoes for driving.
  • Pull away in second gear, easing your foot off the clutch gently to avoid wheel-spin.
  • Uphill – leave plenty of room or wait until it’s clear so you don’t have to stop part way up. Keep a constant speed and try to avoid having to change gear on the hill.
  • Downhill – slow down before the hill, use a low gear and try to avoid braking. Leave as much room as you can to the car in front.
  • If you have to use your brakes, apply them gently.
  • If you drive an Automatic, check the handbook – some have a winter mode or recommend selecting ‘2’ in slippery conditions.
  • If you do get stuck, straighten the steering and clear the snow from the wheels. Put a sack or old rug in front of the driving wheels to give the tyres some grip. 

Air Conditioning

There is a common misconception that air conditioning is only useful in hot summer months to provide cool air, this is not true. Air conditioning dehumidifies the air entering the cabin, this is why you may see a pool of water beneath a car when the air conditioning is running. This pool of water is condensation from ecxhange taking place with the system.  


So why is Air conditioning useful in winter months? 

The dehimified air produced by using the air conditioning system, even when blowing hot air is much more efficient at clearing interior glass condensation than non conditioned air. This will clear your windows far quicker than not using the system.

It is also worth noting that Air conditioning should be used for at least 15 minutes per month. This is because the refrigerant gas is mixed with a lubricant to keep the air conditioning compressor and system seals in good shape. With prolonged periods of non use the seals may perish resulting in harmful gasses entering the atmosphere and the system will not be able to function without this gas. 


Before you set off

  • Allow extra time for winter journeys.
  • Try to get up at least 10 minutes early, to give you time to de-ice the car.
  • Check fuel levels – keep at least a quarter of a tank in case of unexpected delay.
  • Don't drive off like a tank-commander, with a tiny hole cleared in the windscreen.
  • Clear all windows using a scraper and de-icer.
  • Use a cigarette lighter to warm a key for a frozen lock.
  • Plan routes to favour major roads, which are more likely to be cleared and gritted.

Safety inspection

Whilst you can do many checks and take steps to reduce the risks of breakdown there is nobody better to give your a vehicle the once over by a qualified mechanic.

Most workshops will offer promotional prices for inspections in the lead up to and during winter months. These inspections are generally inexpensive and they can go into a much greater level of detail than the vehicle owner can. In praticular, winter inspections generally include a brake fluid moisture content test, a coolant/ anti-freeze strength test and a battery discharge test. These 3 tests along with the added peace of mind that your vehicle has been fully examined by a trusted professional can keep your mind at ease and your vehicle on the road.