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Safer driving in Winter when conditions turn nasty

Crescent Motors

The change in the clocks as we head towards Winter marks an important time to re-assess driving habits; and the care and maintenance of our cars and vehicles.

It’s all too easy to overlook the added danger that the simple change in the clocks has on our ability to remain safe. According to RoSPA and other leading authorities, there is an unfortunate spike in road accidents for the first week or two after the clocks go back by that single hour.

It appears that our own time clocks are affected by the change; and, that they take a while to become fully recalibrated.

Researchers say that the grogginess we feel for the first couple of days after we change the clocks might just be scratching the surface of how our bodies actually process the disruption. The darker evenings can also be accompanied by worsening weather conditions, so our advice to motorists is to be extra vigilant.

With these changes in driving conditions, it is pertinent to take a look at some of the key issues that can help all of us to drive more safely, avoid accidents, and reach our destinations without the trauma associated with a collision.

The tyres on your vehicle are a good starting point. Not to make light of the fact, but do you know how much rubber on each tyre is in contact with the road? Yes, I know it sounds like a question on the Quiz at The Royal Oak, but the answer is less than you think.

It is generally accepted that the so-called ‘Contact Patch’ of each tyre is about the size of the sole of a man’s size 8 shoe. (I think you will agree that is a sobering thought). And, it further emphasises the importance of keeping a closer eye on the condition of your tyres.

This fact brings into context the need to be vigilant when driving in wet, slippery conditions. With changes in the loading on your tyres during accelerating, cornering and braking, it is a salutatory lesson to be reminded that you put a load of trust in your tyres and their performance.

With your car tyres being the key to both steering and braking, it is essential that they are in good condition. The leading advice is to check their pressure and tread depth. We recommend a minimum of 3mm depth during the Winter, rather than the legal minimum of 1.6mm. It offers better grip with the deeper grooves in the tread able to disperse surface water and provide grip on ice and snow. Some drivers may consider changing from summer to winter tyres. They offer increased grip in slush, or ice.

With potentially more of your daily and weekly driving taking place in dull and dark conditions, efficiently functioning exterior lights just sound like good common sense. At our garage, we are still bemused that many drivers don’t keep all their lights clean.

Modern plastic covers of front and rear lights can be easily cleaned and salt spray and other dirty deposits quickly removed. Clean lights mean you will have the best visibility at night, as well as during periods of snow, fog and rain. And, you make sure of your presence to other drivers. Our top tip is to carry extra bulbs, in case of a failure.

At our garage, we are really keen on prevention rather than cure. And, whilst we obviously like to carry out repairs and service, we are pleased to assist drivers to avoid the common mistakes that can afflict the unwary driver.

It is a good idea to make sure your car or van has been serviced before Winter sets in for real.

 

According to the AA, whilst the colder conditions can cause major problems, about 50% of the incidents could have been prevented by regular servicing and maintenance.  Drivers really should think taking advantage of the free or discounted 'winter checks' offered by some garages.

 

With Autumn and Winter being frequently wet, you can expect to use your windscreen wipers more frequently.  Like many components, the wiper blades do have a fixed lifespan. They will need replacing, particularly if you unfortunately use then when there’s still ice on your screen. You can check for nicks and tears in the blades by lightly running your finger down the edge of each blade.

 

New blades mean clean windscreens. But, with more dirt around in Winter, there’s a high risk of them smearing grime across the screen if your washer bottle runs empty. It must be a human frailty, (and I have done it myself), but to run out of screen wash on a cold frosty morning, on a long motorway journey, has got to be punishable offence. It’s down to preparation. All garages and service stations stock screen wash, so there really is no excuse.

As you’ll have been under your bonnet to fill your screen wash bottle, that’s an equally good time to check your engine coolant. Be sure to use the recommended mix of water and antifreeze; and, when properly maintained, will protect your engine down to very low temperatures, like -37o C.

We recommend topping up your coolant with antifreeze. If you make the mistake of topping up with water, the antifreeze will become over-diluted and will not protect your engine. It sounds like a no-brainer when it’s pointed out that an over-heated, seized engine will result in a very large repair bill.

Staying under the bonnet for a little longer, we’d like you to consider your battery for a moment. It’s a critical part of your car or van; and, it should be one of your first priorities. Throughout the winter your battery is placed under increased strain. The conditions will reduce its potential output to around some 50% of the power available on a summer’s day. And, yet you will still expect it to start your vehicle. Then you add insult to injury by asking it to provide extra power with increased use of the lights, your heater and blower.

There are tell-tale signs indicating a new battery is required.  If you have problems starting your car or van, get the battery checked, and replaced if necessary. As a rough guideline, most batteries have an operational life of around five years.

Checking the oil is another one of our tips. In cold weather, engine oil thickens making it harder for the engine to turn over. It’s a good idea to check your owner's manual for the manufacturer's recommendation. We advise using a multi-viscosity oil with a ‘W’ in the viscosity index. This means that it's formulated for winter use, provides good oil flow at low temperatures. These ‘W’ oils can often be used all year-round. When you have the oil changed, make sure your garage also replaces the oil filter, so the lubrication system has the maximum amount of flow of oil.

Whilst we are talking about Winter driving, we will all be reminded about those instances where drivers have been caught out by the conditions and got stranded in deep snow or stuck on motorways. Our advice is to carry a simple but effective survival kit. Does that all sound a bit excessive? We don’t think so at Crescent Motors.

Our list for your survival kit includes a shovel, a torch, blanket, a hi-visibility vest, screen wash, food and drink supplies, scraper and de-icer, plus snow grips for your shoes in case you need to walk to safety. Add a fully charged mobile phone; and you should be prepared for anything that the coming Winter can throw at you.

Just one final point – please drive according to the road and weather conditions; so slow down, stay alert, and stay in control. 

As I said above, prevention is better than cure and avoiding any unnecessary trauma has got to be a priority.

Today’s blog is written by Steve Tallett, Managing Director of Crescent Motoring Services, whose garages are the current National Independent Garage of the Year; a title his team has held since 2014. Crescent Motoring is also the first back-to-back winners of the Excellence in Customer Service Awards from the Birmingham Chamber Group. Winning these prestigious awards in 2013; and then again in 2014.