independent

Friday 18 October 2019

Precautions can minimise potential problems on the roads this winter

WINTER is fast approaching, dark drives to work and dark trips home.

The cold, dark weather is particularly hard on our cars as the last winter graphically illustrated.

With a few sensible precautions we can minimise potential problems on the roads:

Lights, heaters and wipers put high demands on the car battery. If your driving is mainly dark rushhour trips, the battery will give out eventually.

Batteries rarely last longer than five years. Replacing one near the end of its life can save a lot of time and inconvenience at the side of the road.

Avoid running electrical systems any longer than necessary â?“ turn the heater fan down and switch the heated rear window off once windows are clear.

If the car stands idle most of the weekend a regular overnight trickle charge is a good idea to give the battery a chance to revive.

Turn off non-essential electrical loads like lights, rear screen heater and wipers before trying to start the engine.

Use the starter in short five-second bursts if the engine doesn't start quickly, leaving thirty seconds between attempts to allow the battery to recover.

ANTIFREEZE

A continuous squealing noise as soon as the engine is started is a sign the water pump is frozen - it's the fan belt slipping on the pulley. The cylinder block could be frozen too. Stop the engine immediately and allow it to thaw out. This may take several days unless the car can be moved to a heated garage.

If the car begins to overheat a few miles from home it's likely that the radiator has frozen preventing coolant from circulating. Stop straight away to avoid serious damage and allow the radiator to thaw.

Antifreeze costs only a few pounds, but a frozen and cracked engine block will cost hundreds of pounds to repair.

Most modern cars use long-life antifreeze - it's important to use the right type and avoid mixing different types. Check the handbook or ask a dealer for advice.

Glycol-based antifreeze should be changed at least every two years.

You need a 50-50 mix of antifreeze and water in the cooling system for winter. This gives maximum protection down to -34° centigrade, and without it, severe engine damage costing hundreds of pounds can occur.

TYRES

While the legal minimum treat depth is 1.6 mm, the AA recommends least 3mm of tread for winter motoring, and certainly no less than 2mm.

Don't reduce tyre pressures to get more grip â?“ it doesn't work, and reduces stability.

It's rare to need snow chains unless you live in an isolated area hit with heavy snow, and where the roads are not cleared. They must be removed to drive on a metalled road without a reasonable covering of snow.

Consider changing to winter or all season tyres â?“ these have a higher silica content in the tread which prevents it hardening at lower temperatures, and therefore gives better grip in cold wet conditions.

SNOW AND ICE

Gentle manoeuvres are the key to safe driving - stopping distances are 10 times longer in ice and snow.

Wear comfortable, dry shoes for driving. Cumbersome, snow-covered boots will slip on the pedals.

Pull away in second gear, easing your foot off the clutch gently to avoid wheel-spin.

Up hill - avoid having to stop part way up by waiting until it is clear of other cars or by leaving plenty of room to the car in front. Keep a constant speed, choosing the most suitable gear well in advance to avoid having to change down on the hill.

Down hill - reduce your speed before the hill, use a low gear and try to avoid using the brakes. Leave as much room as possible between you and the car in front.

If you have to use brakes then apply them gently. Release the brakes and declutch if the car skids.

Automatic transmission - under normal driving conditions (motorways, etc) it's best to select 'Drive' and let the gearbox do the work throughout the full gear range. In slippery, snowy conditions it's best to select '2', which limits the gear changes and also makes you less reliant on the brakes. Some autos have a 'Winter' mode which locks out first gear to reduce the risk of wheel spin. Check the handbook.

If you 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. Once on the move again, try not to stop until you reach firmer ground. ( Winter driving advice from the aa)

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