By Iain Robertson
As with so many aspects of existence, forward planning is a both a life preserver and a salvager of pride. Get it wrong and you might not always get the chance to say how sorry you are and I do not aim this comment solely at PM Liz Truss.
Although it should not be, environmental protection remains a hot topic politically, economically and, more recently, socially. The thorny subject of global warming, for which motorised transport has been receiving an unfairly biased lambasting, is responsible for a virtual melding together of our seasons and, while snow is no longer a winter guarantee, lower ground temperatures and thus slippery road surfaces are autumnal and winter regulars.
If you own a set of winter tyres, now is a good time to have them fitted to your vehicle. If you don’t, a new set can cost around £300 and, while your car’s wheels and tyres are being looked after, requesting that its tracking geometry also be checked is not a bad idea. It is advisable to check your tyre pressures (you’ll find the recommended settings in the driver’s door jamb, behind the fuel flap, or in the car’s Driving Manual). Slippery roads reduce the handling tolerances that dry roads can disguise.
Naturally, unless you are so wealthy that it doesn’t matter, preparation for seasonal change can be expensive, at a time when we are all being hit by runaway costs. However, when you contemplate the added overheads of even a minor damaging indiscretion, you also need to balance potential cash outlays but you must remember this overriding rule: IF YOU WANT TO CUT COSTS, CUT YOUR SPEED FIRST!
Another useful winter rule to remember is related to vision and BEING SEEN IS EVERY BIT AS VITAL AS SEEING. Of course, you should ensure that your vehicle’s windscreen washer bottle is full, with an appropriate dose of antifreeze agent. If the wiper blades leave streaks and do not clean the screen (front and rear) as they should, replace them. It is always practical to have easy access to a plastic ice-scraper, with which to scrape all windows clear of frost. Direct your air-conditioning to ‘defrost’ glass from the cabin; it can also remove condensation forming moisture. However, ensure that you use your car’s headlights, even during the day, even though your vehicle may have daytime running lamps, as they often illuminate just the front of the vehicle. If there is snow, remember that all ice crystals thrown up by your car’s progress can diminish the visibility of following traffic and avoiding the use of the rear foglamps will reduce painful glare behind.
Having mentioned environmental issues earlier, as the temperature plummets the tendency to start up the car and leave it to warm is not just responsible for increasing levels of air pollution inordinately but consumes a significant amount of expensive fuel, while increasing the risk of theft, as you consume breakfast. DRESS APPROPRIATELY FOR THE PREVAILING WEATHER CONDITIONS.
All modern cars are equipped with several levels of what’s known as ADAS, notably the electronic stability and traction controls, as well as antilock brakes. Yet, even the most proficient of drivers cannot alter the Laws of Physics. DRIVE SMOOTHLY IN ADVERSE CONDITIONS. Sudden direction changes can result in skids from which it is difficult to recover. Sudden, heavy braking will lead to an increased skid risk, just as heavy acceleration will spin the tyres unnecessarily and these aspects apply to front, rear and all-wheel drive vehicles. If you already drive an Electric Vehicle, be aware that it can be upwards of 60% heavier than a fossil-fuelled one, which will make it harder to stop in bad weather. You cannot expect technology, however advanced, to save you from yourself.
Should the weather turn nasty, simply do not drive. However, some trips are essential. Therefore, you should PHONE AHEAD as part of your preparedness, so that your destination knows that you are en route. Ensure that you allow time for diversions and have your mobile devices fully-charged and sat-nav suitably programmed. I always carry a ‘WINTER BOX’ in the boot, which contains a heavy jacket, welly-boots, gloves, blanket, a folding shovel, a couple of old sacks (or old car floor mats) for added traction, or for kneeling on to change a punctured tyre, augmented with a large bar of chocolate and a flask containing a hot drink.
There are so many things that you can attend to but above all use your common-sense. During winter drives be confident and not nervous. Be circumspect and think about the positive effect (but not impact) you can have on other road-users. Stick to the rules suggested and you will still enjoy the freedom and pleasure of motoring, even in the depths of winter, whether driving here, or abroad. Remember: ‘think twICE’!