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Winter driving advice

Winter is the worst time of the year to get behind the wheel; getting up early to get the ice off your car, then adding extra time onto each journey due to icy roads, however preparing for the worst & using the following advice will help you get through the cold winter months on the roads.

Before you get on the road

* Check & replace (if necessary) the anti-freeze in the radiator

* Make sure your lights are clean and check the bulbs are working

* Ensure your windscreen is cleared fully before you set off.

* Check your battery status; most car batteries have an indicator of their current level.

Snow chains

Snow chains are not illegal although if you are found to be driving them on roads that are clear from snow & ice there's a good chance you will be cautioned for damage to the road; also they can do more damage than good to your tyres unless you are actually driving through thick snow/roads that have not been gritted. For residential roads that have already been treated, you won't see that much benefit, they are more beneficial to those who have to travel down country roads with thick snow; the legal line is that they should be removed as soon as you can see the road.

Is your windscreen clear?

You could receive a fine of up to £1000 for driving with restricted vision if your windscreen is not clear; so follow the tips below before your journey:

* Brush all snow off the windscreen, mirrors and windows

* Lift the windscreen wipers away from the window to check they are not stuck to the windscreen.

* Spray de-icer onto the windscreen and use an ice scraper to remove any thick ice/frost.

* Use air conditioning for faster demisting and to reduce condensation on cold windows.

* Clear the inside of your window, any smear marks from sat navs/mp3 players will be magnified by the sun and will make it difficult to see where you are going.

* Clear any snow from the roof of your car, it could fall onto the windscreen blocking your view.

* Check your windscreen washer fluid is full and mixed with an anti-freezing agent.

* Never use hot water to defrost the ice on your windows quickly; this can crack the glass on your windscreen.

Driving advice:

There will be times when driving in hazardous conditions are unavoidable, so take care and consider the following:

Check for ice before driving – most cars now have ice warning lights and temperature gauges. Anything below three degrees centigrade means ice is likely.

Ask yourself whether you need to travel, and only do so if your journey is completely necessary.

Remember - Braking distances are as much as 10 times longer in snow and ice.

To avoid wheel spin, pull off in second gear, slowly taking your foot off the clutch.

If your tyres suddenly become quiet, this could be a sign you’re driving on ice, so slow down and concentrate on getting home safely, turn off the radio and give the road your full attention.

Watch out for salt spreaders and snow ploughs. Both use flashing amber beacons and will drive at less than 40mph. If you have to overtake these vehicles, leave plenty of room as any grit may damage your car.

Avoid over-revving the engine in thick snow – this can cause the wheels to get stuck.

Don’t accelerate or brake harshly.

If you do get stuck, use a high gear and lightly manoeuvre the car out of the snow.

Ensure your tyres are in good condition and have the minimum legal pressure and tread depth. At least 3mm of tread is recommended for winter driving, and no less than 2mm.

Carry an emergency kit

Preparing an emergency kit containing the following could prove helpful in case the unthinkable does happen:

* Ice scraper and de-icer

* Torch and spare batteries

* Walking boots

* Warm clothes and a blanket

* A first aid kit

* Jump leads should you need to attempt to restart your car

* Food and a warm drink in a thermos flask

* A shovel to dig snow away from your wheels

* A reflective warning sign/triangle to notify other road users there is a stationary car ahead.

Getting adequate breakdown cover to either fix your car at the side of the road or to recover your vehicle to a nearby garage would be a wise move. Breakdown cover can often be included in your car insurance policy; so when you’re looking for the cheapest cover add it as an optional extra – it may work out cheaper than buying separate cover.

What if you break down?

Firstly, don’t panic. If you break, call your breakdown assistance provider and follow their instructions. If you have a warning triangle, place this around 50 metres behind your car and return to your vehicle.

* Give as much information as you can to the emergency services/breakdown recovery, including your name, car model & registration number, the road you are on, location, direction of travel and any specific landmarks.

* Give an explanation of the cause of the breakdown or suspected problems

* Ask for proof of identity from any recovery service, and if necessary call your breakdown provider back to verify who they are.

If you break down on a motorway, get to the hard shoulder and as far away from the traffic as possible. Exit the vehicle using only the passenger side doors, and find your nearest roadside marker. These are used to pinpoint your location on the motorway.

Find an emergency phone, which will connect you directly to the highways agency who will ask for your name, vehicle model and colour, along with the problem you have encountered. They will also ask if you have breakdown cover or if you need a local recovery service.

Return to your car, but do not enter it, or let any passengers get back in the car. Stay on the embankment; unless it is dangerous to stay outside the vehicle. Ensure your hazard lights are left on until assistance arrives.

If you are on normal roads, stay in your car and call your breakdown provider from the car. Do not attempt to get out and walk unless help is visible within 100 yards. Turn your car engine over occasionally to keep warm, but make sure exhaust pipe is clear of any snow or debris, and keep a window open to prevent a build up of carbon monoxide inside the vehicle.

Hopefully none of us will break down when out in the snow, but if it does happen, hopefully the above will have helped you prepare for it until you get home safely.

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