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Winter Safety

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Andy Goundry with tips for safe winter motoring

The winter may be upon us, but most of us will need to use our cars, even though the seasonal weather could bring hazardous driving conditions. So what can you do to make driving safer?

First, let’s start with correcting a widely-held misunderstanding – that 4x4s are the thing to have in bad weather conditions. Unfortunately, most of the time it’s just not true. True, a 4×4 will get you moving on slippery surfaces better than a conventional 2-wheel-drive vehicle. However, having 4-wheel-drive offers little or no benefit if you need to stop quickly on those same slippery surfaces. And stopping, or being able to take avoiding steering action, are of course far more important than being able to get going in the first place.

Far better is to have tyres which are optimised for the season: most of the tyres that we buy or indeed are fitted to our new cars, are not at their best in winter conditions. In fact, below around 7°C, the rubber of these so-called summer tyres hardens, giving much less grip than at higher temperatures, resulting in longer stopping distances and a much higher risk of skidding.

So what’s the answer? Traditionally, fitting special winter tyres which do not harden at low temperatures is the best way to keep safe. To give you a flavour of just how effective winter tyres can be in adverse conditions, Auto Express magazine carried out a test of emergency braking on snow from 30mph using cars which were identical except for tyre fitment. The winter tyres stopped in 27 metres, whilst the summer tyres took an incredible 85 metres to stop from the same modest speed! And just to reinforce the point about 4x4s, other independent tests have demonstrated that a 4×4 on summer tyres will take far longer to stop in winter conditions than a conventional 2-wheel-drive car on winter tyres.

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These are powerful arguments in favour of changing to winter tyres when temperatures drop. However, most people are put off doing so, both by the costs of buying an extra set of tyres, and the hassle of changing them over twice a year. Also, winter tyres tend to perform slightly worse than summer tyres above that critical 7°C temperature. All is not lost, though, for a new breed of tyre has emerged over the last few years, ‘all season’ tyres. These, as the name implies, offer most of the benefits of both winter and summer tyres and can be kept fitted all year round. Typical of these all-seasons tyres is the highly-regarded Michelin CrossClimate range, although many of the well-known brands are now offering similar products.

So, consider fitting all-season tyres when your car next needs new rubber, but remember that it’s best to change all four at once. Cost wise, they are only a little more expensive than summer tyres.

After tyres, it’s particularly important in winter months to keep your wipers in good condition. Wiper blades are past their best after a couple of years, and the resulting smeared windscreen causes increased glare, making for tricky night driving. New blades are not too expensive, particularly if you buy online.

The same goes for lights: they need to be clean and functioning. Not just to help you to see clearly, but even more importantly to make sure that you can be seen. How often do we meet an oncoming vehicle with only one headlight working, making it extremely difficult to judge its width, which can easily have disastrous results.

Sadly, it’s tricky to replace headlight bulbs on many modern cars without a costly dismantling job. Nevertheless, urgent replacement of failed bulbs is vital if you want to stay safe. On a positive note, an increasing number of newer cars are being offered with either xenon or LED headlamps. These have a much greater life expectancy than conventional halogen bulbs, making this one option box which is well worth ticking if you order a new car, for as well as the improved life, they are much more powerful, lighting up more of the road ahead, provided, that they are correctly adjusted.

Correct headlamp adjustment needs specialist equipment, so a garage visit is necessary if you suspect your headlights are not as powerful as they should be. Again, correctly adjusted lights help not just you as a driver, but also oncoming drivers, who are not dazzled by poorly-aimed beams.

And finally, always ensure your windscreen and other windows are clean, for dirty screens again increase glare from oncoming traffic. Many proprietary car glass cleaners are available which do an effective job, although an old traditional method of using damp newspaper also works well. Don’t forget the inside of the glass, where an insidious layer of grime can develop unnoticed. Screen washers should also be checked and topped up with winter grade fluid.

So with suitable tyres, good lights and wipers, and a clean screen, stay safe and happy winter motoring!

Find more of Andy’s articles at www.autonews.uk.com
© Andy Goundry 16 October 2017

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