Top five winter driving tips

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A blizzard makes driving difficult at the Buttertubs Pass near Hawes with snow,ice and blizzard conditions affecting many roads Picture Date: Monday, February 23 , 2015. Photo Credit Should Read John Giles/PA

The first frost of the year can be a terrifying time for us Brits – proving once and for all that summer's over, and signifying the season of woolly hats, mulled wine and remarking "isn't it chilly?" to everyone we see.

It can also mark the beginning of chaos on the roads, especially as snow and ice begin to make their mark known. Those without much experience driving in slippery conditions can often find winter a really dangerous time, especially if you continue to drive as you would in the dry.

We've compiled some top tips for driving safely and sensibly during the winter months.


1. Preparation, preparation, preparation

Nobody's suggesting you should travel with full camping gear and two weeks' rations, but there's no harm at all in putting together a winter driving kit to keep in your boot. An ice scraper and de-icer are a must, as are chargers for your mobile phone and sat-nav – or an atlas if you're that way inclined.

You might think it's time to put the sunglasses away, but keep them in the car – low winter sun and glare from snow and ice can seriously impact visibility.

Consider keeping a set of shoes to change into, so you don't have to drive in bulky and slippery winter boots – and if you're heading into serious ice and snow, a few snacks, a flask of hot drink, blankets and a torch are all much appreciated. Finally, should you get stuck, a snow shovel and rug to place under the tyres for extra grip could be lifesavers.

2. Slow it down

A sign on the M25 motorway near Heathrow Airport warns motorists of fog after forecasters warned of visibility as low as 100 metres with fog and sub-zero temperatures across swathes of England.

Ice and snow reduce traction, which impacts everything you do in the car. Therefore, all braking, accelerating and cornering should be done slowly, carefully and gently to avoid sliding or locking the wheels.

Pulling away in second gear – or locking your automatic car in winter mode – will help prevent wheelspin when pulling away, while you should always slow down using engine braking until the last possible moment.

If you get yourself stuck, the key is not to spin your wheels – all that does is dig your car further into the rut it's trapped in. Instead, sprinkle salt or gravel in front of the wheels or use a rug or folding snow tracks.

3. Visibility is key

Make sure all your car's bulbs are working before you set off, as seeing and being seen are really important in inclement weather. It's worth keeping a spare set of bulbs just in case.

It's a legal requirement to clear your car of heavy snow – that means scraping your whole windscreen, clearing number plates and headlights and shovelling deeper drifts off the roof or bonnet if they've settled overnight.

Foglights can be used if visibility is reduced but remember to turn them off in traffic or when fog clears, as they can dazzle other drivers and make your brake lights less effective.

4. Take care of your battery

A van driving down Dumbarton Road in Stirling during a snow blizzard, as a cold weather front is to sweep in with temperatures expected to drop as much as 10C to below zero overnight into Thursday.

Car batteries are less efficient in cold weather, which isn't great as this is when we demand the most from them – lights, wipers, heating and air-conditioning all drain the battery and should be turned off when you don't need them.

Batteries need a good long drive to charge up, so if you do lots of short journeys, you may need to hook your car up to a main charger if you don't want the battery to go flat.

If the worst happens and your car refuses to start, don't keep trying – it simply flattens the battery further and won't help matters. You'll need to jump start it using another car or call out your breakdown patrol.

5. If in doubt – don't drive!

If you're not confident, the safest thing to do is not to drive at all. Think about whether your journey is really necessary, and if it's not, consider just staying home.

If you do really need to get out and aren't sure you'll be safe driving in the conditions, try a friend or family member who knows what they're doing. Also remember false confidence is worse than no confidence at all – simply having a car with four-wheel drive does not make you an arctic rally driver!

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