2009-02-03

How to drive in the icy and snowy conditions.

I've just watched a piece on BBC Breakfast show where they "advice" the general public on how to drive in the winter conditions. Whilst it wasn't totally rubbish, it wasn't particularily good and I think it totally missed a few points. So, here is... without further typing, my tips on how to drive in the winter. In two sections; preparing to move, and moving.
Preparing to move.
First of all start your engine. This is vital. Your engine needs time to warm up, and this engine heat is required to demist your windows (not just the windscreen) and thaw the snow. The sooner you do this the better. Don't turn on all your electrical gizmos, including the rear window demister. Don't. You'll probably stall the engine and the battery needs all juice it can get. Let it charge for a moment.
Then clear your windscreen, mirrors, and lights. This part the BBC news got right. However, they also wanted you to scrape your car to buggery by removing all the snow. They do have a point that the snow will fly around, but this isn't lethal. Clear away as much as you can, but please don't scratch your car. Make sure your windscreen wipers aren't frozen to the screen, and that they not frozen solid. If they're frozen solid they won't conform to the windscreen and they will be useless. Naturally you've spiced up you windscreen washer fluid to extra strong so that it can cope with the extra cold.
If your doors are sticking a bit, you can use a bit of WD-40 or similar on the door frames to prevent moisture to sticking there.
Now, next lesson is how to demist the car. The correct way is to use hot air and plenty of it. Turn your fan up, turn you heat up, and point the air at your windows. After a while your screens (all of them) will be clear. Trust me on this one!
OK, so now you car is running, it's demisted, desnowed, deiced. You're about ready to go. But first, wait a few more moments to see if you can get the interior up to temperature. You don't want to drive your car if you are a popsicle. If you do, you're stiff and you're not very focused on the road and traffic. If the car is warm you can even take off your big puffa jacket and be able to touch the steeringwheel. Point is; be comfortable with your driving. It might extend your life expectancy. (The BBC got this wrong, IMFO). (Oh, and you're moving outdoors in garmets that will keep you warm for more than 10 minutes, aren't you?!)
To get moving you need to try not to spin the wheels. If you're stuck in a pile of snow you should, not, I repeat, NOT floor it and spin the wheels. Spinnging the wheels creates friction, which creates heat and suddenly your British summer tyres have their own ice skating rink underneath them. Not good. What you want to do is try to get the car rocking back and forth and in this way gather momentum to roll out of the pile of snow. Do this by using the clutch ease the car forward, then push the clutch back in to let the car rock backwards, when it's at back you ease the cluth out for more forward momentum - without spinning the wheels. Repeat, with increasing momentum, until you're free.
When driving you must remember that you've already got "4x4 brakes". Especially if you feel you have extra traction thanks to driving a four wheel drive car. Your brakes won't have extra traction. The key is to maintain as much space around you as possible. This gives you time to react, time to avoid and time to stop.
If, and only if, you have enough space around you can do a traction test. Make sure you have nobody around you and/or that you're in a situation that doesn't cause confusion. When in this situation you can brake hard to see how much traction you have when braking. This will help you calibrate how you drive. You can also step on the throttle to see how much traction you have in "that direction". However, if you are at any point unsure on how to recover from a skid, just don't do this. It's easier for you to drive slowly and not crash.

Bonus; what to bring with you on your journey.
Fully charged mobile phone
Petrol/Diesel - don't let your tank run close to empty. You don't know what detour you might have to take, and you might be stuck and the car's engine might be the only source of heat.
Stick a blanket in the car. Could be handy.
Stick some sort of digging implement in the car, even if it's just the smallest of garden tools. It's still better than your credit card.
If you're a house owner you might have a bit of sand lurking in a shed. It's very good to have a bit of sand in your car for added traction. Just lay it out in front of your driving wheels to gain a bit extra traction. But make sure it's dry or you won't get into it. Store it indoors.
A torch. I gets dark avfully quick!
More windscreen washer fluid - concentrated.
Some drinking water. Don't let it freeze.
Jumper cables. They might not be needed for your car, but being kind in the snow is the right thing to do.
Tow rope. It might be easier for you to stop and pull a car out of the ditch than wait (and potentially waste) for the emergency services and/or the AA/RAC.

And that's about it.
But above all.... Take your time! Stressing will mean you'll screw up much easier. Be safe!

5 comments:

Tooony said...

Cool! But you forgot the best advice: "Don't!" If you don't have to go out there, stay at home. ;-)

the boy said...

and buy some bloody snow chains. when will people in the uk learn what these things are for?

ps old man, you forgot to pack a cardigan in the car ;-)

J said...

I've never used snow chains in my life. Maybe in 30cm deep snow without any tracks they'd be useful. But on 5-15cm you're fine without. Just don't think that saving those last 2mm of tread on your tyres will be a benefit in these conditions. A bit of sand or gravel to help you out in sticky situations will be fine.

the boy said...

you might be fine on fresh snow without chains in a straight line at 15mph but once the temp starts bouncing up and down enough, the snow can start to melt, get packed down by the cars and then freeze again, it's like an ice rink...there's just no way you can control a car properly in those conditions without *something* on the wheels, especially if you're somewhere the ploughs & gritters don't get to on a regular basis.

probably most places in the uk the snow never sticks around for long enough and in enough quantity to cause these problems but if the uk keeps getting colder because of global warming then it'll start to happen more and more imo.

ps: a scandi who's never used snow chains??? wtf??? around here you won't find *anyone* who doesn't own a set of chains and i thought you guys got more severe winters than we do...

J said...

Like I told you... they're not needed. The most common tyre in scandinavia is a studless siped tyre. Like these ones: http://www.nokiantyres.com/tyre?id=10924176&group=1.01&name=Nokian+Hakkapeliitta+R
or you have studded tyres. http://www.nokiantyres.com/tyre?id=10360787&group=1.01&name=Nokian%20Hakkapeliitta%205
No snow chains needed.
They can be useful if you need to get out of a bad position, but seriously, not needed. A bit of digging, a bit of sand and you'll be fine.
In UK on the other hand, the snow never stays on for long enough to need any snow chains. Caz's car this morning drove just fine through 5cm+ of snow. With summer tyres.