Driving on our busy and often poorly maintained roads can be challenging at any time of the year, but winter brings its own specific challenges. The weather can be harsh and it can also change quickly, resulting in rapidly deteriorating conditions. Before the cold weather comes, it is worth investing in a winter check to ensure battery, electrics, antifreeze and tyres are all up to scratch. Once you take to the road, a few simple precautions and techniques should see you safely to your destination.
A simple tip is just to give yourself a little more time. Leaving for your morning commute 10 minutes earlier will keep you calm and allow for some disruption to your journey. Visibility is key in winter, so use this extra time to check all lamps are clear and the windscreen is properly demisted. Make sure your windscreen washer is topped up, as salt and grit debris on the road can soon hamper visibility. Also be aware that the lowers sun in winter can cause problems with glare, so keep your sun visors down and think about using sun glasses when driving. You should also keep a shovel and some old carpet or sacking in the boot.
Behind the wheel
The key to winter driving is to manoeuvre gently and leave much more space to accommodate longer stopping distances. Make sure your shoes are dry, as wet or snow-covered footwear can easily slip off pedals and cause accidents. When starting off, try pulling away in second gear to avoid wheel spin. When driving uphill, leave plenty of space in front to avoid stopping on the incline and drive at a constant speed. Moving downhill, engage a low gear to allow the engine to slow the car and avoid using the brakes. Again, leave lots of room in front and avoid sudden changes of speed or direction. If the car goes into a skid, you should release the brakes, de-clutch and turn into the skid. If you do get stuck in the snow, use your shovel to dig out a track and lay the carpet or sacking beneath your powered wheels. This should give you a good surface to achieve some grip and move off.
Getting the right equipment
Volkswagen recommends using winter tyres when the temperature dips below 7C. The rubber compound and tread pattern are designed specifically for these weather conditions and fitting will result in better traction, handling, grip and braking performance. The financial implications of keeping a set of winter tyres should be at least neutral, as you are not wearing down your summer tyres when using your winter set. Indeed, studies have shown that using winter tyres in poor weather instead of summer tyres could increase tyre life by 20%. According to the Met Office, the average UK temperature in the period from March to October is less than 7C, so this should act as a guide for when to fit the tyres. Volkswagen marks its winter tyres with a snowflake symbol to allow you to easily identify the right tyre.