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Thursday, 12 January 2017

Winter Driving


Winter is truly here and up until now, we've had a few cold snaps and a few heavy covering of fog. Temperatures in November and December have been unusually high with Christmas Day temperatures reaching 13 or 14 C in some places around the UK. Certainly not a white Christmas. But the weather is turning and its easy to be unprepared for what is about to come.
The weather in the UK is notoriously hard to predict. Three weather systems constantly battle it out above the UK sky's. The warm weather from the south. The wet and windy weather from the Atlantic, and the cold weather from the north. The referee, the thing that separates these weather fronts is the unseen Jet Stream. The stream cuts through these weather systems to keep them separated. It normally sits north of the UK, but often ventures down bring that colder snap, causing ice to form and rain to turn to snow.
That jet stream often falls slightly south of Scotland bring ice and snow regularly north of the border. It would be true to say that motorists in Scotland and the north of England are use to these cold snaps each year. However, the south east corner is not, and many motorists in London and the southern counties come to somewhat difficult situations when the really cold stuff hits us.
In one day during the winter of 2009/10 the AA took some 28000 breakdown calls from around the UK. A large number of breakdowns no doubt could have been avoided with some simple yet effective checks.
F.L.O.W.E.R. Check your Fuel before you leave. You never know when you might get stuck in long traffic jams on our road network. Make sure you can been seen by checking your Lights all work, and is free from obstructions during your journey. Check lights are working too. Switch them all on, hazards and fog lights too and take a walk around the vehicle. Too check your brake lights ask another person to check they switch on when you depress the brake peddle. If on your own, an easy way is to check the lights reflect back when something is behind you, I've often used the walk behind me to check daily that the brake lights work, viewing the reflection on the wall. Oil levels should be checked. Don't rely on the car telling you it's low, that often happens when your on the move and it's inconvenient to stop to top it up. No oil and the engine will cease. Your vehicle needs Water too. Check screen wash and coolant are topped up. No coolant will lead to over heating engine no mater how cold it is outside. The RAC reports that the most common breakdown is flat battery. So check the Electrics. If the car struggles to start on a nippy day, it's likely it will give up on the colder ones.  And check those tyres. The Rubber, or the depth of grip to be precise should be no lower then 1.6mm. That's the legal limit, but it would pay dividends to have them change before that to give you the best possible grip should the road be icy or covered in snow. Owners of rear wheel drive vehicles might want to consider winter tyres.
In addition the IAM recommends packing a small shovel, spare bulbs, ice scrapper, blanket and touch. That's something that could be sourced before the weather really turns. I would recommend some chocolate, a large bottle of water and maybe a small 12v travel kettle and a cup of soup, just in case you get stuck. From experience, on one occasion, a one hour 15 minute journey once took me a whopping 10 hours in the winter of 09/10. The chocolate bar and water came in very handy that night.

What's in your boot?  A selection of kit carried in the vehicle as
a 'Just in Case'. Including Hi Vis jacket, water, oil, folder away
shovel, window cleaner, snacks and a 12v kettle. 
The weather will no doubt slow you down. Leave a little earlier then normal. Plan the journey. If your journey is a long one, check that there is service stations on the route that you could stop at for breaks. Check the forecast too. And use technology to help too. Take a phone charger with you and keep the phone plugged into the 12v supply. Sat Nav's with traffic Reporting could come in handy, re-routing you around any major traffic jams and incidents that may happen on route. Local radio stations may provide suitable reports too, and if your entertainment system has RDS and TP, learn how to switch them on prior to you journey so the radio can automatically inform you of the current situation ahead.
Above all, however, pay attention to the road and the conditions. It's all too easy to be complacent when sitting in a nice warm car with your favourite music on. Switch your lights on to be seen, and keep your speeds down. Give plenty of room between you and the vehicle in front. In dry weather you should use the 2 second rule, double that in wet weather, and times that by 10 on ice!
By taking some simply steps, you should hopefully be able to avoid a breakdown. Should you breakdown or be stranded, however, you may be a little more prepared then before. The AA has some good advice about what to do should you be in that situation. Worth reading before hand or even printing it out and take it with you.

Stay safe this winter.

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