Here, at AROnline, we know you lot – our loyal readers – aren’t daft. Far from it, in fact. However, you guys are bound to be the ones asked ‘What do I do?’, when the nation’s driveways resemble an iced bun. Here’s our list of winter driving tips.
So, here’s a quick get out of jail free card from Andrew Elphick for your friends, relatives and colleagues. Mike Humble then adds his own unique slant by making a controversial suggestion.
Winter driving essentials: the £15 special!
All you need to survive for the price of set menu No. 3 in the local Chinese
For under 50p most garages will offer an air compressor to pump all four tyres up – if you’re lucky, there might be vehicle chart as well. Otherwise have a look behind the petrol flap, on the door pillar in the hand book or try Kwik Fit’s Tyre Pressure Search.
Obviously, check you have plenty of tread too. 1.6mm might be legal, but it’s pretty much hopeless in heavy rain. Below 4mm and you really should think about some replacements. Now, I know your next question – I haven’t got one of those tread depth thingies – so get a lump of blue tack and squish it in the tread, pull it out and measure the lump sticking up. Magic, eh?
Winter driving essentials: the oily bits
Right, pop the bonnet, a quick check – have you got enough oil, coolant (don’t top it with tap water!) brake fluid, power steering fluid. It sounds obvious, but even the best of us have a ‘oh-dear’ moment occasionally!
Good… Now to the screen wash. Give your existing washers a good purge of screen wash, 60 seconds of constant stream should tell you if you have any unknown blockages. Now pour in your screen wash. This is the hard bit; for well under £5 you can get at least a litre of screen wash, plenty of choice. However, spin the packet round: what is the minus degrees rating? Get the lowest figure you can and pour it in neat, and top the rest with water.
The anti-freezing properties are in the concentration. A top tip is the Audi/SEAT/Skoda/VW own brand (Part No G052164M2), very cheap and very effective. Try eBay…
Now do you know where the pollen filter is? Try Puravent for assistance – if one thing will make your car steam up like a sauna this is it. You might need to give a shake, a vacuum or possibly replace it altogether.
Before you shut the bonnet drag any dead leaves away and check the catch has plenty of grease, especially if you have a Rover 75!
Winter driving winners: the windows
The obvious first: wiper blades. Are they any good at the moment? Do they look like they are fraying? You can spend a fortune on blades (especially if you’re having an MoT) but shop around. Wilko Stores can kit you out for a couple of quid, a search online can get you genuine, quality parts for not much money.
Remember wiper blades are great for sticking to frosted windscreens, so leaving the wipers on full blast when you get home the night before might be expensive the next morning. Our continental Alpine friends often leave wipers pointing skyward in the evening.
How clean is the glass? Sure, on the outside, but what about inside? You might be surprised how dirty it is. Clean glass demists quicker, and stays steam-free for longer. Household glass cleaner is fine, but a polish with a cream-based cleaner (Autoglym’s glass polish or similar) is a very effective barrier.
Before you finish inside give the rubber door seals a wipe down – a trip to your local pound shop will get a aerosol-based ‘black to black’ or silicon product. Give the rubber seals a through wipe down and spray – all this will help give a surprising resistance to frozen-shut doors. You might find your ‘sharper’ spare key is more effective in freezing locks, too.
Winter driving essentials: the survival kit
Who are we kidding? If it’s that bad stay in doors! However, a few things you could stick in the footwell (easy to reach if you really have problems) are as follows: De-icer, sure it’s everywhere now for £2, but try buying it when you need it! An ice scraper – ditto. A couple of Mars bars or similar sugar-filled sweets, a few re-sealable bottles of water, something to read and a blanket or old coat and gloves, anything that might make another layer for you, (or maybe the octogenarian in the car in front) come your unexpected road closure. A reflective vest and torch might also be useful.
Finally, pop the boot and (a) empty that junk out, (b) stick a few sheets of stout corrugated cardboard in, the type stuff comes packaged in. Very handy as a dry kneeling mat, or for sticking in front of stuck tyres for traction. Pretty good for covering windscreens as well.
So what’s the total?
£4: screen wash
£1: glass cleaner
£1: rubber/plastic spray
£3: reflective vest
£15… Money well spent.
Got more to burn, though? Well, the world is your oyster. Spend the same again in a DIY store and that should buy you a bag of precious rock salt and a cheap, plastic snow shovel to get you off the drive and melt the ice at the end of your junction (you might be surprised at how little rock salt is needed to stop ice). Leave them both in the boot – you need to get back home after all…
Roadside recovery or home start can be useful (and might come with your bank account or credit card), but bear in mind everyone else will be making the call when their batteries have given up the ghost. Speaking of batteries a purchase of a new one might be worth a go if yours is as old as time itself – remember they only ever give up miles from home!
Still feeling flush? How about snow socks/chains or winter tyres? Under £50 buys some socks or chains.
Snow socks are, quite literally, a synthetic sock that covers your tyre and are secured with Velcro. They’re meant to get you out of trouble, but try doing 30mph for sustained periods of time on tarmac and you will shred them!
Snow chains are a more permanent version of the sock, being made of steel. The downsides are that they are a sod to get on, and rumble like thunder! Snow socks tend to cover a wider range of fitments, where as chains are much more specific. I would recommend having a practice run with fitting both types, or you might as well not bother having them.
Speaking from experience, take your nice watch off too before fitting chains…
Should you fit winter tyres?
Depending upon who you talk to, these are either (a) waste of time, or (b) the best thing since sliced bread – so, if your prerequisite for tyres is that they must be black and cheap, stop reading.
However, I’m in the thumbs-up club. One winter, I experimented with a set of part-worn tyres on my rear-wheel-drive BMW – and was astounded. Even now, I’m still not sure how so seemingly little tread difference to the eye can cause such an increase in grip. I know it’s in the compounds (and you can feel movement in the tread blocks).
If you go down the ‘previously enjoyed’ tyre route aim for two things: 5mm tread and a branded name. Part worns tend to be priced by size rather than brand, so go for Michelin, Pirelli, Continental, Nokian, Goodyear, Dunlop, Vredestein etc.
This year I traded cars, and went for a brand-new set of winter tyres (Pirelli Sotto Zeros). And I’m pretty frugal (it has often been remarked I must have Scottish or Yorkshire ancestry). There is a huge variance on price, but my trusted local Tyre Fitters at Queens Park Tyres came up with the goods for only a little more than the online specialists so I shopped local. It’s worth you trying local, too. Winter tyres really are that good, trust me.
One last thing to note: get some practice in
We all made that first winter driving mistake once upon time – your favourite nephew or niece, who has only just passed the driving test, might benefit from an old stager’s advice in a deserted and empty ‘iced’ car park or an hour on a local skid pan – especially if their pride and joy isn’t packed full of driver aids like their 2016 driving school car…
Mike Humble adds an interesting idea or two…
We live in a fairly quiet commuterville cul-de-sac for those who don’t know and, as a consequence, anything motor-related means the word travels fast. Now that winter is well and truly upon us, most of the garages up and down the land brace themselves for the influx of dead batteries and temperamental alternators.
My heart goes out to the patrol guys who are looking forward to spending the next three months lying on a damp road underneath another failed Focus or knackered Nissan – those guys really earn their stripes at this time of the year. But you also have the dishonest brigade all ready and waiting to scalp the next motorist that comes their way.
The winter checks
I have just been speaking to a local resident who has taken advantage of a garage close to her office that’s doing one of those billion point winter checks all for just £15.99. Her husband collared me as I was arriving home spitting fire and brimstone over the estimate for the family Galaxy following a visit to this garage in Guildford. The paperwork decreed that two new tyres were needed along with pads, discs and a rear exhaust silencer – but it got much worse. They had also noted that a driveshaft boot was ‘deteriorating’, which justified replacing the outer CV joint, too. She had opted to seek further advice before handing over the thick end of £700 – and quite rightly, too.
You see, I know the car very well and I also know they keep it in first class condition by using a local spanner man who is a time-served ex-Ford fitter. We had a casual look at the car and noted that the front tyres had at least 3mm of meat on the bone, the discs do indeed have a lip but nothing you would regard as life expired while the rear silencer had nothing more than age-related surface corrosion – everything you would expect to see on a ’59-plated car.
Here we have another classic example of a business out to capitalise on the gullible and uninformed car owner. I have nothing against maximising sales… it’s sound business practice, but robbery is something else.
These winter checks make me chuckle most of the time. Any decent trader will offer these services free – charging only for the consumables, but for most of the time the checks include little more than kicking the washers and squirting the tyres.
Don’t be fooled
If your car starts on the button every day the battery and alternator are both fine, anyone can visually check tyre depth/condition and the same applies to the wiper blades. Winter checks are a good idea if carried out fairly but remember one thing – they are designed to make you spend money at a time when people are reluctant to spend their hard earned bunts on the car when Christmas comes along.
If you want to buy your loved one or a novice motorist something really useful this Christmas, treat them by enrolling them onto an evening course of basic car maintenance. These are held at Colleges up and down the land and they are seriously great fun to do – often run by retired mechanics or patrol staff that really know their stuff.
Most tend to be really personable folk too being able to teach and instruct without being patronising or sarcastic covering all aspects from how to change a wheel or the best way of preparing a car for winter. It’s not rocket science, it’s not expensive and it is great fun to do – all you have to do is search the web to find out more!