winter driving advice
12 November 2019

Keep your cool on the winter roads

Still current at: 20 December 2021

The seasonal descent into dark wintery days and (seemingly) relentless rain makes the prospect of heading out onto the highway rather unappealing. Extremely wet and windy autumnal weather increases the chance of floods and fallen trees blocking roads across the country. Add this to poor visibility and the arrival of ice as temperatures plummet, and driving conditions become increasingly dangerous. 

Staying safe should be every responsible driver’s priority, particularly if ferrying young passengers around. Here’s some advice on reducing the risks of breakdown and preparing for the worst-case scenario.

Keep a weather eye open

Motoring agencies advise to avoid driving altogether when extremely bad weather is forecast, unless your journey is absolutely essential. Of course, something “essential” differs from one person to the next, but it is always worth weighing up the risks first and considering alternative travel.

  • Listen to local radio for weather and travel updates. You may need to change your route or delay your departure.
  • Check the Met Office website for National and regional forecasts and severe weather warnings.

Don’t let things slip

If travelling by car is unavoidable this winter, then your vehicle must be in tip top condition. You should have a good stock of de-icer, windscreen wash, oil and antifreeze. It’s wise to get a full service before the worst weather hits, but if you have left it too late, there are a few essential things you can check yourself before setting out.  

  • Antifreeze – a cracked engine costs hundreds of pounds to repair whereas antifreeze only costs a few quid. Check your coolant levels regularly and keep it topped up with a 50:50 mix of antifreeze and water.
  • Battery – power failures are the biggest cause of winter breakdowns as electricity is exhausted on heating and headlights. Batteries older than five years will struggle, so consider getting it replaced if necessary.
  • Fuel – ensure you have at least a quarter of a tank at all times in case of unexpected delays. Top up at the nearest petrol station before heading into the countryside.  
  • Lights – check all lights are working and clean. You may need to stop and scrape off muck if the roads are slushy from melting snow.
  • Windscreen – clear the entire windscreen, side and rear windows of frost, ice and snow using a scraper and de-icer. Do not set out with just a tiny gap to peer through.
  • Tyres – deflating tyres does not improve their grip. Check the pressure and the tread, which should be at least 3mm. Winter tyres offer improved safety, but only use chains in deep snow.
  • Doors – a thin coat of Vaseline on rubber door seals and a spritz of WD40 or similar in the locks should help prevent them freezing shut.

Survival supplies

Even a short trip can become a long ordeal if a blocked road or breakdown leaves you trapped out in the cold. So, along with your everyday emergency kit (mobile phone and in-car charger, personal medication and first aid kit, warning triangle, spare bulbs, road atlas and breakdown cover), keep the following stashed in your boot throughout the winter:

  • Shovel and tow rope
  • Battery jump leads
  • Carpet scraps or thick cardboard to help wheels regain traction on ice or snow
  • Snow chains if you live in a remote area
  • Salt, sand or cat litter to help clear snow and ice
  • Ice scraper, de-icer and extra screen wash
  • Reflective jackets
  • Torch and batteries
  • Blanket, rug or sleeping bag
  • Warm clothes, hat and gloves
  • Bottled water (and a hot drink if you can)
  • Snacks (chocolate or cereal bars)

Highway to help  

These measures will reduce the risks on the road, but in the unfortunate event of an accident, it’s good to have a proper insurance policy behind you.

Our account handlers can advise on insurance and roadside cover options for minibuses and other vehicles owned by your charity. For more information, please click on the links below: