Wintertime can be treacherous for drivers, as the darkness prevails over daylight, roads get slippery and visibility drops. It warrants our taking of certain preparations and precautions, ready to take on the more precarious conditions that are expected to arrive in the weeks ahead.
“After long periods of heavy rain, forecasters are warning of an early Arctic plunge, with freezing temperatures and the risk of icy roads as the week progresses,” said GEM road safety officer Neil Worth.
“Our message is clear: don’t let the weather catch you by surprise. Take a few simple preventative maintenance steps to give yourself the best chance of ensuring you won’t be stranded out in the cold.”
So, what can you do to make your car safer in winter? Let’s get into it.
Darker dingier driving requires lighting that’s as good as it can be. Keep your lenses clean, especially in conditions where grit and grime can quickly fog them over. It goes without saying, you’ll want to make sure they’re all working, too.
It’s become a cliche at this point to say that tyres are the only part of a car that touches the road, but it bears remembering. They’re all that stands between you and oncoming traffic and the rest of the world around you. Make sure they’ve got tread, and that they’re in good fettle otherwise. That means no gashes, cracks, bulges or flat spots. Maybe even consider getting a set of winter tyres. They can be better at tackling snowy weather than four-wheel-drive…
Not on GEM’s list but an obvious one all the same. Make sure your brakes are at the top of their game. If there are any anti-lock braking issues, get them sorted.
Further from the lights point, electrics in general can suffer in winter months. Make sure your battery and alternator are healthy, or the cold will easily get to them. Doing so, if you’re not mechanically inclined, is the matter of a ten minute Halfords visit.
Cooling? In winter? Sounds an odd thing to need to check during colder weather. Well, you should. If your cooling system doesn’t have the right amount of anti-freeze in it, you risk a radiator riddled with ice. Freezing can be fatal for your cooling system, so while you’re getting your battery checked, make sure you’re topped up with anti-freeze. While you’re there, your washer fluid could probably use a top-up too.
Your wipers might have gathered dust throughout the toasty summer months, but in a matter of weeks, they’re brought back to the coal face. Drizzly weather and grimy roads require wipers on the top of their game. Get them checked, and swap them out if need be.
So assuming your car is ready for the winter, there’s a lot that can be said for keeping cabin conditions in perfect order before you’ve even set off.
According to Seat, certain cabin conditions can leave you in a similar state to drive as the Scottish drink-drive limit of alcohol. Let’s dive in…
What is meant by cabin conditions?
Temperature is the big focus with Seat’s top tips. It’s not just a case of setting the numbers and heading off: how you get to your desired temperature and what you set that number to is of the utmost importance.
Putting the blowers on, contrary to popular belief, doesn’t cost you any more either. It’s actually good for your car to get some heat blowing into the cabin – it’s another path via which the cooling system can get rid of engine heat.
An obvious one, too, is window clarity. Seat specifies mist but it goes without saying that you don’t want ice obscuring any of your windows. Get that air conditioning blasting the windscreen as you set off in cold conditions. That will help clear mist that can fast accumulate if it hasn’t already.
What are the best cabin conditions for driving?
Seat’s recommendation is a temperature of no more than 21.5ºC. Yes, that specific… How do you get to that? Getting your face blasted with hot air isn’t recommended.
Instead, Seat development and aerodynamics engineer Maria Garcia recommends an auto-warm setting with the air coming out at your feet. That way, by the time it gets into upper areas of the cabin it’s cooled slightly and is more an ambient temperature than a gust coming from the car.
It feels more natural, is more comfortable and is the best way of staying both warm and alert.
“It provides a balanced heat distribution: half of the warm air comes out at around 40 °C near your feet and cools by the time it reaches your upper body and head, keeping you more alert at the wheel,” says Garcia.
The worrying part is just how much of an effect driving with an overly warm cabin can have.
“Driving with an interior temperature of 35°C is similar to having a blood alcohol level of 0.5 g/l.”
How else can I get warm safely in my car?
Car seat warmers have been around for some time now, such that many cars will come fitted with them. In general, they’re the quickest way of getting warm as you get into a cold car. It’s advised you carefully regulate it, however. Once you’re warm, if your seat heaters have different settings, lower them. Excessive seat heater use isn’t advised.
Dress appropriately too. That doesn’t mean woolly hats and mountaineering gear. Quite the opposite, in fact, as Seat advises against full winter garbs given that they limit your movement. Gloves, in particular, will do the dexterity of your hands no favours.