Sunday 11 December 2016

Stay safe on the road as the cold snap is about to kick in

As the country is braced for snow we offer some important tips to keep in mind when driving in extreme weather

Published 27/11/2016 | 02:30

In Ireland we tend to escape any real blast of winter but this makes us even more vulnerable to sudden extreme changes in temperature. Come the snow and ice and we slide, slither and bump our way around and very often our cars are as unprepared for winter as we are.

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A properly maintained car can weather winter temperatures. Ideally a pre-winter service would be ideal, when tyres, battery, wiper blades and anti-freeze would all be checked and the vehicle given a thorough inspection. But if your budget does not stretch to this a few simple checks on a regular basis would go a long way to preventing breakdowns.

1) Battery failure is one of the most common causes of breakdown and despite what people may think they don't actually last forever. Replacing them can save you a lot of time and inconvenience. Cold temperatures reduce the capacity of any battery and if it is more than three years old it is worthwhile having it checked.

To get the most out of a battery ensure that lights, radio, etc are turned off when the car is not being used and when starting the car wait until the engine is on before turning on lights, wipers and heaters.

But if your battery is reaching the end of its life, usually indicated by sluggish starting, then it's time to think about a new one.

2) Ensure coolant is topped up regularly to ensure a healthy engine, as overheating is a common cause of breakdown. Don't forget to top up the windscreen washer fluid, ensuring it contains an anti-freeze agent. Check the vehicle handbook for the recommended ratio.

3) Don't let the fuel levels drop too much, so fill up before you set off on a long journey. If you do get stuck at least you'll be able to stay warm.

4) Check that all the light bulbs are working and that headlights are clean and aimed correctly. Lights should be cleaned regularly, especially when roads are salted.

5) Wiper blades should be replaced regularly, so check them out as winter approaches for wear and tear.

6) Always ensure your tyres are properly inflated to ensure the best possible traction with the road.

7) Clean windows are essential for safe driving. Stock up on de-icer and a plastic scraper for frosty mornings.

8) During the winter months, you should prepare a pack that can be stored in the boot. Some of the items you should include are a torch; spare batteries and bulbs; screen scraper/de-icer; jump leads; warning triangle; first-aid kit; mobile phone; blankets; extra water; shovel (to clear snow if necessary); and road maps.

9) Keep a can of de-icer or WD-40 on hand to thaw frozen locks. Do not pour hot water on the frozen lock as this will only increase the amount of water inside the lock and result in future frozen locks. Never force the key to turn a frozen car lock.

Driving in snow and ice takes extra care and awareness so here are some tips that should help.

•Ensure your windows are clean and clear, and that you have all-round visibility before you set off. Also take the time to clear snow off the roof of your car.

•Allow plenty of time to arrive at your destination, driving during winter can take much longer than other times of the year,

•From stationary, start gently and avoid high revs. Stay in a higher gear to avoid skidding and maximise control.

•Leave a good distance between your vehicle and the one just ahead of you. Double or even triple your normal stopping distance so you are not relying on your brakes to be able to stop; it simply may not happen.

•Plan your journey around busier roads as they are more likely to have been gritted. Avoid using shortcuts on minor roads - they are less likely to be cleared or treated with salt, especially country lanes and housing estates.

• If you go into a skid, ease your foot off the pedals and steer carefully in the direction you want the front of your vehicle to go. Hold the steering wheel firmly, but don't make big turns. Continue to stay off the pedals until you are able to regain control of your vehicle. Avoid using the brakes, as this will prolong the skid.

•Bends are a particular problem in icy conditions - slow down before you get to the bend, so that by the time you turn the steering wheel you have already lost enough speed.

•On a downhill slope decrease your speed before you start the descent, and do not let it build up. It is much easier to keep it low than to try to slow down once things get slippery.

•Drive only if it's absolutely necessary. Don't leave the house unless you really need to make a journey, you are safer staying off the road. If you must go out travel during the day.

- GH

Sunday Independent

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