Wednesday 16 October 2019

How we overlook the obvious at our peril: making your car ready for winter driving

In recent years, we have had to contend with some extreme weather conditions including snow, flooding and hurricane force winds. We don't know what's in store this year. But whatever lies ahead, you've got to be prepared. Our Road Safety Authority expert explains.

Always be prepared for dangerous conditions in winter (pic: Deposit Photos)
Always be prepared for dangerous conditions in winter (pic: Deposit Photos) Newsdesk Newsdesk

The most important step to take NOW is to make sure your vehicle is ready for winter.

Drivers should get their cars prepared for the extra challenges that winter driving can bring.

So getting the car serviced to make sure it is fit and safe to drive in adverse weather conditions is vital.

Once it has been serviced, making a number of simple and regular checks can ensure you and your family are safe on the road this winter.

You don't want to get caught out if and when severe weather hits, so make the necessary checks on your vehicle now.

Take some time this weekend to make a simple walk-around safety check to make sure all is in working order and in good condition.

Start by checking the lights and making sure they are all working fine and clear of any debris.

It may sound obvious, but cleaning them is really important. They are not going to be much use if coated in a film of dirt.

With reduced hours of daylight and reduced visibility brought on by poor weather, you really need to do all you can to be seen on the road.

Your lights are not just for hours of darkness, all drivers should be using dipped headlights during the daytime.

It makes it easier for other road users to see you.

Check your tyre pressure, which needs to be at the manufacturers recommended level, and tyre tread depth.

While the minimum legal tread depth is 1.6mm, consider replacement if they are below 3mm. Remember tyres are your only contact with the road and they will really be put to work in dealing with the challenges of winter driving.

A common question we get asked is: "Should I fit winter tyres?"

Winter tyres have tread patterns that are specially designed to bite into snow and ice.

They're made from softer rubber than normal tyres and they stay more flexible in cold weather. This means the tyre can grip the road better in snow or icy conditions.

Winter tyres are labelled 'MS' or 'M&S' (Mud and Snow) with an alpine mountain symbol.

Irish law does not require you to fit them, and there is no law against fitting them.

If you decide to fit a set of winter tyres, you should always fit a full set of four to ensure that your steering is not affected.

Once the risk of snow and ice passes, you should remove your winter tyres and re-fit your all-season or summer tyres.

If you leave them on in warmer weather, the soft rubber they're made from may wear out faster.

By the way, while there is no law on the use of snow chains in this country, it is an offence if their use causes damage to the road surface.

Windscreen wipers are vital for driving in the winter; they need to be regularly checked for wear and tear, and replaced if necessary.

All too often, motorists do not de-fog or de-ice windows and mirrors properly which reduces visibility.

So ensure windows and mirrors are clear, and carry a de-icer and screen scraper.

Whatever you do, don't use hot water to de-ice the car as this can crack the windscreen.

Probably the biggest danger on the roads during winter is black ice because it's difficult to see.

Watch out for it in sheltered or shaded areas on the road, for example under trees, near high walls and under bridges.

Black ice can sometimes be seen in the right lighting conditions as it forms in smooth, glossy sheets.

We always advise drivers to become familiar with the safety-assist features on their car.

During the big freeze in 2010 there were reports of people bringing their car to the garage because of unusual braking activity in the snowy and icy conditions.

Turns out there was nothing wrong with the car, the strange braking was simply the anti-lock-brakes (ABS) kicking in.

So open the glove box, take out the car manual and find out if your vehicle has safety assist technology such as Electronic Stability Control (ESC) or Anti-Lock Braking System (ABS).

Learn how these technologies can assist your driving in harsh weather conditions.

During winter it is advisable to carry a number of essentials in the boot.

These can include a high-visibility vest, de-icing equipment, torch, a hazard warning triangle, a first-aid kit and a blanket, additional clothing and some food and water.

Whether you are driving in foggy, flooded, icy or snowy conditions there is one important counter measure you will need to take and that is to slow down.

If you drive too fast for the conditions you risk a skid or aquaplaning.

In extreme weather you will need extra time and space to react and stop the vehicle. The key this winter is to slow down and remain a safe distance behind the car in front of you.

If driving in foggy or snowy conditions, use your fog lights but please don't forget to turn them off when it clears otherwise you risk dazzling other drivers.

Remember you must not use them in normal driving conditions either during the day or at night, even if you think its increasing your visibility on the road.

While drivers have the luxury of being cocooned in their vehicles in poor weather, pedestrians, cyclists and motorcyclists face a difficult time running the gauntlet that severe weather poses.

Heavy rain, flooded roads and strong winds can blow or force vulnerable road users onto the road, so drivers really do need to be on guard and give them plenty of room.

Also watch out for fallen debris like branches which pedestrians, cyclists, motorcyclists and other drivers may have to react to suddenly.

In extreme weather, listen to national and local weather and traffic reports.

Pay heed to the weather warnings alerting drivers of unsafe and dangerous driving conditions.

Most of all, heed any road closures or detours put in place by the local authority or gardaí.

For example, if the road ahead is closed due to flooding then choose another route; do not attempt to drive through it. Flooded roads that appear shallow could be deeper than you think. It can also cause irreparable damage to your car engine.

For more tips on driving in severe conditions visit

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