Flooded roads, slushy snow, endless new potholes and drivers peering half-blind through misted windscreens – these are the realities of winter driving in the UK. They present unique challenges for even the most confident driver, so it’s worth taking a few minutes to think about preparing your car and yourself for the colder months.
If you’re considering buying a car, new or used, it’s worth asking yourself where you’ll be driving it. Motorways and main routes are usually gritted and clear, residential cul-de-sacs and rural back roads often not.
Sports utility vehicles (SUVs) are a popular choice because of their year-round versatility and higher driving position. That means improved ground clearance and a good view all round.
The Nissan Qashqai has been a massive sales hit since it was launched in 2007, because it’s British-built, good to drive and very practical. The all-new, second generation model is even better and was voted What Car? magazine’s Car of the Year for 2014.
Other big-sellers in this category are the Kia Sportage, Skoda Yeti, Hyundai ix35 and Honda CR-V. Premium brand options include the BMW X3/X5, Audi Q3/Q5/Q7 and Mercedes M-Class/GL-Class.
If you live off the beaten track, something with four-wheel drive (4WD) can make good motoring sense. Many SUVs have that capability on-demand, so power normally goes to the front wheels but is partially switched to the rear ones when required. This type of adaptable 4WD system is the most popular option with UK buyers because of its flexibility, and isn’t limited to SUVs. Some saloons, estates, hatchbacks and even superminis have it as well. For permanent all-wheel grip, try brands like Land Rover, Subaru and Mitsubishi.
If a new car is out of the question, it’s all about making sure the one you’ve got is ready for winter.
Panel – Get your car ready for winter
– Make sure your pride and joy is in tip-top condition for winter. Check the anti-freeze and screenwash levels, and keep your lights front and back free of grime.
– Buy new de-icer, and make sure your scraper is still in the glovebox from last year.
– Good tyre tread is vital at this time of year, and while the minimum depth is 1.6mm, most experts recommend at least 3mm to maximise grip. Regularly check they’re inflated properly, too.
– Is the air-conditioning working properly? If not, it might need regassing. Garages usually charge around £40 for this.
– If you’re not confident with your car, most dealerships offer free winter vehicle checks.
Panel – Winter tyres: what you need to know
In the chillier parts of mainland Europe – for example, the Alps – it’s mandatory to switch to winter tyres from November to April. There’s growing support for the UK to follow suit, because winter tyres provide improved performance in the cold. Don’t get confused with studded tyres for ice-driving – that’s not what we’re talking about. These are regular rubbers, but made from a compound that performs better below 7 deg C and with a unique tread pattern. Most importantly, your car’s stopping distances are reduced because grip is better.
Most of the major suppliers and fitters offer winter tyres, and some will even store your normal ones until you swap back in the spring. There’s plenty of information about this online.
Panel – Winter kit for your car
The AA recommends keeping extra items in your car, just in case the worst happens.
* Blanket, rug or sleeping bag
* Salt, sand or cat litter to help melt snow and ice
* Winter jacket, ideally with reflective panels
* Hat and gloves
* Torch and batteries
* Battery jump leads
* A bottle of water
* Snacks and a flask of coffee or tea
* Extra screen wash