On the road and prepared for the cold snap

DAVE MOORE
Last updated 13:18 06/06/2012
Leaving a window like this, or
Fairfax NZ

CLEAR THE WHOLE OF EVERY WINDOW: Leaving it like this, or "portholing" as it is known, is not only illegal, but downright dangerous. And remember if you have to scrape ice what's the road surface going to be like.

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Last year, as usual, cold snaps - even those that were predicted - caught hundreds of motorists by surprise. With nobody really knowing when ice and snow will ruin your day, it's a good idea to be prepared for the worst that winter can throw at you.

A severe weather emergency kit should include the following items: an ice scraper and de-icer, a torch, warm clothes and a blanket, a pair of boots, a first-aid kit, battery jump leads, a spade if it's likely to snow, tyre chains, food and drink.

A high visibility or Hi-Vis jacket is also a good call, as you would be surprised how invisible you can be in winter light conditions.

Allow plenty of time for journeys and make sure you have a full tank of petrol before starting off, just in case you need to take a more circuitous route. Be prepared to cancel a journey. Listen out for weather warnings.

Don't be afraid to turn back if things start to look dicey - a trip can most likely be postponed. Be aware of the danger of getting stranded - especially if you are heading somewhere remote.

Take warm clothing and consider stopping at a hotel for the night, rather than pressing on.

If it's before 7am or after 5pm, before starting the engine and moving off, make sure your eyes have become accustomed to the dark.

Make sure all the windows are clear of snow, properly de-iced and de-misted before you set out. Ensure the windscreen washer is topped up and wiper blades clean and in good condition. Check windscreen washer fluid is topped up with the correct antifreeze screen wash fluid.

Winter puts extra strain on batteries, so check yours is in good working order.

Good, responsive brakes are essential in winter, so the pads, discs and brake fluid should be checked.

The condition of the tyres should also be checked, and if you're habitually driving in temperatures below 5 degrees Celsius, advice should be sought about choosing winter tyres. They not only improve your car's cold- surface low-friction handling dynamics, but shorten braking distances by 12 to 15 per cent compared with conventional tyres.

Be aware of black ice most commonly found in areas shadowed from sun. Twilight is particularly hazardous time for this.

Don't hit the brakes if your car starts to skid - ease back on the accelerator and try to steer the car in the direction of the skid.

Allow for a greater braking distances in the wet and cold. So watch your speed and remember that cars, cyclists and pedestrians will be less visible in the winter murk. Watch out for fog and use fog lights, but remember to switch them off again when they are no longer needed.

If you do get stuck, clear snow from around the wheels to give the car a chance to grip on the road. It's worth taking along a bit of old carpet to give better traction.

Even before you do all this, there's a simple question to ask. Could you manage by not going at all?

It could save a lot of heartache.

TEN-POINT CHECKLIST

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1: Always carry a survival pack in the car, including food, drink and a blanket. This should include extra warm clothes and a Hi-Vis jacket in case you have to get out of the car.

2: Ensure your phone battery is fully charged and you have an in-car charger. Your phone could be your only safe contact for recovery.

3: Carry a shovel in case you need to dig yourself out of trouble.

4: Consider fitting winter tyres, but even if you don't, have your summer tyres checked. Winter driving means that tyres should have no less than 3mm remaining tread.

5: Have your air conditioning serviced. It's not only for summer. An effective air-con system will de-mist windscreens much more quickly, helping visibility.

6: Have the health of your battery checked. They have to work extra hard in the cold.

7: Make sure your windscreen washer fluid is topped up with the correct concentration of screenwash. Windscreens get particularly dirty in the winter months and screenwash will help prevent the liquid from freezing.

8: Have your coolant checked. The antifreeze needs to protect your engine against the lowest of temperatures.

9: Adjust your driving style to the conditions - be sensible in the rain, snow and ice.

10: Above all, in bad conditions consider whether your journey is really necessary.

- The Press

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On the road and prepared for the cold snap