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Top tips for driving in snow and icy weather

By This is Devon  |  Posted: January 17, 2013

Driving in snow

Motorists are being urged to drive slowly, brake gently and check local weather and traffic reports before setting out

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Motorists are being urged to take extra caution on the roads tomorrow, as the South West is set to see widespread snow and ice.

Amber weather warnings are in place, with the Met Office predicting 10 to 15cm of snow in many parts of the region. Some 25cm or more could fall over higher ground.

Up to four inches of snow is predicted to blanket Devon on Friday, with Dartmoor, Exmoor and other upland areas worst affected.

The warnings urge people to “be prepared”, and expect disruption to road, rail and air transport. Difficult driving conditions are likely, and motorist should brace themselves for longer journey times.

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The Met Office warns there may be a number of road closures, and others passable only with care.

Meanwhile a rare red warning has been issued for parts of Wales, urging people to “take action”.

The AA is urging motorists to be cautious on the roads tomorrow. Darron Burness, the AA’s Head of Special Operations, said: “Tomorrow morning’s commute is likely to test man and machine with potentially challenging driving conditions across many areas.

“If the snow comes in quickly, it will cause problems, particularly drifting snow.

“The weather is a fickle thing – it could be rain one minute and then snow the next – so keep tuned to local radio for the weather and travel updates.

“If it’s really bad where you are then consider changing your plans and travel later or use alternative means.

“Even if you only have a short journey, as a bare minimum, take warm clothing, de-icer and a fully-charged mobile.”

Meanwhile Andy Smith, AA Patrol of the Year, said: "Even if there's no snow where you're travelling, it's likely to be icy in places. Keep your speed down, particularly on rural and ungritted side roads, and take extra care when approaching junctions and roundabouts."

The AA was called to attend some 12,500 breakdowns nationwide by 3.30pm today, around 1,000 every hour. The AA expects to have attended around 17,000 call-outs by the end of the day, compared to around 9,500 on an average Thursday.

To stay safe on the roads tomorrow, follow these winter driving tips from the AA and consumer watchdog Which?:

Tonight’s ‘to do’ checklist:

- Top up windscreen washer fluid and treat with a suitable additive to reduce the chance of freezing. Don't use ordinary engine antifreeze, as it will damage paintwork

- Check windscreen wipers and replace if necessary

- Make sure all bulbs are working and lenses are clean, especially if the roads in your area have been mucky today. Keep the number plates clean too, as you can be fined if they are dirty and illegible

- Check your tyres. Make sure they’re in good condition and have adequate tread depth – that includes the spare.

The law requires a minimum 1.6mm of tread across 75 per cent of the width of the tyre, but in adverse conditions motorists should consider changing tyres when they are down to 3.0mm.

Clean the tyres to look for any sidewall damage

- Look under your bonnet and make sure the windscreen washer reservoir is brimmed

- Plan routes to favour major roads which are more likely to have been cleared and gritted.

Allow extra time for winter journeys but be prepared for the inevitability of being late for work due to unexpected delay. Set your alarm at least 10 minutes early to give you time to prepare the car

- Lay out comfortable, dry shoes for driving. Snow-covered boots will slip on the pedals

- Pack some essentials: a warm coat; gloves; hat; high energy foods such as chocolate, crisps, nuts and cereal bars; water and a hot drink; a blanket; torch; rope; a scraper and de-icer; a tyre pump; jump leads; shovel and pair of wellingtons.

Sand bags or old bits of carpet will also come in use if you get stuck, as you can put either in front of the wheels to give the tyres some grip

- Ensure your mobile phone is fully charged

- Make sure you have plenty of fuel in your tank – you might get caught out by delays or have to take a detour

Before setting off, make sure you:

- Check local weather and traffic reports. The AA warns snow will bring potentially dangerous driving conditions to many parts of the country

- Turn off non-essential electrical loads like lights, rear screen heater and wipers before trying to start the engine. Use the starter in short five-second bursts if the engine doesn't start quickly, leaving 30 seconds between attempts to allow the battery to recover

- Clear all windows using a scraper and de-icer. Ensure the windscreen is clean both inside and out. If your vision is obscured through snow or dirt on car windows you could face a hefty fine

Do not use boiling water to clear your windscreen if it is frozen over, as this could crack the glass. Don't use your windscreen wipers either, as this will damage the wiper blades. Use a window scraper, a can of de-icer and some elbow grease

- Clear snow from the roof as well as from windows, as this can fall onto the windscreen and obscure your view

- Use air conditioning for faster demisting and to reduce condensation on cold windows

- A continuous squealing noise as soon as the engine is started is a sign the water pump is frozen - it's the fan belt slipping on the pulley. The cylinder block could be frozen too.

Stop the engine immediately and allow it to thaw out. This may take several days unless the car can be moved to a heated garage

- Pull away in second gear, easing your foot off the clutch gently to avoid wheel-spin

While driving tomorrow:

- Remember, stopping distances are 10 times longer in ice and snow. Gentle manoeuvres are the key. If your journey is delayed due to the snow, do not try to make up time by driving faster

- Pull away in second gear, easing your foot off the clutch gently to avoid wheel-spin

- Drive slowly and try to use the busier sections of road, as the weight of traffic will tend to clear the surface

- Create a 7-8 second gap between you and the car in front. This even applies to 4x4 drivers, who may find it easier to gain traction but will have exactly the same grip issues when it comes to stopping

- If the car starts to slide, steer into the skid and keep your feet off the brake and throttle until the vehicle is back under control

- To preserve the battery, avoid running electrical systems any longer than necessary. Turn the heater fan down and switch the heated rear window off once windows are clear

- If the car begins to overheat a few miles from home it's likely the radiator has frozen, preventing coolant from circulating. Stop straight away to avoid serious damage and allow the radiator to thaw

- Use headlights when visibility is seriously reduced. You may also use front or rear fog lights, but these must be switched off when visibility improves, as they can dazzle other road users and obscure your brake lights

- When driving up hill, avoid having to stop part way up by waiting until it’s clear of other cars, or by leaving plenty of room to the car in front.

Keep a constant speed, choosing the most suitable gear well in advance to avoid having to change down on the hill

- When heading down hill reduce your speed before the hill, use a low gear and try to avoid using the brakes. Leave as much room as possible between you and the car in front

- If you have to use brakes, apply them gently. Release the brakes and de-clutch if the car skids

- Make sure wipers are switched off in the park position when leaving the car, when there's risk of freezing

- For those with automatic transmission select '2', which limits the gear changes and also makes you less reliant on the brakes. Some autos have a 'Winter' mode which locks out first gear to reduce the risk of wheel spin. Check your handbook

If you get stuck:

- Straighten the steering and clear the snow from the wheels

- Put a sack or old rug in front of the driving wheels to give the tyres some grip

- Once on the move again, try not to stop until you reach firmer ground.

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