In 2018 the we experienced the coldest start to March on record, and that was after snow blanketed parts of the country in the final week of February as the Beast from the East swept in from Russia. Temperatures in the Cairngorms plummeted to -14°C, nearly 60cm of snow fell in Gloucestershire and bitterly cold winds reached up to 70mph in some parts of the country. There was chaos on roads as thousands of drivers, who ignored warnings not to go out, or had no option but to brave the weather conditions, were left stranded on roads, in freezing temperatures. The AA estimated there were over 8,000 collisions as a result of the Beast in just three days. Emergency services, trying to clear heavy snow, as well as vehicles that had either broken down or crashed, urged people to take notice of weather and travel warnings. And now we know the Beast is returning in January and February 2020, you could say forewarned is forearmed, but please note, this one is likely to be worse. According to climate experts at University College London, Britain could be heading into one of its coldest winters in the last 30 years. They say a freezing vortex of Arctic air is expected to hit the country in the next four months, which is likely to bring icy temperatures and snow that could last for weeks. To avoid putting yourself in danger or adding, to that statistic, please check the weather report before you set out, because you’ve not only got to get to your destination safely, you have to be able to return too.
If you absolutely have to travel when you know conditions are bad or are likely to get worse during the day, then you should at least take all the precautions necessary to reduce the risk to you and your passengers. So, here are our top 10 actions you should take before setting out:
1. Fuel tank. This is not the time to drive on fumes. Keep the tank full, so should you be caught out, you can keep the engine running to stay warm.
2. Tyres. A new car tyre has a tread depth of 8mm and the minimum legal tread depth is 1.6mm. With the bad weather definitely coming our way, it would be worth getting your tyres checked now and if they’re under 3mm, we recommend you do something about it. Check your tyre pressures too.
3. Screen wash. Keep it topped up because you can really go through it in poor weather; you should also keep a bottle of premixed screen wash in the boot in case you run out. Don’t forget to have de-icer and a scraper too.
4. Shovel and cardboard. Something else to keep in the boot is a small shovel or plastic snow scoop so you can dig snow away from the tyres to stop them spinning. For additional traction, put some flattened carboard in front of the front tyres. If your car is rear wheel drive, then place the carboard in front of the back wheels.
5. Torch. You’ve always got the torch function on your phone, but you may need to conserve battery power, so keep a spare torch in the glove compartment to see and be seen.
6. Warm clothing. Gloves, woolly hats and a couple of warm blankets could be life-savers if you’re truly stranded.
7. Water and biscuits. Keep these handy for sustenance if you’re stuck. It will stop you getting hungry and eating creates energy, so you’ll stay warmer.
8. Mobile phone. Just keep it charged and take your car charger with you. It may be your only means of contacting anyone for help.
9. Hi-viz vest and triangle. If your car breaks down and you need to walk anywhere, even if it’s around the car, wear a hi-viz vest so that you can be seen in the dark and when visibility is poor. The warning triangle will alert other drivers of a potential danger.
10. Service and MOT. If your car is due an MOT or service in the next three or four weeks, why not bring it forward? If there are any issues, they can be fixed before the bad weather hits.
Let’s face it, if we could put a man on the moon in 1969, there was no excuse for the overuse of explosives in Rome the same year was there? They obviously didn’t read their manual thoroughly – if they read it at all.
Taking a leaf from that particular book, some of us are just as guilty when it comes to reading our own car manual. Recently one customer confused the ‘oil pressure too low’ warning light with the one for ‘oil level too low’. As there was plenty of oil in the sump the problem was forgotten, so less and less oil was being pumped around the engine, which eventually seized up. What should have been a couple of hours’ work and a replacement pump costing £220, became a major £1,500 repair.
If you want to stay safe on the road and save time, money and a lot of hassle, here are five steps you can take right now:
- Read your manual and get to know all the benefits your vehicle already has built in; then make sure you recognise what the warning symbols really mean. It’s not a two-minute job, but I guarantee you’ll be pleasantly surprised at what you learn
- Check that your lights work; don’t wait until someone flashes you or you get pulled over by the police. If you need two lights over your rear registration plate and one’s out, you’re not ‘legal’
- Open up the bonnet and make sure you’ve got enough screen wash, coolant and oil. Your manual will tell you what to look for and how to top up; if you’re unsure, go to your local garage for help and advice
- Investigate any strange noise as soon as it happens. The majority of garages will give your vehicle a free health check so, if it’s nothing, it’s cost you nothing and you have peace of mind
- Make sure you have the correct tyre pressure; you’ll have a more comfortable ride and you’ll save fuel. Don’t know how? One supermarket chain has a system which puts the correct amount of air into each tyre; you just need to know what that pressure is (it’s in your manual), input the information and the air hose does the rest
With modern cars there’s a misconception that there’s very little you can do without resorting to the expense of a garage. Once something’s gone wrong, yes you will need to bring your car in, but there’s so much you can do to prevent a minor irritation turning into a serious problem.
Not a lot of people know that.