NEED TO KNOW: Winter driving

Weather forecasters have pretty much given up trying to predict what this coming winter holds, and they've gone down the pub for a few glasses of wet stuff until this climate change thing has sorted itself out. But brief cold snaps and sudden torrential downpours over the last couple of years have proved how ill-prepared the average motorist, rider and cyclist is when it comes to coping with adverse conditions so, dib dib dob dob, be prepared by taking a look at the Lint's handy advice....

DRIVING
Battery/Electrics
1. Lights, heaters and windscreen wipers put high demands on the car battery - if the car is driven mainly in dark rush-hour trips, the battery will give out eventually. Avoid running car electrics any longer than necessary - turn the heater fan down and switch the heated rear window off once windows are clear.

2. Batteries rarely last longer than 5 years, so replacing them near the end of their life is essential.

3. Check that the alternator and/or fan belt are in good condition and correctly tensioned.

Anti-freeze
1. Use a good quality Glycol-based anti-freeze. A 50-50 mix of antifreeze and water in the cooling system is needed in winter. This gives maximum protection down to -35C, and without it, severe engine damage costing hundreds of pounds can occur.
2. If the fan belt squeals continually as soon as the engine is started, that is a sign the water-pump and cylinder block are frozen. Stop the engine immediately and allow the engine to thaw. This may take several days unless you can get the car moved to a heated garage.
3. Most commonly, it is just the radiator that freezes. The car will begin to overheat within a few miles as the coolant is unable to circulate. Stop the car immediately and allow the radiator to thaw.

Vision
1. Vision can be improved significantly by making sure that the windscreen is clean - inside and out - and that the wipers are in good condition. The inside surface of a windscreen will accumulate a hazy surface film caused by chemicals in the dashboard and other interior materials. Scratches, abrasion and chips on the outside can also worsen the dazzling effect of the sun.
2. Windscreen washer fluid should be topped up and treated with a proprietary additive to reduce the chance of freezing in frosty weather. Don't use ordinary engine anti-freeze.
3. Clear snow from the roof as well as from windows. Snow piled up on the roof can fall onto the windscreen obscuring your view and can also be a hazard to other road users. You could be fined up to £2,500 and receive three penalty points if the police consider your car a danger to other road users.
4. You must 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. Fog lights dazzle other road users and can obscure your brake lights.

Tyres
1. Check the condition of your tyres for pressure and tread depth. Grip on wet roads is markedly reduced when tread depth is less than 3mm. Don't reduce tyre pressure to get more grip.
2. Check you have a jack and wheel brace, that they work and that you know how to change a wheel if necessary.
3. It's rare to need snow chains unless you live in an isolated area hit with heavy snow and where the roads are not cleared. They must be removed to drive on a tarmac road without a reasonable covering of snow.

Driving in Snow/ice
If you do 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.

Driving in floods/standing water
1. Only drive through water if you know how deep it is and keep the engine revving by slipping the clutch, otherwise water in the exhaust could stall the engine.
2. Drive slowly and steadily to avoid creating a bow-wave, and allow on-coming traffic to pass first. Test your brakes as soon as you can. Don't try driving through fast-moving water such as at a flooded bridge approach - your car could easily be swept away.
3. Driving fast through standing water is dangerous and can result in expensive engine damage. The air intake on many cars is located low down at the front of the engine bay and it only takes a small quantity of water sucked into the engine to cause serious problems. Turbo-charged and diesel engines are most vulnerable.
4. Tyres lose contact with the road and you lose steering control in what is known as 'aquaplaning'. Ensure that your tyres have adequate tread (at least 3mm is recommended for winter motoring), watch out for standing water, trying to avoid it if you can, and adjust your speed to the conditions. If you do aquaplane, hold the steering wheel lightly and lift off the throttle until the tyres regain grip.
5. If you break down in heavy rain don' t prop the bonnet open while you wait for the patrol to arrive - the engine will be more difficult to start again if the electrics are all rain-soaked.

BIKING
Staying warm is vital to staying alert. A windproof layer might be more use than bulky clothing, which makes you sweat. Best of all is a heated vest and/or heated grips.

It's the wind chill that gets you on a bike. Cuffs that cover your handlebars, or an apron that covers your legs will work wonders.

Dark, dirty weather leaves car drivers snug, warm and dozy - and unable to see other road users clearly through misted screens and mirrors. Wear a high-visibility vest as a minimum.
Visors mist up in cold and in the wet. Try an anti-mist layer inside your visor or a mask until you find a system that works for you.

When there's ice or snow around, stay off the brakes and avoid sudden movements - or you'll be your backside in no time. And ride tall - dragging your feet makes you more unstable, not less.

CYCLING
Wear as much reflective clothing as possible. www.goude.com sells an array of flashing neon, which if worn will increase your visibility. Rear and front lights are a legal must.

Beware of wet roads and hitting the breaks (especially the front ones) too sharp. Whereas in the summer, this is effective, in the winter you will skid and possibly fall off. The thinner the tyre, the more likely you are to slide.

Mud guards will save your backside getting drenched.

Avoid wearing plastic macs. Despite being semi waterproof, you will arrive at work soaked in sweat. Wear Gore-Tex instead and invest in a pair of gloves.

Keep a spare pair of clothes at work just in case you get soaked through.