How to

20 April 2016

How to Prepare Your Vehicle for Extreme Weather

So you’re setting off into the unknown. You’ve got your thermals, your boots, your crampons, your ice axes and just about everything else you might need to keep your body intact. It’s only a few hours later, whilst you’re watching a thin layer of frost entomb your Ford Focus, that you realise that it wasn’t just your body that you needed to worry about.

Everybody full well knows that when winter arrives, you have to think about driving more carefully. In the UK, 48% of car accidents during the winter are a result of skidding, and a large chunk of that skidding is caused by the build-up of black ice. When you’re driving into areas with extreme conditions though, safe driving isn’t enough by itself; you need to take measures to prepare your vehicle for the task at hand.

Bring a Spare Battery

Cold weather can take a real toll on anything electronic. When you start hitting really low temperatures, you may well find that some of your devices begin to lose functionality, or stop working altogether. Car batteries are a lot tougher than an iPod, but not impervious, so be sure to get both your battery and your alternator checked before heading out, and bring a spare one in case the other shorts out.

Use Winter or All-Season Tires

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This should be kind of a no-brainer. Even if the part of the world you live in isn’t especially cold, you are usually advised to fit winter tires when the temperature starts to drop. Tires retain heat in the tread, but in normal tires this occurs higher up, closer to the wheel. Winter tires keep the heat lower to improve grip. They also have tread grooves better suited to hold the road when it’s icy. If you can’t afford winter tires, you can fit chains or snow socks, but remember to take them off once you get out of the ice or you’re in for a world of trouble.

Check/Change Your Oil

Oil is something you should be keeping track of anyway, but in cold weather dirty engine oil goes from a manageable problem to a big one. Have the oil, transmission and air filters checked before embarking on whatever voyage you’re planning on taking. Unless you’ve changed the oil recently anyway, do that, and consider putting winter weight oil in if you’re going to be away for a while, or the conditions at home are anywhere near as cold as where you’re going. Thinner oil puts less strain on the engine as it starts, lowering the chance of failure.

Check the Cooling System

Supposedly, you should be cleaning out the cooling system in your car every 2 years anyway, but unless you happen to have done it within a month or two of your trip, be sure to have it taken care of. As you run a car, anti-freeze actually develops a low voltage current, which can then oxidise, and eventually cause the whole coolant system to fail. Suffice to say, you don’t want that. Replacing the coolant is a cheap, easy process to have done, and while you’re at it you can have the radiator pressure, hoses and water pump checked. If any parts aren’t functioning properly, replace them.

Stock Your Car

This is perhaps the most important thing you’ll have to do. You might be driving through thick snow, high winds, low temperatures or all three, and if even the slightest thing goes wrong, you’ll want to have the appropriate gear to deal with it. Here’s a short list of all the most essential items:

  • A small bladed shovel
  • An ice scraper
  • A first aid kit
  • A powerful torch (and spare batteries)
  • Waterproof matches
  • Flares
  • A safety knife (2 blade or moving edge)
  • Two hi-viz waistcoats
  • A thermal blanket
  • Jump leads
  • A bag of sand or cat litter to help traction if you get stuck
  • Winter chains
  • Waterproof thermal gloves
  • Some energy bars and/or isotonic drink
  • De-icer
  • Water

With all that, you’re pretty much assured that if anything does happen, you’ll be equipped to deal with it appropriately.

Callum Davies

Callum is a film school graduate who is now making a name for himself as a journalist and content writer. His vices include flat whites and 90s hip-hop.