Preparing your car for winter
The winter weather can take its toll on our cars and difficult driving conditions, including heavy rain, ice and snow, can catch you by surprise. Hazardous conditions not only have a big impact on your driving, it can also land you in trouble or hit your wallet.
Here are some of the most common winter driving mistakes that could invalidate your car insurance, land you with a hefty fine or cost you thousands in repairs:
1. Leaving your car unattended while defrosting
It might seem harmless and could shave some time off your morning commute, but leaving your car to ‘defrost’ while you have your breakfast or get ready for work is actually illegal and could land you with a £20 fine, which could rise to £40 if not paid within the timeframe issued by the council. ‘Idling’, or keeping your engine running unnecessarily, is in breach of Section 42 of the Road Traffic Act 1988. Criminals could also have a better chance of stealing your car if it’s left running and unattended too.
If you really don’t want to freeze while waiting for your car to heat up, cover your windscreen overnight or use a can of de-icer and a manual scraper to clear the windscreen quickly.
2. Leaving snow on your roof
It’s essential for you to clean all snow off your car roof, windows and number plates. It’s a fairly common mistake and an easy one to make, but leaving snow covering the roof, windows or number plates could result in your insurance becoming invalid as well as a £60 fine if you’re caught. Snow on the roof could become a hazard for you and other drivers if it were to fall and obscure yours or another drivers’ vision, especially when braking or driving at a heightened speed in already hazardous conditions.
If caught, you could be penalised for ‘driving without due consideration’ or 'using a motor vehicle in a dangerous condition', and it’s simply not worth the risk. As well as not being able to see clearly, if you are involved in an accident and were found to be at fault due to neglecting to prepare your car, it could invalidate your insurance and result in your provider not paying out. Before making any journey, fully wipe snow or frost from every window and your windscreen using a manual scraper and de-icer to avoid a run in with the police.
3. Ensure your lights, mirrors and plates are always visible
By law you need to make sure that your lights and plates are always visible, and this is particularly important during winter when visibility could be low due to bad weather. In low visibility, you should be driving with your sidelights or dipped headlights on so that other drivers can see you too. However, if they’re obscured by snow, ice, frost or condensation - it could impact other drivers’ ability to see you and result in an accident. If you’re found to be at fault following an accident due to your lights not being visible, it could invalidate your insurance and result in your provider not paying out. Always make sure your number plate and lights are clean and clear before setting off.
For the same reasons, if your mirrors aren’t clear and de-misted, your vision could be obstructed while driving. If you’re caught with misty wing mirrors, you could land yourself with a £60 fine and three points on your licence due to careless or inconsiderate driving.
4. Pouring hot water on your windscreen
You should never pour hot water on your windows or windscreen to remove ice or frost. It may seem like a quick hack to defrost windows quickly, and isn’t against the law, but this mistake could cost you a lot of money in repairs. The extreme cold temperature can cause small cracks to appear which can weaken the glass or smash your window or windscreen altogether. If the small cracks were to obscure your vision, in already dangerous driving conditions, it could result in an accident too.
Instead of using boiling water, cover your windscreen and windows overnight to shield from the frost. If possible try parking in a garage or a covered area to protect your car from the elements. Or, apply de-icer the night before or grab a manual scraper and de-icer and scrape it off yourself in the morning.
5. Driving in inappropriate footwear
You should avoid wearing inappropriate footwear, including slippers, heels or wellington boots, while driving as it could invalidate your car insurance. Whilst it’s not illegal, they could have an impact on your ability to drive. Rule 97 of the Highway Code states that the ‘footwear and clothing you choose to wear while driving must not prevent you from using the controls in the correct manner’. Wellington boots, for example, are quite chunky and could impact your braking or if you have slippers on, they may fall off while you’re driving. If there was an accident, and you were found to be at fault or caught wearing inappropriate footwear, it could invalidate your car insurance and result in your provider not paying out.
6. Check your tyres before setting off
Driving in wet and wintry conditions can affect the tread pattern of your tyres. If you have a lower tread depth, your braking performance will decrease and it could result in an accident, especially if you’re driving in bad weather. Tyres that are below the legal requirement could land drivers with a potentially huge fine and even a driving ban.
If you’re caught by the police with tyres below 1.6mm minimum tread depth, the maximum fine can be up £2,500 and three points on your driving licence, per tyre. That means if you’re driving around on four illegal tyres, you could be fined a whopping £10,000 and receive 12 penalty points, resulting in an instant driving ban for at least six months. Check your tread depth with a digital tyre tread gauge before setting off or see a professional if you’re unsure. They’re really easy to use and can be found in your local motoring retailers or online.
7. Regularly test your battery
A flat or faulty battery is the number one cause of vehicle breakdowns according to the RAC, and the risk of battery failure is even greater in winter weather. An emergency call out, especially in bad weather. could cost you a lot of money. It’s worth doing regular checks on your battery. Aim to change your battery every three to five years if possible, or sooner if it’s causing you problems, to ensure you don’t have any trouble during the winter months.
Finally, driving in winter can be challenging and it’s even worse if you actually break down, especially if you’re in the middle of nowhere and the weather is bad. In case of emergencies it’s always worth carrying specific items in your car just in case. This includes:
● Manual scraper and de-icer
● Warm clothing and a blanket or sleeping bag
● Practical footwear, like wellies or boots
● Torch and spare batteries
● Mobile phone, charger and a fully charged portable charger
As we head into winter, you should be very careful if you have to venture out in wintry conditions, and you should only do so if absolutely necessary. Always remember to check your car over before any journey to make sure that it’s safe for the road.