It's that time of year again - the time when many of us think that as long the wipers, heater and headlights are working then we're ready for winter driving. Think again. Our Motoring Editor, Donal Byrne, tells you how to avoid trouble on the road.
The old advice is the best advice: be prepared and don't make a trip in really bad conditions if you don't have to. Ask yourself twice or three time is the journey merits the risk you are taking.
Two of the most important things to check for winter driving conditions are your battery and your tyres. If your battery is old and or failing then you are likely to have major problems. If your battery fails then so to do your heating, lights and everything else and the car won't start. If your battery is older than three years then you really should have it checked and see if it needs to be replaced - batteries work hard at all times of the year and are not designed to last forever. Having a good battery is half the preparation for winter driving.
Tyres are a vital consideration.
Your tyres are the only thing between you and the road and they are what stops you when you need to stop. The minimum tread depth for tyres in Ireland is 1.6 mm - anything lower is asking for trouble. The Road Safety Authority (RSA.ie) provides a very handy credit card-sized device that allows you to check the depth but you can just pop into a good tyre shop and have the check done. Driving on worn tyres may well be the most dangerous and expensive mistake you can make.
Also, check whether your car carries a spare wheel ? Is it inflated ? Do you know how to change a wheel ? If your car does not have a spare wheel then do you know how to use an inflation kit. It surprises me how many people discover their car does not have a spare wheel only when they end up with a puncture on the side of the road or the motorway.
You should also understand some principles of driving through floods and on ice or snow. Never drive into water directly behind another car (the Principle of Archmides proves that the water displaced by the car in front will wash back on your car) and never drive through it unless you can see the way out ahead. Drive in the middle of the road as its usually the highest point.
Be very prepared for sudden and unexpected lack of visibility and slow down.
When driving on ice or snow use as high a gear as you can to maintain traction; don't brake suddenly but do do gradually and keep your right foot light on the accelerator. If you do skid then drive into the direction of the skid. If you jerk the wheel in the opposite direction then you will have no control.
Also remember never to leave your engine running and the car unoccupied when you are de-icing the car. Gardai have reported at least two cars being stolen recently as their owners went inside to wait for the car to clear itself of ice. Never use boiling water to de-ice - there's a very good chance of cracking the windscreen, so just use warm water. Don't pour water on or into the door locks as residual water can lodge and then freeze the locks even more later.
See our video below from Richard Tuthill of Below Zero Ice Driving. He's an expert on Artic driving and has some great tips on driving on ice or snow on ordinary roads.
Carry some basics in the car. Think about putting some warm clothing in the boot (this is really important if you drive with children in the car), along with a high viz jacket, a torch and some basic foodstuffs, like nuts that won't perish. And make sure your 'phone is charged - if it's not, a dodgy car battery will put the kibosh on your plight entirely.
So, back to the old advice being the best. In any extreme weather situation watch your speed very carefully, slow down when visibility is restricted (as it can be even on a sunny day when the winter sun is low in the sky) and don't take chances.
Here is an AA guide to being prepared for winter.
Watch Richard Tuthill's advice for non-specialist drivers travelling on snow or ice.