The fun of winter driving

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Although Ireland’s winters are far milder than, say, Alaska, driving in icy and slushy conditions is no fun, and often quite dangerous. And, because we don’t spend too long each year in these sketchy conditions, many Irish drivers are not really sure how to prepare for a potentially treacherous stretch of road, or what to do if you find yourself spinning out of control.

That’s why Carzone (plug alert) has devised a winter driving guide full of tips, which we have amended slightly, to survive the snow, ice and rain. Of course the best way to survive would be to park up your car and take the bus, but where’s the fun in that?

Snow and ice

Pack a bag of supplies and leave it in your boot. That should include (deep breath) food, water, a set of warm clothing, a blanket, torch, first aid kit, fully charged phone (or one of those portable battery chargers), jump leads, a shovel, ice scraper, de-icing fluid and some sand or grit to give your tyres some traction if they get bogged down.

Plan your route, particularly if you’re going on a long journey or a Sunday drive. Keep to the main roads if possible – the trek through Glendalough and the Wicklow Mountains offers some beautiful views, but it’s quite remote and that high up the roads can get very dangerous very quickly.

Fill up your tank with fuel. That way you can leave the car and the heaters running if you get stranded.

Car check: Before you hit the road, make sure you’ve carried out the basic checks, like ensuring your lights are working, fluids are topped up and your tyres aren’t worn.

Clear the windscreen completely before you set off, rather than the little peephole most seem to make do with for the first five minutes. Make sure that your wipers haven’t frozen to the glass, and clear your lights and mirrors and roof of any obstructions.

If it has snowed, clear the powder off your roof. If you have to brake suddenly it could slide down your windscreen, and then you better hope luck is on your side.

Drive calmly – steer, accelerate and brake smoothly. If you yank the steering wheel or jam on the brakes on an icy or snowy road, chances are you could end up in the ditch or in the back of the car in front.

Use your ears. If you’re driving on snow and the crunching sound suddenly stops, it could mean you’re now on ice.

If you find yourself in a skid, ignore the instinct to slam on the brakes, as it could mean an even longer skid. Take your foot off the accelerator and wait for the skid to stop. If your vehicle starts to spin, steer in the direction the rear of the car is sliding. Avoid overcorrecting or you’ll have to turn in the opposite direction.

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Rain

First off, reduce your speed. That might seem like a no-brainer, but the message doesn’t seem to have sunk in for many Irish motorists, as speed is a major factor in collisions which occur in wet conditions. Keep a good distance between yourself and the vehicle in front, and be prepared to stop comfortably.

As with snowy or icy conditions, manoeuvre lightly, as abrupt changes could imbalance your car.

Turn off the cruise control – it’s great when you’re on a long stretch of motorway, but the chance of losing control of the car increases in wet conditions.

Stick to the middle lane where you can. Water tends to pool at the sides of roads and if you drive through just a few inches of water you could damage your engine or wind up aquaplaning – not a pleasant experience.

Turn your lights on but keep them on low beam, as high beams can reflect off the rain drops and decrease your vision.

If you do breakdown, don’t open the bonnet, as water could damage the electrics.

Flooding

If you see a large body of water, stop and check how deep it is. Carzone recommends that you avoid travelling through more than 6 inches of standing water and 4 inches of moving water. Ideally you should choose a different route completely – water can cause a lot of damage to your car if it seeps into your engine bay or is sucked up through the exhaust pipe.

If you do go through, drive slowly and steadily in first gear, sticking to the highest part of the road and keeping the revs high. Once you’re through the flooding, test your brakes.

If you drive too fast and begin to aquaplane, hold the wheel lightly and lift off the accelerator until you regain control.

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