Whether it’s ice, snow, heavy rain or high winds, adverse weather can put your car at risk. According to research from Continental Tyres, there are almost 7,000 more car accidents on UK roads in winter than there are in summer.
Follow our top 5 dos and don’ts for motoring in cold weather to make sure you stay safe on the roads, and avoid breaking down or invalidating your car insurance.
Don’t leave your car unattended It’s obviously a bad idea to leave your car running with the keys in the ignition, but according to the Association of British Insurers (ABI), 47% of motorists admitted to leaving their car unattended on frosty mornings to warm it up. This makes your car an easy target for opportunistic thieves, and few insurers will pay out if you haven’t taken reasonable care to prevent your car from being stolen.
Don’t use hot water on your windscreen Don’t try to cut corners by using hot water to defrost your screen, as the sudden change in temperature could cause it to crack. Some insurance policies include extra cover for windscreen damage but you may still have to pay an excess. The best way to de-ice your windscreen is with a scraper, and spray de-icer can help to speed up the job. Invest in a proper scraper and don’t be tempted to improvise — using other items like credit cards can scratch the windscreen.
Don’t drive through a flooded road/ford It can be tempting to drive through that flooded road or ford to get to your destination more quickly, but there’s no way of knowing how deep it is. Driving through floods can instantly cause your brakes to become less responsive, and can even result in irreparable damage to your car. In a recent report, the AA revealed it has had to rescue 21,000 cars from flooded roads in the last five years.
Don’t ignore warnings In severe weather, the Met Office often issues warnings and sometimes advises against driving unless absolutely necessary. If there’s a severe weather warning, consider whether your trip is really essential, and make sure you listen out for weather and traffic reports before setting out. Although contrary to rumours you may have seen on social media, your insurance is not automatically deemed void if you drive while a weather warning is in place.
Don’t leave valuables visible in the car Many drivers will still brave the icy roads for some retail therapy. It may seem like common sense, but make sure you don’t leave your shopping visible in your car. Not all policies cover vehicle contents, and those that do may only cover small amounts. You may be able to claim on your home insurance if you have ‘away from home’ cover, but if you’ve paid in cash and the receipts are taken along with the goods, it can be hard to prove how much your shopping was worth. Whether you’re claiming on your home or car insurance, most insurers will not pay out if the valuables were left in plain sight.
Give your car a health check The cold weather can wreak havoc on your car. Many garages or retailers offer a winter health check to ensure your car’s in a good condition to face the cold — or you can carry out the checks yourself. Make sure you’ve got a suitable coolant or a 50/50 mix of water and antifreeze in your radiator, your battery is in a good condition, you’ve got the correct tyre tread depth and pressure, and your car’s oil and water are topped up.
Make sure you’ve got breakdown cover Even if you maintain your car properly, there’s still an increased chance of breaking down in cold weather. Battery problems are the most common cause of breakdowns, and they are more likely to fail when the temperature is low. Make sure you’ve got adequate breakdown cover and you won’t be faced with a lengthy and costly emergency call-out process. You can compare breakdown cover here.
Be prepared If you did break down, what would you do if you were in a remote area and your mobile phone battery was dead? It may seem an unlikely situation, but as the weather worsens the risk increases. Pack a small cold weather emergency kit in your car, including essentials like a torch, shovel, blanket, and spare mobile phone/charger, and ensure you’re not left out in the cold.
Drive to match road conditions With ice, rain, and high winds, road conditions can become more dangerous, so make sure you take appropriate measures to avoid risks. Maintain a safe distance from the car in front, and adjust your speed for the road conditions — it may not be safe to drive at the normal speed limit if the road is icy or visibility is reduced.
De-ice properly Make sure you’ve properly cleared any ice and snow from your car before setting off, including from your car’s lights, mirrors, and roof. Snow from the roof could melt and fall on your windscreen or be blown onto the car behind you, limiting visibility and increasing the chances of an accident. Failing to de-ice your car fully could invalidate your car insurance if you need to make a claim for an accident caused by poor visibility.