Tips from a car mechanic on managing your vehicle in snowy and icy conditions.
In the U.K. we are in the middle of a very cold winter, in fact it’s the coldest since 1979. Some of you younger drivers may not even have driven in the snow or ice before.
So I’ll explain what happens to your car in the “Big Freeze” from a car mechanics point of view and some top driving tips.
In temperatures of -5c and below, your car’s Engine block and Cylinder head become very cold. The cooling system on your car will have left the factory with an Antifreeze and corrosion inhibitor within the cooling system of your engine.
As a rule of thumb the Antifreeze protection will protect the cooling system from freezing until temperature of -15c is reached. If your not sure of your Antifreeze protection levels pop into your local garage, normally they will be more than happy to check this for you and top up the system strength for you (with a charge of course).
The performance of your Lead/Acid car battery will drop off sharply in very cold conditions. The acid and distilled water within the battery can literally freeze in extreme conditions.
When you go to start your vehicle on a very cold morning, depress the clutch pedal (if a manual car of course) this disengages the gearbox, so the starter motor will only have to spin the engine over not the transmission as well.
Do not put on your headlights or interior heater until the engine fires!
Some motorists travel around all winter with their heated rear window on or their heated front screen. The heating elements are the biggest drain on the battery apart from the headlights. Switch the heated screens off as soon as they clear the ice, never use the H.R.W. or H.F.W. without starting the engine your battery will be dead within minutes in extreme cold.
Once the engine starts the alternator will happily run the electrical needs of your car, however in this bad weather you will more than likely be stuck in traffic for sometime. In stop-start traffic turn off your headlights and just use side lights until you pull away this will help the drain on the battery.
The higher your engine revs the faster the alternator spins which in turn charges the battery. So in very heavy traffic when your stationary try to help the alternator by only using what’s necessary in the vehicle.
Some motorists never buy de-icers or scrapers they will totter out in cold conditions and pour a kettle of hot water over the glass on the car, never do this the extreme cold and the hot water can crack your windscreen, this is not an old wives tale I’ve seen it happen!
Another common mistake is in the snow or ice some motorists rely on the windshield wipers to clear the windscreen, ice will freeze the rubber windscreen wipers to the screen, and when you try to operate the wipers the mechanism can shear under the strain of trying to move the wiper arms and blades. The windshield wiper mechanisms and linkages can run into hundreds of dollars/pounds to replace!
Also, frozen ice on your windshield is like sand paper or a big metal file. And the soft rubber windshield blades WILL get cut up and need replacing much faster. It’s much better to heat the windshield using the cars defroster and then use a scrapper. Use the blades to remove water, NOT ice.
When driving in snow or ice try to imagine what its like when you go ice-skating in an ice-rink. Try to limit any fast or sudden use of the steering if you try to turn on your skates too quickly in the ice-rink you fall over! You car is the same.
Keep your steering movements smooth and a little slower than normal.
Once your wheels are locked you have zero braking you will slide with the gradient of the road or into the car in front! Brake in short pumping actions on and off the brakes this will help you stop.
Some of you maybe saying that your vehicle has A.B.S. (Anti-lock brakes) in dry conditions A.B.S. can save your life, it operates by sensing when a wheel is locked and it releases the brake pressure to the effected wheel automatically.
If you brake too hard on snow or ice the wheels will lock and you’re A.B.S will sense this and stop the brake pressure to the wheels and you will happily continue and crash into the nearest object, so remember A.B.S. wont save you in the “Big Freeze” practice short sharp pumping actions on the brake pedal and leave a much bigger gap from the car in front than you normally would.
When driving in snow or ice be much more gentle on acceleration than normal. Rear wheel drive cars are not as good in the snow as front wheel drive cars. This is because in front engined rear wheel drive cars there is hardly any weight above the driving axle.
I had a superb Ford Capri 3.0s in the 1980s but when it snowed it was completely useless it was border line dangerous, tiny little B.L. Metros would whiz passed me as I sat wheel spinning trying to pull away from the curb.
One last tip is at night always bring your scrapers and de-icing sprays into the house, because if your car door locks freeze up how are you going to get to them? If their laying on the back seat.
Personally I hate the winter, but until then I hope these tips helped you out.