Winter roads

It would be fair to say, highlights Iain Robertson, that our winters have been less-than-mighty in recent years, amounting to little more than an occasional dusting of frost, rather than a full-on Siberian onslaught, but try telling that to your car…

Do you remember the story of the shepherd boy, who cried wolf? I do. Every year for the past few, I have been made to feel crushingly embarrassed by it, when I announce a need to replace the car’s summer tyres with winter alternatives, but even donning a heavier jacket (of which I have a few) becomes little more than a ‘sweat-fest’ (sorry!).

With religious zeal, for reasons that I know to be wholesome and true, even though I have made the tyre swap only in the past few days, my understanding of the tyre business leads me to stick to my guns. For the past couple of decades, while our winters are clearly warmer, apart from some freakish climatic occurrences that last for just a few hours, we have all been driving more recent motorcar makes and models that are designed around looking trendy, summery and (in some cases) more status-enhancing. These cars wear tyres that are meant, like a breezy frock, for regular summery conditions.


Here’s the thing, those grip-providing, round black things that rotate beneath the car’s wheel-arches work eminently well, as long as the air temperature is above 10-degreesC. However, when the mercury falls to less than that notional figure, bearing in mind that it might be markedly lower in the shadows of trees and other geographical features, road surfaces will be less adhesive and the risk of slippage and skiddage increases disproportionately.

Winter, as opposed to summer tyres, apart from carrying a more pronounced tread pattern that is intended to clear the tread-blocks from ice and snow build-up, are also produced from a more compliant rubber mix that bends, rather than solidifying, at lower temperatures. It is the flexibility of these seasonal tyres that provides significantly improved grip levels, which means that braking distances are reduced and traction is increased. As a result, there is less likelihood of coming a cropper on your favourite country lane, or either slamming into the rear of another vehicle, or worse, knocking down a child on a pelican crossing, in town. I repeat…have your tyres changed from summer to winter grade!

Of course, when the weather does turn really foul, there is no way that you can afford to barrel along familiar streets as if everything were fine. SLOW DOWN! Take the conditions into account and drive accordingly…give more space for slowing down…look further ahead, if visibility permits…avoid sudden bursts of either acceleration, or braking, while being smoother with the steering…anything to avoid an uncontrollable slide, because it is sure to end in a painful and pricey conclusion.

At this time of the year, I always place my ‘Survival Box’ in the boot. Its list of contents is as follows:

  • 1 x blanket
  • 1 x bad weather coat
  • 1 x spray bottle of de-icer
  • 1 x ice-scraper
  • 1 x pair of warm gloves
  • 1 x ex-Army folding shovel
  • I x pair Wellington boots
  • 1 x pair of thick socks
  • 1 x Red Warning Triangle

These items supplement the car’s First Aid Kit and fire extinguisher (both checked for ‘use by’ dates) and a large bar of Dairy Milk, already stashed in the door pockets. My reasoning is simple: while these items are intended for personal use, it is not for the first time that I have used them to help other, stranded road-users.

Naturally, preparing your vehicle for seasonal weather changes is also important. A lot of car dealerships offer ‘Winter Services’ for nominal sums of cash (I have seen them as low as £20 but also as steep as £100). It is a good opportunity to have all the fluid levels checked and topped-up, as well as ensuring that the brakes, the battery, wheels (and tyres), suspension, steering and lamps are all working at their best levels. Grim weather conditions will affect the proper running of your vehicle, whether it is garaged regularly, or parked outdoors. The problem with vehicle breakdowns, which this winter service should obviate, is that they always occur at the least expected moments, usually when you might be carrying out a special request for somebody else!

Winter Tyres

Finally, there some issues to look out for:

  1. A lot of pre-diluted winter screenwashes are useless at clearing ice. Use a concentrated fluid instead and check its temperature range.
  2. Do not reduce your car’s tyre pressures, as their grip levels will not be improved and the handling will be affected negatively.
  3. Do not use rear (red) foglamps in snowy conditions. They are meant for fog and poor visibility and only glare confusingly in the eyes of following motorists.
  4. When the weather is dire, create safety space around your vehicle and, if somebody else steals it, allow it; just back off and let them have the accident.