With Christmas and the New Year celebrations well and truly behind us, we should be looking forward to the Spring and warmer temperatures, but for some the worst of the winter driving conditions are yet to come. As we all know, the weather in February can be dire, and even March and April when Spring should be in the air in Central Europe, it can still be cold, wet, icy and miserable.
So with this in mind, here is some advice from our technical guru “Assassin” –
Much of the following is basic, much is common sense, much is omitted as people think they are invincible, irrespective of what vehicle they drive. Having a 4×4 is no guarantee of anything, every winter proves this as many drivers became stuck for many hours, simply due to other vehicles becoming stuck and blocking the roads. It matters little that you have a 4×4 if lorries, vans, and cars are blocking the road.
First ensure your vehicle is fully serviced, this includes checking the fluids and adding more anti-freeze agents or screen wash to washers which will work at lower temperatures, checking wiper blades for damage from frost, and obviously your heating is up to par.
During cold weather it is advisable to get up 10 minutes earlier than normal, more during really bad periods such as snow and icy conditions to allow more time for your journey. Go to your vehicle armed with a hot drink of coffee or tea and put this in the cup holder, start your engine with the heater switched OFF, and leave it off, fully clear your vehicle of snow and ice with a scraper and then sit in your vehicle and drink your drink. Take at least 5 minutes, longer for older vehicles, then switch on your heater to a medium setting only.
This few minutes gives the engine time to generate some heat to defrost it. If you switch the heater on immediately all you are doing is blowing cold air around and slowing down your engine from generating heat, this 5 minutes of idling allows heat to be generated to defrost the vehicle. Switch on the rear screen heater at this time also, this 5 minutes of idling also allows the battery to replenish some of its charge it has consumed during starting. When clearing your vehicle, particularly of snow, ensure you clean all the snow off, this includes the roof, bonnet, infact the entire vehicle; if you do not this cools your vehicle down and snow blocks airflow to radiators and lights, so spend an extra minute or two to thoroughly clean it all off. Snow can freeze while travelling and form large sheets of ice, If you brake heavily or corner this can come off in a large sheet and damage your vehicle or injure others, plus potentially damage other vehicles and cause an accident.
This assumes you carry the basics such as a good torch and spare batteries, and all the necessary tools you would normally need such as a spare wheel, wheel brace, and a jack.
Carry the correct kit in your vehicle. At the very least you will need some munchies, packs of biscuits and a bottle of water. This will provide you with something to eat and drink if you are held up for a few hours. Also ensure you have plenty of fuel on board, a charged mobile phone with plenty of credit, and the correct clothing and kit to keep you warm.
Good boots are a must. Forget vanity and fashion, decent boots with good grip on ice and snow are what is needed, a good blanket is great to keep you warm if you are stuck inside your vehicle, and of course a good coat. Carry a small shovel or solid dustpan to remove any snow if you get stuck, a small bag of salt or kitty litter as the salt will melt snow and ice around your wheels, and kitty litter will give you traction on ice to get you moving again.
If you are tackling longer journeys it is advisable to take extra precautions, this would include the above, but include some extra warm clothing. Warm clothing for such conditions means many thin layers of clothing as opposed to one thick layer. I advise making a pack of clothing up, this would consist of a couple of t-shirts and a sweat shirt, a pair of ‘long johns’ or thermals to go under your trousers, a hat as you lose one third of the heat through your head, spare socks, and a couple of pairs of gloves.
Vacuum packs are now available, these are bags which hold the clothing, you apply a vacuum cleaner to the nozzle and it sucks out all the air and compacts the clothing to a very small size, these can be put in a box in the boot of the vehicle and left all winter, if you don’t use them they are there, if you need them you will be glad you have them.
Instead of the biscuits keep a box of cup-a-soups in the vehicle, and a couple of snack pots which only need hot water adding and a fork or spoon to eat them. You will also obviously a cup. When you make your morning cuppa and boil the kettle you simply fill a flask with boiling water and put it in your vehicle. If you become stuck for a long period at least you can have something hot to eat, if you have a few tea bags or a small plastic pot with coffee in it you can also have a warm drink as well. If you want a drink or snack you need water, this is readily obtained in large plastic bottles, two 2 litre bottles is about the right amount to carry for medium journeys. Alternatively if you have a water filter all you need to do is filter some water and boil it in the kettle, cool it in the fridge and put it into clean bottles.
If you travel for a living and undertake long journeys it is advisable to carry a 12 volt kettle and more water. You can use the water from your flask which will be hot, and simply boil it in a couple of minutes for drinks or snacks, obviously it is advisable to carry more snacks or soups in case you are stuck for a longer period of time.
Packing such items is easily done with one of the numerous plastic boxes with sealed lids. Just pack everything inside and place the entire box in your boot, put anything like dustpans into plastic bags so if you have to use them you can put them back into your winter box without soaking everything else inside.
What to do if you get stuck:
If you get stuck you should always make a few basic checks. If you become stuck because of an accident this becomes more important. Check the vehicle for fluid losses, damage to crucial components, and ensure it is safe to run the engine.
Never leave your vehicle, more people die from leaving their vehicle and trying to walk to a destination, or to get help. Many slip on ice or try to take short cuts in snow which obscures many dangers, thus have accidents and die from exposure.
Call the Police on your mobile and give them your location, inform them you have prepared and have hot food available, warm clothing, and you are fine for many hours if need be, but request they check on you periodically. They will often call you back at certain intervals. Get your box from the boot and place it in a convenient location inside your vehicle, the back seat is fine as items can be spread out a little so you have easy access to them. To preserve your vehicle battery, switch off everything electrical inside your vehicle.
If you are in deep or deepening snow and need to run your engine for heating, you will need to clear around your exhaust pipe to prevent carbon monoxide poisoning. Simply dig a trench about 10 feet long and ramp it upwards, this will deflect any exhaust fumes away from the vehicle and upwards out of harm’s way.
Cover yourself with your blanket and recline the drivers seat, this will keep you warmer, as a more relaxing posture slows down your metabolism and keeps you warmer.
Set your mobile phone alarm for 2 hours, set this to go off 5 minutes before the hour, and once the alarm goes off you start your engine, run it for about 15 minutes and heat the vehicle back up. Whilst the engine is running you can plug your kettle in and have a drink or snack if you feel like one. Never plug the kettle in without the engine running, as it can soon run down your battery. Tune your radio into a local station to hear the news and weather on the hour to get local information and updates. This period allows the engine to cool, but not go cold. This then makes starting easier, gives enough time to boil a kettle and replenish the battery, and all without using too much fuel. If you are stuck overnight or during the day, you simply repeat these procedures and run the vehicle for 15 minutes every two hours.
Periodically get out of the vehicle and check the radiator is not blocked with snow, and check your exhaust trench is not filled in with falling or drifting snow.
If you get wet you will have spare, dry clothing … so use it! Being wet is the quickest way to lose body heat.
The tragic consequences of getting stuck and not being prepared:
It’s interesting to note how many people around the world die, or suffer serious injuries from being unprepared for winter driving, so here are a few.
Many people suffer from hypothermia due to a lack or preparation. Often it is not having warm clothes or even a blanket in a vehicle to maintain their body heat, or a spare set of warm clothing to change into if they get cold and wet.
Leaving a vehicle is the greatest cause of accidents. Snow obscures many now hidden hazards and it’s not uncommon for people to leave a vehicle to seek help and trip or fall. Sometimes it’s just their ego that’s bruised, but often it can result in an immobilising injury such as a broken leg or hip, they cannot move and suffer from hypothermia. Many are not found for many days, some not alive. Many hidden hazards cause penetrating injuries, some are quite mild and others can be fatal, and the blood loss does nothing but hinder the body’s core temperature.
Dehydration is another issue, many do not carry fluids to drink as they assume they won’t get stuck, a simple bottle of water can cure this, but a flask of boiling water and packet soups are even better.
Many serious injuries are sustained by people being hit by other vehicles, and its the reason a space around the vehicle needs clearing, and the top of the vehicle needs to remain visible, Police often deploy helicopters in a sudden weather snap to locate stranded vehicles and log their locations, and warn road clearing crews of their existence and location.
Many vehicles become stranded and no help is forthcoming as the stranded person has insufficient credit on their mobiles, or insufficient charge in their batteries.
Does all this preparation really work?
Well, I was once stuck for 3 days, and throughout I was warm, fed and watered by following these simple procedures. I also carried a toilet roll as well, bodily functions being something that nobody can avoid!
One last point. If you manage to get the vehicle free before assistance arrives, do not forget to inform the Police you have done so, that way they will know you are safe and back on your way.