We have entered the coldest, darkest months of the year. And with those dark days come less light, worsening weather conditions and more stress for driver and car.
The Car Expert has already outlined some of the best advice to take when heading out on to the winter roads, but thought should also be given to what you’re carrying in your car when you set off.
You as the driver might be prepared for the journey, and hopefully your car will be in the correct condition for the trip. But you do need some vital supplies. So to cover off all eventualities, here is a useful check list of essential items you should keep in your car in the colder months, according to road safety group IAM RoadSmart.
Keep an ice scraper in your car throughout winter. It will make fast work of any ice on your windows, to make sure your vision is clear when you head off. Use one with a sturdy handle to prevent frozen fingers. Much better than an old CD case or credit card.
Remember to properly clear all your windows before driving off, not just part of the windscreen directly in front of your steering wheel. While you’re at it, scrape ice off your headlights and tail lights to make sure you can see and be seen. It will only take an extra minute or two.
Fuelled and ready
Start any long journey with a full tank of fuel. Don’t put off filling up – it’s sensible to keep your tank at least half full at all times during the coldest weeks of winter. This will prevent you getting caught short later if you come across heavy traffic, long queues or snow-bound roads.
If you’ve broken down on the side of the road, the last thing you want is to be fumbling around, unable to see your way in the dark. So always keep a torch and set of batteries in your vehicle. Check it every so often to make sure it actually works.
Some people still set off with very little clothing, crazily relying solely on the car’s heater. But if you do have to stop and get out of the car in sub-zero temperatures you could end up in serious trouble. And if you’re stuck in a broken-down car, you’ll find it gets very cold very quickly once the engine’s no longer running to drive the heater. So take plenty of warm clothes, a blanket and a high-visibility jacket.
Food and drink
Don’t forget some small items of food and drink to stop your energy levels from dropping. Again, if you’re left stranded by the side of the road, you could be there for quite a while. Bottled water is a must, along with some snacks and sweet treats.
First things first
You never know when you’ll need a first aid kit, so keeping one in the boot of your car is always handy for either yourself or another road user if you’re the first person at the scene of an accident. It’s also a useful thing to have handy if you manage to do yourself an injury while you’re out and about, so make sure you replace any items that you take out of the kit.
Jump to it
The battery on your car can go flat at any time, whether you’re driving around town, your local area, or heading out on your first long motorway journey after several weeks off the road due to the coronavirus lockdown. Make sure you keep a set of jump leads in the car so you can start your engine with help from another driver’s vehicle if you need to.
A reflective warning triangle gives you extra security for a number of reasons such as breaking down in the dark. Put it out in accordance with the Highway Code which advises to “put a warning triangle on the road at least 45 metres (roughly 50 paces) behind your broken-down vehicle on the same side of the road, or use other permitted warning devices if you have them. Always take great care when placing or retrieving them, but never use them on motorways.”
Most of us use a satnav to travel to unfamiliar places. But what if your battery dies and you can’t find the charger for your windscreen-mounted satnav, or what if the navigation takes you the wrong way? Be ready to refer to a trusty road atlas – and make sure it’s reasonably up to date.
Don’t lose contact
Finally, don’t forget your mobile phone and a charger. Switch it to silent and place it in the glove box to avoid any temptation to touch it, but it will be there ready to use when and if you need it.
“A journey can be a pleasant experience with the right planning,” says Richard Gladman, IAM RoadSmart’s head of driving and riding standards. “But it can turn into a nightmare if circumstances change and you do not have the right tools for the job at hand.
“Getting stranded either in suddenly changing weather conditions or in hours-long traffic will be more bearable if you can let people know where you are and stay in relative comfort until you’re finally able to safely get to your destination and your next cup of tea.”