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Driving advice

Top ten winter driving myths debunked

As the cold weather sets in here in the UK, we debunk the common misconceptions and myths about winter driving


We have all set off on winter journeys in freezing temperatures and, if you travel to work every morning, you are likely used to the routine once December rolls around; defrost the car, set off a few minutes earlier, and drive with caution, on the lookout for blankets of snow and icy roads.

But can you de-ice your car using hot water? Does your car need a few minutes to warm up before driving off? Do you turn into the skid to correct your car sliding on the road?

We have developed plenty of myths about driving safely in adverse conditions, and with snow already falling and Christmas not too far around the corner, we have debunked ten of the most common beliefs about winter driving and maintenance. Were your notions around car journeys in the cold season TRUE or FALSE? Find out below.

FALSE – setting off in snowy conditions on a road that is already gritted with salt can give you piece of mind, but you should still travel at a lower speed than you would normally and take extra care.

Salt does not dissolve ice immediately, and needs cars driving over it to turn it into an effective solution. In addition, salted roads can refreeze, and any part of the road ahead could potentially be untreated.

TRUE – if your car suddenly stops working in very cold temperatures, there is a good chance that your engine has frozen, but trying to run the engine to warm it up is definitely not a good idea.

Turning the engine over could cause it to overheat, so park your car somewhere warm and wait a few days for your engine to properly thaw before starting it again. To help avoid frozen engines, add a 50-50 mix of anti-freeze and water to the engine’s cooling system.

TRUE – should you encounter a skid while driving, you should gently turn the steering wheel in the direction of the skid. For example, if your car has started to slide to the left, then gently turn the wheel to the left. Although it can be quite the alarming situation, try not to panic.

Slamming the brakes will only make the skidding worse, and overcorrecting by steering too much could cause your car to spin. Remember your speed; If you are starting to skid, it’s a sign that you are driving too fast for the road conditions.

FALSE – stopping distances are indeed longer, but many drivers are not prepared for just how much longer they can be. Depending on your car and its tyres, stopping distances can be ten times longer in on winter roads.

You can increase your car’s traction and braking distance in cold temperatures by fitting winter tyres (and snow sock covers for those tyres in more snowy conditions), which have deeper grooves than standard tyres.

TRUE – while you may have needed to let a car ‘warm up’ previously, modern cars have computers or fuel injection systems that can compensate during cold temperatures.

If you let your car idle you are likely to be using more fuel which can make driving more expensive. In reality, your car generally needs about 20 seconds to properly lubricate engine components in cold conditions.

FALSE – 4×4 drivers certainly do have the advantage when driving in the colder months of the year, but this can give some drivers a false sense of security.

Yes, your car will have more power to help you get moving on slick surfaces, but more power doesn’t mean that you will brake any faster. Always respect the road ahead, and leave plenty of space between your car and the vehicle in front.

TRUE – this one is unlikely to happen to us in the UK, but for those of us enduring the most bone-chilling temperatures the British Isles can muster, this is something to keep an eye out for.

Leaving too much empty space inside your fuel tank can lead to the water vapour in your fuel lines freezing on particularly cold nights; stopping fuel from reaching the combustion chamber of your engine.

FALSE – if only it was that easy! Sure, hot water will break up the ice on your windscreen, but it can crack to windscreen too. This is because, although the glass used to make your windscreen and windows are (usually) reinforced, it isn’t designed to handle dramatic changes in temperature like this; from freezing cold to searing hot.

Buy and use a de-icer solution instead, or make a homemade de-icer solution by filling a spray bottle with 2/3rds rubbing alcohol and 1/3rd water.

FALSE – if you are driving when the visibility is decreased, additional lights are likely to make very little difference. In extreme cases a fog light may be beneficial, but more often than not full beam fog lights will actually make the situation worse, as fog reflects light back, further reducing your visibility.

Maintaining dimmed headlights, paired with cautious speeds and vigilance, should be more than enough to spot obstacles and other cars on winter roads.

We picked this myth up from our friends at WhoCanFixMyCar.com*, who have debunked a few common winter driving misconceptions of their own.

FALSE – this is a pretty big misbelief, and a dangerous one too. The myth comes from the idea that if you deflate your types a tiny bit you will increase the surface area of your tyres, in turn increasing grip on snow and ice. But this is simply not true, and deflating your tires can have heavy effect your car’s ability to steer correctly.

You should remember to check your tyre pressure every so often during the winter months too, as cold weather can cause the air in your tyres to compact.

*The Car Expert has a commercial partnership with WhoCanFixMyCar.com. If you click through to their website, we may receive a small commission. We do not receive any payment or commission if you proceed with any servicing plan.

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Sean Rees
Sean Rees
Sean is the Deputy Editor at The Car Expert. A enthusiastic fan of motorsport and all things automotive, he is accredited by the Professional Publishers Association, and is now focused on helping those in car-buying need with independent and impartial advice.
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