In the words of several members of the cast of Game of Thrones, “Winter is Coming” – or, maybe more accurately, it’s already here. Yes, those cold months and icy driving conditions have descended across much of the UK, bringing inclement weather, treacherous roads and uncooperative vehicles along with them.
As a courier, your vehicle is your livelihood, and any minor mishap can result in a large loss of time, earnings or even business. What’s more, even after the busy Christmas period, there will be thousands more packages to be sent and deliveries to be made.
In order to make sure you’re best prepared for winter driving – and to make sure you don’t spend any time off the road if you can avoid it – below we have collected our top tips for driving safely this winter.
Check those tyres
An easy place to start is the tyres of your vehicle. As the last bit of contact between your van or car and the icy road below, making sure your tyres are up to scratch could be the most important thing you do this winter.
A deep tread will minimise the risk of skidding in wet or icy conditions: ideally this should be at least 3mm deep, with anything under 1.6mm being illegal to drive with, costing you 3 penalty points and a fine of up to £2,500 per tyre! Also pay no heed to the old wives’ tale that lower tyre pressure will help with traction on slippery surfaces. Instead, make sure your tyres are inflated to the recommended PSI.
Antifreeze and wipers
A fogged-up or frozen windscreen can quickly make a trip perilous. Before your journey, you can use newspaper, a blanket or specialist insulation to make sure your windscreen stays as toasty as possible, particularly if you have an early morning journey to make.
It’s also a good idea to check your windscreen wipers are working, that the blades are attached or replaced if necessary, and that your screen wash is topped off. There’s more dirt on the roads during winter as well as salt and grit when it’s frosty, so it’s doubly important to make sure your cleaner and antifreeze are up to spec – a 50/50 antifreeze mixture is considered best.
It is safe to assume that during the winter you will be using your heater, wipers and lights far more regularly than at other times at year. If you are regularly driving in the rush hour, making journeys in the dark or making multiple deliveries – turning your engine on and off several times – your battery could well give in. The cold weather could even mean it’s harder to get your car started on a frosty morning.
To avoid killing your battery, make sure you switch all lights, wipers and heating off before your turn off your engine at the end of a drive. Turn those heaters off once everything is warm and your windows are clear, and ease up on using electrical items like satnavs or iPod chargers that use your battery.
Batteries should be replaced about every five years and it’s well worth checking this before it’s due – three years is a good lifespan to aim for.
Get a service
One place to check your battery level is at a winter service! Extreme driving conditions might amplify any other issues your vehicle has, so make sure your car is fully serviced before the cold sets in. Your local garage can check your tyres, the antifreeze or coolant in your engine, your oil levels and anything else that might become a problem further down the line.
Build an emergency kit
Sometimes, despite all the best preparation, the worst can occur and breakdowns can happen in the middle of a blizzard. Think of the things you might need to stay warm, fed and watered in severe weather conditions and pack a little emergency kit to help you out.
These might include: a tow rope; a shovel; wellies or waterproof shoes; a hazard warning triangle; hi-vis vest or jacket; de-icing gear; a first aid kit; a working torch; a car blanket; warm clothes; non-perishable food and drink; emergency mobile chargers or spare batteries.
Prepare for journeys
Being prepared for what your journey might through at you is paramount at this time of year. Listening to local or national weather broadcasts and travel bulletins is a must, especially for the areas you are driving through. Conditions can change quickly so be prepared to change your route at the drop of a hat! Using a satnav or maps app on your phone can help here, with most allowing for traffic updates in real-time.
In really dire straits emergency services may recommend that people do not travel at all, or unless absolutely necessary. As a courier, there may be other options open to you: can you travel by other means? Postpone your journey? It’s worth considering all your options before making a risky trip.
Care on the road
Once you are on the road, taking care is of paramount importance. Rain and snow can mean both your vehicle is less controllable than usual, and that you need more time to react thanks to lessened visibility and slippery roads. Braking distances are doubled in wet weather but are increased tenfold in icy conditions, so leave a gap of at least 10 metres between yourself and vehicle in front to ensure that you have enough time to brake safely.
There are plenty more tips to give but the one that sums the rest up is: take your time! Leave extra time for your journey and do not rush if weather conditions are bad. Being properly prepared and not rushed once you are on the road is preferable to risky moments or even accidents.