Should you switch to winter tyres? Do you need snow chains? Scraper or de-icer? Find out how to winter-proof your car and your driving.
Stay safe on the roads this winter, with expert advice from Mike Cross, chief engineer at Jaguar
Mike Cross is Jaguar’s chief engineer and spends much of his time driving cars in extreme conditions, in places such as the company’s winter testing facility near Arjeplog in northern Sweden, where winter temperatures regularly dip below minus 20C.
When it comes to driving on ice and snow, Mike is the man in the know. So with the frosty season upon us, we asked him to share his top 10 winter driving tips…
Mike Cross, chief engineer at Jaguar, spends a lot of time testing cars in extreme conditions.
1. Switch to winter tyres
When conditions get really bad, particularly during snowy and icy periods, it’s a good idea to switch to winter tyres. The benefits outweigh any compromise in performance, but it’s worth mentioning that they’ll wear out quicker than a traditional tyre if used regularly in warm temperatures. I’d much rather have a rear-wheel-drive car on winter tyres than a four-wheel-drive car on summer tyres.
2. Keep it clear
I’d like to think this is a given, but make sure to clear every bit of snow and ice from your car before you set off. You must have complete visibility, and make sure large chunks of snow won’t fall off your car onto following traffic. Also, antifreeze is very important, both in the engine coolant and windscreen washer bottle. Some windscreen washer fluids contain it as standard, but if not, make sure you have the concentration right in your windscreen washer bottle so the liquid doesn’t freeze.
3. Be prepared
It’s never a bad idea to prepare for a long stay in the car. In the worst winters we’ve seen countless examples of roads becoming blocked, leaving hundreds of people stranded. Leave a blanket in the boot, a few snacks and a couple of bottles of water. Chances are you won’t need them, but it’s always better to be prepared.
4. Use an ice scraper
It might sound obvious, but on frosty mornings an ice scraper is still the most effective solution unless you have a heated windscreen – but even then, it’s still important to have a scraper for the rest of the windows.
5. If abroad, consider snow chains
In some places on the continent, it’s mandatory to carry snow chains. If this is the case, familiarise yourself with the fitting, tightening, and removal procedure in the comfort of your own garage or driveway. When driving with chains or similar, it’s good practice to drive and corner smoothly to avoid the chain spinning on the wheel or being pushed off the tyre.
6. Think ahead
Leave four times the normal gap between you and the car in front and try to plan your route. If there’s a steep hill that’s unlikely to be gritted, for example, avoid it. If it’s misty, make sure you’re visible – pile-up accidents are extremely common when it’s icy and visibility is low.
7. Be smooth
Just as in summer, be smooth and subtle with your inputs. Don’t mash the accelerator, stamp on the brakes or yank the steering wheel. Use a higher gear selection to reduce the torque at the wheels and hence lower the chance of wheelspin. At Jaguar Land Rover our cars are all fitted with traction control and skid control systems, but in an ideal world you won’t need them.
8. Avoid understeer
If for whatever reason you find yourself in an understeer skid, where the car doesn’t seem to respond to your steering and heads in a straighter trajectory than you want, then it’s crucial to be gentle with your steering and braking. Turning the wheel further, or braking harder, will only make the problem worse. Again, preventing a skid is really about smooth inputs and being extra cautious with your speed into a corner.
9. Avoid oversteer
This is unlikely to happen if your car is on the correct tyres, you’re driving carefully and you have all electric safety systems activated. But if you do have an oversteer situation [where the car steers more sharply than intended and the rear end starts to slide] you want to keep the front wheels pointing in the direction you were hoping to go; if the rear end of the car slides left, you should steer to the left and vice versa.
10. Trust your car
Modern cars undergo such a rigorous testing process that I think most people would be surprised by just how resilient they are. During the winter testing phase of any new Jaguar, we drive the cars for days on end in temperatures that never reach above -20C. Even before we ship these cars to the Arctic Circle for that phase of testing, we use our climate chambers to run them in -40C temperatures, and we cover them in freezing water to check they’re watertight. The British winter may sometimes seem bad, but these cars can cope with far worse.
Check your pressure
As temperatures drop so do your tyre pressures, so check them once a week. If adding air to cold tyres outside, stick to the manufacturer’s recommended pressures. If you’re doing it in a warm garage, Michelin advises adding 3psi to the manufacturer’s recommended pressures.
Test your battery
Battery performance is reduced in cold conditions. So have yours volt tested to make sure it’s still in good working order. It’s also a good idea to carry a small jump pack – they’re now small enough to fit in your glovebox, but powerful enough for multiple starts.
According to the RAC, the most effective way to demist your windscreen is to start with a cooler setting, direct the air at the windows and gradually increase the temperature as the engine warms up, and turn on the air conditioning to keep the atmosphere dry.
Driving on ice isn’t always daunting. It can also be fun, if you swap the road for a frozen Swedish lake at Jaguar’s Ice Academy, where expert instructors will have you skating around in no time. Experiences also include snowmobile safaris and husky sled tours.