It’s that time of year again, the one when we awake to the merry sound of sparrows shivering. Temperatures are down thermostats are up. We have the occasional benefit of a pretty, snow clad landscape and the road conditions that put us and our car tyres under stress.
Luckily, car tyres are made to cope with harsh conditions, which they are perfectly capable of doing, with a little help from their friends, i.e. you, their owners. None of the following little maintenance tasks are particularly difficult, time-consuming or even expensive. Carry them out and your car – and its tyres will carry you around reliably, in most conditions.
The first idea to take on board is that there isn’t a road tyre made that will provide grip on sheet ice. On such a surface, a car tyre might as well be a ‘slick’ with no tread at all. However, on snow, slush and in the wet, tread matters. Officers of the law will have something to say if you don’t have the regulation 1.6 mm of tread around three quarters of all your tyres and this is a worst case scenario. In practice, letting tyres this worn meet winter conditions is folly.
How can you maximise grip? Among the car tyres on the market are numerous ‘Winter Tyres’. These are made of a softer than usual compound and offer superior grip in winter. But are they worth it? If you do a lot of driving in cold, disagreeable conditions, the answer is ‘yes’.
Then there are grip aids for car tyres. In some countries, snow chains are a legal requirement in winter conditions. This is not so in the UK but there are ‘snow socks’, tough, net covers that enhance grip in the short term at low speeds. Are these worth it? Assuming conditions are seriously bad, the answer is a qualified ‘yes’. Bear in mind that snow chains do tarmac a power of no good, while tarmac will soon put paid to snow socks. Think of these things as emergency equipment.
Naturally, car tyres should be at the correct pressure. Checking this is any easy job that should be repeated regularly throughout the winter. Bear in mind that temperature and tyre pressure are irrevocably interlinked, so head for the tyre inflation facility soon after the ice appears.
While up close and personal with them, run a hand over your tyres’ carcasses to check for bulges, lumps, cuts or the evidence of misalignment. Remember also that you have a spare tyre that you might need in a hurry. Check first that you can access it, particularly if it lives beneath the car. Finding out that the spare is shredded and corroded firmly into place mid-snow storm is undesirable at best.
There are a number of bits and pieces that warrant checking as much as car tyres. Screen wash fluid needs to be kept up to strength as well as up to level. The same goes for your car’s coolant, as well as its oil. A car battery rarely has to be checked these days but if yours is marginal, a cold snap will probably kill it off completely.
Your car tyres can’t carry you safely if you can’t see where you’re going. This is reason enough to regularly check every last bulb and LED on your car. Also, pensionable windscreen wipers merely tend to move snow and rain around on your screen. For deicing, a proprietary spray is worth having, as is the more paint friendly and economical
‘Ice Plane’. You can tackle frozen-up doors using cold water but be quick – it re-freezes. Hot or boiling water is a great way to crack cold glass. Remember that setting off peering through a ‘porthole’ that represents the total extent of your demisting is an offence.
Finally, what should you take on a winter journey? This depends on the conditions. For example, you might need a torch, reflective waistcoat or jacket and a warning triangle, and some extra screen wash fluid for normal journeys. Whether you need boots, gloves, a shovel and a thermos of tea depends on where you’re headed. The last, some bars of chocolate and heavy clothing are for when conditions are despicable. In any event, a functional, well-charged mobile phone can be a life saver.