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Get ready for winter driving


Heading to the mountains this ski season? Then you'll need to make sure your car is ready to tackle those icy roads. Here are a few things you can do to keep safe in the snow.

Unlike many places in the world, Australia’s temperate climate means that we don’t often need to drive on ice and snow. But this also means that many of us are unprepared when we do, making a snow trip more dangerous than it needs to be. Luckily there are some easy things you can do to make sure you’re ready for whatever the winter brings.

Before you set out on a trip in the snow

First, you'll want to check road reports and plan your route carefully — the local road authority issues regular reports throughout the winter. If you can, it's best to stick to major road which are more likely to have been cleared of ice. And it’s always a good idea to let someone know where you're going and what time you plan to arrive, just in case something goes wrong.

Check your battery and lights are working, and make sure your oil is topped up and your cooling system has enough antifreeze to stop it freezing over in icy temperatures. Then, take a good look at your tyres — you'll want them to be well-inflated and with enough tread to cope with slippery road conditions.

If you need to fit chains for the area you’re driving to, check they’re in working order and make sure that you know how to use them. Practise putting them on somewhere warm and dry, so when you’re out in the elements you can do it quickly (online video tutorials can also help).

Remember four wheel drive or AWD vehicles can be safer in icy conditions, and may mean you don’t need to legally carry chains.

Finally, don’t use hot water to clear ice from your windscreen and mirrors, as it may cause the glass to crack. Instead, use an ice scraper — and remember to clean your rear and side windows and your lights as well. It's a good idea to run the engine for a few minutes to get it warmed up before you get on the road.

Top 10 tips for driving in snow and ice

  1. Slow down. Always wipe kilometres off your speedo in bad weather conditions or when the road is icy. It will allow you more time for stopping and could be the difference between having an accident and avoiding one. Remember, ‘black ice’ can linger on shady parts of the road after all the snow is otherwise clear — so be careful to stay in control.

  2. Accelerate and decelerate gently. Operate all your controls smoothly, including braking, accelerating and steering to prevent your tyres losing grip on the road surface.

  3. Mind the gap. Remember it will take you longer to brake in icy conditions, so you'll need to leave a wider gap between you and the vehicle in front — at least 8 to 10 seconds[1].

  4. Use a higher gear. If you're driving a manual car, change into a higher gear as quickly as you are able to do so. You may even want to start in second gear to reduce wheel slip.

  5. Avoid braking. If it's safe to do so, slow down rather than coming to a complete stop, particularly on hills. This will be easier if you keep a wide distance from the car in front.

  6. Use your headlights. Switch your headlights to low beam even in daylight to improve your visibility to other drivers, and switch on your fog or headlights when the weather is heavy.

  7. Steer into a skid. If you do happen to skid, don't panic — and don't hit the brakes, however tempting it may be to do so. Instead, gently ease off the accelerator to allow your speed to drop, and steer your vehicle in the direction you wish it to go.

  8. Carry snow chains. It is a good idea to carry snow chains with you to fit to your tyres in bad road conditions. This is a requirement when driving through certain designated 'snow and ice risk' areas in national parks — so check the road rules before you set out [2]. Also, consider taking a pair of gloves just for fitting chains and something to lie on so you don’t wreck your expensive snow clothes lying on a muddy, icy road.

  9. Wear comfortable shoes. The last thing you want is wet or clunky snow boots causing your feet to slip from the pedals.

  10. Insure your vehicle. The risks of an accident are higher when the weather is poor, so if you're planning a trip through ice or snow, it's worth making sure you've got the right insurance cover.

[1] American Automobile Association, How to go on ice and snow, 2013.
[2] NSW Government, Transport for NSW, Snow driving.


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