20 December 2021

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Driving in winter requires plenty of skill, determination and patience.

The winter is coming. It’s time to pop on your warm clothes and prepare your vehicles for the bad weather. As experts in the fuel industry, we have gathered a wealth of information and expertise surrounding the maintenance of cars, vans and HGVs through our years of experience.

As a result, we are able to share our knowledge to individuals and businesses to assist them in tackling the most extreme weather conditions. If you or your employees are expecting to spend a large portion of the winter months on the road, follow our useful tips on how you can remain safe on icy roads.

Here at Allstar, we work closely with a plethora of businesses and fleets in providing seamless fuel management services. If you are looking for a reliable, affordable and streamlined solution for your fuel expenses this winter, find out about our fuel card packages for businesses and extensive services on our website today.

How can road users tackle adverse weather conditions?

Did you know that 24% of weather-related crashes happen due to poor winter weather conditions, and almost 1,500 people are killed each year due to vehicle accidents caused by snow, slush or ice? The highest proportion of road accidents in Britain occur in November as the nights grow darker and visibility is impaired by sleet and heavy rainfall. Furthermore, research shows a 27% increase in emergency calls during the winter.

Big cities including London, Birmingham, Leeds and Manchester have the most accidents in the country, which is not surprising given the number of people commuting to and from work in these areas. However, that's not to say that vehicle accidents are limited to large cities.

In fact, during the winter months, when roads are slippery, many accidents happen on small, rural roads where maintenance is not as frequent and visibility is impaired due to lack of street lights and overgrown shrubbery. However, if you live in the West of England, statistics show that the likelihood of having an accident in the winter is 28% higher than in the summer.

January 2021 was the coldest recorded temperature in 10 years at 2.2C, and although September 2021 saw the second warmest temperature on record in the UK, temperatures are expected to plummet again this winter.  In fact, they are dropping already. Just in the last week, the Met Office predicted an early 'winter freeze' expected to last six months, with snow likely this month. Temperatures are expected to fall below freezing by Monday 25 November so it is important to take precautions.

How does the cold weather impact your engine?

Cold starts on a winter's day mean that your engine has to work harder to circulate the oil so if you set off and immediately ride the accelerator, it can damage the engine.  One solution is to continue at a steady pace for a couple of miles to enable the engine to warm up. During winter it can be tempting to use your car for situations where you would ordinarily walk or use public transport. However, this can have detrimental impact on your engine and increase wear and tear.

Short journeys can be particularly damaging if you drive a diesel vehicle as diesels contain a particulate filter (‘DPF’) which traps the dirt and soot that form when burning fuel. In order for this filter to clear itself, the car needs to run at a hotter temperature which occurs when travelling above 40mph for a longer period. Therefore if you are taking regular, short journeys, you should follow your manufacturer’s guidance on how to adjust your driving to manage potential DPF issues. The DPF warning lights may mean more than a clogged filter. If the warning light does flash, drive the vehicle above 40 mph for a longer period however if it stays illuminated, you should seek appropriate advice.

Short journeys are also incredibly harmful to your battery, particularly if you have an older car. Your vehicle's battery needs to recharge and if it doesn't have the opportunity to do this over a long journey, the battery can run flat. Try to take your car out for a longer run every once in a while or invest in an at-home battery charger. 

To reduce wear and tear, cut your carbon emissions, and avoid repairs, you should: drive at a steady pace when on regular, short trips; limit the number of electrical items using your battery e.g. heating seats, radio, AC; and avoid unnecessary acceleration.  Finally, vehicles that are only used for short journeys tend to suffer more mechanical problems so make sure your car is regularly serviced and check your tire pressure, water, oil, and antifreeze levels frequently.

Regardless of the size of your vehicle, winter weather can result in difficulties starting your car. The problem could be with your starter motor, battery or alternator but the battery is often the most likely culprit. To identify if your battery is flat, firstly check if the warning lights on your dashboard turns on. Additionally, check if the window and central locking system work. If they do not switch on, it’s likely the battery is flat.

In the event of a flat battery, it's advisable to have jump leads in your boot to jump start your car (and of course, a willing participant to help you using their car’s battery), remember to consult your vehicle on how to jump start a car as each vehicle may be different. Regular servicing of your vehicle is always recommended but in preparation for the colder months, you could book a battery check at your local garage. You can also invest in a car battery charger and if your vehicle is at least 3 to 5 years old, it may be worth investing in a new battery.

If the problem is not with your battery, the alternator is the next likely culprit.  Indicators of this issue include interior and dashboard lights going on and off, jump start failing to work, and possibly the smell of burning from an overheated alternator. It is not recommended to replace or repair a faulty alternator yourself but it's a relatively quick job for a mechanic. Similarly, issues with your starter motor are best rectified by a trained mechanic but the problem may be indicated by a clicking sound when you turn the ignition. 

We’ve all been there: the cold air hits your skin as soon as you crawl out of bed in the dark to set off for a hard day’s work, so you disappear beneath the duvet and hit that snooze button; next thing you know, you’re running late, get to the car and the windscreen is completely frozen over.  So, what’s the safest and speediest way to de-ice your windscreen? 

  • Check your windscreen wipers are turned off before switching on your engine as any ice on the windscreen could damage the wiper blades.
  • Manually wipe off any snow.
  • Start your engine & switch on the warm air blower plus heated mirrors and rear windscreen heater (if you have them).
  • Use an absorbent cloth to wipe mist from mirrors to avoid smudges and smears.
  • Keep the engine running, stay with the vehicle and use a de-icer or ice scraper to gently remove the ice.
  • It is not recommended to pour boiling water directly onto the windscreen to speed up the process as this could cause the windscreen to crack.  Caution: even pouring warm water over your windscreen can cause damage; once the car warms up and you are out in the cold, the warm water on the windscreen will freeze more quickly than cold water, resulting in an iced-up windscreen while in transit.
  • The cold weather can also make accessing your vehicle difficult so avoid outdoor car parking on particularly cold days. If you cannot access your vehicle due to doors or locks being iced shut, you can use anti-freeze or WD40 to unfreeze. 

‘Tis the Season to be Driving

Many of you will be travelling further afield to visit family for Christmas - in fact, there's likely to be many more of us making that trip home this year, given the restrictions last year.  Here are some tips to ensure the winter weather doesn't ruin your Christmas travel plans. 

  1. Check your lights, oil, water and antifreeze supply before setting off.
  2. Check your tyres. It is essential that your tyres remain in good condition throughout the year but in the colder months, traction is even more important. Ensure they are in good order and inflated to the correct pressure.
  3. In snow and ice, drive in a high gear to increase traction.
  4. Slow down. Dark nights and poor weather reduce visibility, meaning you may not recognise danger as quickly, particularly if in fog, heavy snow and worst of all, black ice! In the event that you do skid on ice, steer into it, avoid sudden braking, and keep both hands on the wheel.
  5. Carry a breakdown emergency kit which should include: flashlight, a warm, waterproof coat, portable mobile phone charger, high-energy food, blanket and water.
  6. If the temperature is between -3C and 0C, roads are likely to be iced over and the ice may not always be visible. If you can avoid driving in these conditions, please do. If not, try to move off and stay in a higher gear.
  7. Keep your distance!  Poor visibility may make distances seem further away than they are so make sure to stay at least 2 cars away from the vehicle in front.
  8. Consider investing in snow tires.  If you are likely to be driving frequently over the winter months, particularly in rural areas where the gritters may not visit, it may be worth buying some snow tires to give you better control.
  9. Ensure there is always at least half a tank of fuel in your vehicle.  Journeys are likely to take longer and traffic will increase the closer we get to Christmas.
  10. Check the weather forecast before commencing your journey.  Forewarned is forearmed!

Winter maintenance advice for HGVs

Driving a substantially larger and heavier vehicle comes with additional considerations and safety precautions - particularly during periods of icy weather.

As a HGV driver, it is paramount that you drive at a consistent, steady speed to allow for additional stopping distance in hazardous weather. Other tips to take on board include:

  1. Dip your headlights - glare from large vehicles is a hazard to other drivers.
  2. Where snow and ice is prevalent affix snow socks or chains to your vehicle's wheels and adjust your speed and driving style accordingly.
  3. Be aware that stopping distances are doubled in wet weather.
  4. Always use fog lights when there is poor visibility due to fog.
  5. Remember that speed limits are intended for optimal driving conditions so if the weather is poor, slow down significantly!
  6. If you end up stuck in deep snow, use the highest gear or turn on the locking differential ('diff-lock').
  7. Plan your route carefully by checking the Met Office's alerts for high-sided and vulnerable vehicles. It is best to avoid viaducts and bridges when there are strong winds.
  8. In your breakdown recovery kit, also include: a small shovel and a flask containing a hot drink. It is also a good idea to carry strong sacks of salt which can be used to help clear ice from the road but also serve well to weigh down an empty vehicle and prevent drift. 
  9. Dress appropriately: warm, waterproof clothing and a high-vis jacket or vest.
  10. Inform customers of the likelihood of delays.
  11. The best advice if weather warnings are severe is to stay home.  Extreme cold can increase stopping distances, not to mention reduced visibility when there is heavy snow, rain or sleet.  However, if you have no alternative but to drive, ensure your vehicle is serviced and maintained regularly and stay alert on the roads.

If you would like to take advantage of our fleet maintenance management, you can find out more from our website or by contacting our friendly team of advisers. Here at Allstar, we provide a vast range of bespoke fuel solutions for businesses big and small all across the country. We understand the importance of saving fuel, reducing costs and most importantly - saving the planet.

Through our cost effective, convenient fuel cards, your business could benefit from hours saved on administrative tasks, hundreds of pounds worth of fuel and countless minutes of unnecessary reroutes. In addition, our customers gain exclusive access to impressive deals, discounts and the UK’s largest fuel network - how could you choose any other provider?

Streamline your business administration by incorporating a fuel card into your financial strategy today.

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