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24th November 2017

10 tips for staying off the hard shoulder as temperatures plummet

Winter can be the most damaging season to your vehicle. The cold, abrasive, and wet weather can severely affect not only your vehicle’s handling but also its physical form. Therefore, car maintenance during this period is of great importance.

 

Despite this, many motorists find themselves on the hard shoulder every year as a result of poor preparation. In spite of their purpose, hard shoulders are a very dangerous place to be… and even more so during winter. Vehicles travel past at high speeds only a few feet away from your car, and the winter weather can affect many factors, including car handling and braking distance, increasing the risk of an accident. A shocking 24% of drivers have risked their life unnecessarily by non-emergency use of hard shoulder.

You can try to avoid ending up on the hard shoulder by preparing your car for the winter period. Below, we have listed the top ten car maintenance tips to ensure you don’t find yourself breaking down in the cold this winter.

No.1: Monitor your vehicle’s fluids

It is important not to neglect your car’s fluids. During the winter, you should make a habit of checking your fluid levels at least once a month. The most important fluid to monitor is engine oil which thickens in cold conditions, and as a result, its lubricative properties cease to work, causing your starter motor to not spin fast enough to ignite the engine. For the best viscosity of engine oil, check your owner’s manual.

Checking brake fluid is easier than many people think. First, ensure there is no debris in the reservoir, and that the fluid is a muddy brown colour. The darker the fluid, the more impurities it has built up and will need replacing.

Water in your car acts as an engine coolant and without it, the engine will experience rapid overheating and possible engine damage. This will not be apparent when beginning your journey, but will likely cause a breakdown later down the road if not maintained.

No.2: Check your tyres

You should replace your tyres in preparation for winter when the legal tread wear indicator is reached or before if possible (1.6mm minimum tread depth). If your tyres fall below this, your tyres will not be able to retain pressure as effectively, and grip will be drastically reduced. Tyre maintenance is essential to prevent skidding on icy roads, which can result in a crash.

No.3: Top-up antifreeze in radiator

Coolant is a 50/50 mixture of water and antifreeze for normal driving conditions. However, the concentration of antifreeze should be increased as soon as you begin to notice frost. Antifreeze prevents your engine from overheating as well as maintaining a constant temperature for engine water. Without it, your radiator and other components can be seriously damaged, leading to a breakdown.

No.4: Check your battery

Car batteries are prone to being very temperamental and do not perform as efficiently if the weather is too cold or too hot. Cold weather, in particular, increases the rate of discharge, reducing its ability to perform. The best solution is to take your car to a garage for professional advice as to whether it needs replacing. You can avoid damaging or running down your battery further by not using the radio when stationary and ensuring that your headlights are off when the engine is not running.

No.5: De-ice your windows

To de-ice your windows, it is best to use a de-icing aerosol, ensuring that it is applied to the surface of every window and mirror. Avoid using hot water on the windshield as the dramatic change in temperature causes rapid expansion and contraction of the glass, leading to potential cracks and general weakening. Driving without clear visibility is extremely hazardous for you, as well as for other road users, to ensure all windows are completely clear before setting off. It is also important that you check that your number plate is always visible, for legal reasons.

No.6: Be conscious of road salt

Road salt is a necessary element to keeping roads safe during winter. However, it is an abrasive product when it comes to cars. It is essential to regularly inspect the undercarriage of your vehicle, as road salt combined with the friction of driving speeds, can corrode areas of the brakes and wheel wells, which if left unchecked could result in serious damage or even an accident.

No.7: Check wheel alignment

During winter, the adverse weather conditions cause tarmac to expand and contract, cracking and inevitably forming a pothole. Driving over a pothole can weaken your car’s chassis and alter wheel alignment. If this occurs, you can be left driving with a false sense of direction. If you notice a disconnect between steering and wheel position, contact a professional garage immediately.

No.8: Check engine air filter

Air filters prevent harmful debris gaining access to the engine. During winter, sludge can also be carried into the filter, potentially damaging the engine and other internal components. Therefore, always ensure that this is kept clear, particularly after a long drive in adverse weather conditions.

No.9: Heat your car

Before commencing your journey, aim to pre-heat your car for ten minutes. This will allow the engine as well as the exterior body to gradually climatise. However, do not exceed this as being idle while running the engine for too long may render the spark plug less efficient.

No.10: Monitor fuel consumption

In cold weather, overall fuel economy significantly reduces. This is predominantly due to the use of heaters, and your car taking considerably longer to reach a fuel-efficient temperature. Be aware of your fuel consumptions so that you don’t end up being stranded in a snowstorm!

What should you do if you find yourself on the hard shoulder?

Sometimes breaking down is unavoidable, and it is necessary to use the hard shoulder. Therefore, if you feel the need to use the hard shoulder, follow the safety recommendations we have prepared below. Also, bear in mind, that you should not use the hard shoulder unless it is absolutely necessary, non-emergency reasons can result in a fine of around £30-£60!

  • Indicate before reducing speed
  • Pull over as far as possible
  • Immediately put on hazard lights once your car reaches a stop
  • Only exit the vehicle on the left-hand side
  • Remove passengers from the car and away from the roadside while you await the breakdown service
  • Never attempt to cross the motorway, even if it is to reach an emergency phone
  • Make sure you and your passengers are equipped with warm clothes and remain behind the barrier