Winter in New Zealand means everything from snow and ice to torrential rain and fog. It can be challenging. If you’re not prepared, driving in the winter can be hard. It doesn’t need to be though, and good vehicle preparation, knowledge and driving techniques will help make sure you get to wherever it is you’re going.
Get your vehicle ‘winter ready’
Winter is a time of extremes. It’s a time when any problems or weaknesses in your vehicle will show up – usually at the worst possible time. Is your vehicle approaching the time for its next scheduled service? If so, don’t put it off. Book your vehicle in for a pre-winter check with your local MTA member business. The experts know what to look for – oil land anti-freeze levels, wiper blades, filters and battery condition amongst other things. By doing this you’ll have peace of mind in knowing that your vehicle is ready for winter. Your battery can be the key. If your car isn’t starting as easily as usual, get your battery checked. In winter we tend to use electrically based accessories and systems a lot more – lights, air conditioners, fog-lamps, interior lights etc. They can all place extra strain on your car’s electrical system – so if your battery is not in top condition, it may let you down.
All the control you have is delivered through four palm-sized patches of rubber where the tyres meet the road. Make sure your tyres are properly inflated. Over-inflation can reduce the gripping action of tyres because the tread will not meet the road surface as it was designed to do. If the tread depth of your tyres is getting low, it may be worth having them replaced, even though they have more than the minimum tread depth of 1.5mm. If possible, tyres should be replaced before the tread depth drops to the minimum. There’s evidence that a 3mm deep tread can stop a vehicle on a wet road in a distance that’s 25 percent less than a tyre with 1.5mm deep tread. Check the manufacturers wear indicator mark on your tyres to see if they need replacing. All tyres have tread wear indicators, which are small bars of rubber found between the tread blocks of the tyre. When the tread is worn flush with the tread wear indicators, the tyre has reached its wear limit and must be replaced as it no longer provides sufficient grip. If you’re going to be driving in the snow, make sure you have the correct chains and snow tyres (if fitted) – it’s now the law that when you use snow tyres, all four must be snow tyres.
Good visibility – them and you
Winter often means reduced visibility, so you need to allow additional time for every trip. Before you hit the road make sure you can see out of every window and mirror. Use a proper windscreen scraper or de-icer to remove ice from your vehicle. Don’t use warm water; it may cause your windscreen to crack. Your air-conditioning system is your friend. Many people only associate it with staying cool during the summer months, but it’s equally vital for ensuring good visibility during the colder months. Get your system checked, and allow it time to work properly. Look out for vulnerable road users like cyclists and runners – they may be especially hard to see along dimly lit roads. And make sure people can see you. Ensure your lights are all working properly and are correctly adjusted. Get them on early and turn them off late; you may choose to keep them on at all times. Remember to keep them dipped when travelling in foggy conditions; blasting them on to full only results in the light being reflected straight back at you, making visibility even harder.
Know what to expect
If you’re travelling out of town, make sure you know what you’re in for. The sun is low in the sky for most of winter so be prepared for sun-strike. It’s especially important to keep your front and rear screens clean. Bridges and overpasses ice over faster than normal roads. Why? The earth is warm and normal roads have the warmth of the earth underneath. Shady areas cool more quickly than areas in full sun. The shadows from large trees, buildings and mountains can cause isolated icy spots. Black ice is often very difficult to detect, so be especially vigilant after very cold, settled nights. Don’t expect other drivers to be as well prepared – allow plenty of room between you and your fellow motorists. And, give them even more when the weather is poor – double the two second rule and give yourself four seconds.
Know when to accelerate and when to brake
When accelerating, push the accelerator pedal gently. If you do sense wheel-spin, ease back on the pedal immediately until you feel the tyres grip again. Apply the same principle when braking. Brake gently at first then increase the pedal pressure progressively. You can brake quite hard as long as the application is smooth. Remember, don’t steer if you are braking or accelerating and vice versa. If your vehicle is fitted with ABS and/or a Stability Control system, make sure you know what this can do for you. Get experience of your vehicle’s capabilities and how it reacts, before you get stuck. Avoid driving in heavy snow if you can – but if you have to, do it slowly. Avoid braking suddenly – brake gently and progressively rather than just stamping on the pedal. Climbing and descending hills in snow needs a lot of care and attention – climb hills in the highest possible gear. Reducing your engine’s revs will maximise the chances of traction and minimise the chance of spinning your wheels. Similarly, descend hills very slowly, putting your vehicle in a low gear before starting the descent.
Things you might have with you
It makes sense to have a first aid kit and fire extinguisher in the car, but there are other things you should consider for the colder months too, not just tools for changing a tyre. A torch, a mat or cover to protect you from the ground should you need to change a tyre, a disposable raincoat or poncho and protective gloves are all helpful. A multi-tool or Swiss-army type knife can be handy too. An emergency reflective triangle and a high visibility vest can be the difference between someone spotting you stranded on the side of the road and colliding with you.
Supplied by MTA