The Indian winter is something of a misnomer for most of our country, though in some regions, is quite harsh. Your car needs to be protected properly against harsh weather in general, and winter brings its own challenges to that. In order to have a safe drive and easier this winter, follow these precautions and to-dos:
PREPPING YOUR CAR
The most basic of necessities is to have your maintained well. Get it serviced properly; don’t skimp on replacing parts that show above average levels of wear and tear. This will help reduce chances of the vehicle breaking down.
Reduce speed and use the headlamps and go lamps in low visibility conditions.
Give it a good clean
Use lukewarm water to clean all the windows, the wing mirrors, all the light units (headlamps, tail-lamps, fog lamps, etc.) to ensure good visibility. Do not use hot water as the difference in temperature may cause glass to crack. In areas where snow is common, remove any snow on the roof so that it doesn’t fall and obstruct the view while driving.
Give the electricals a look-over
All the lights, from the headlamps and tail-lamps to the indicators and cabin light, should be in proper working condition. The AC unit should also be working well in order to keep the cabin at an acceptable temperature. The heater could be vital in keeping you warm in case the car breaks down. The wipers should also be checked; blades changed if necessary and the motor serviced in order to keep the windscreen free of snow or debris. An addendum to keeping your wipers working is to have a full tank of the correct mixture of water and washer fluid.
Inspect the engine
Cold weather can affect battery performance and create problems while starting the engine. Replace the battery if it is old and get all the cables and leads checked. The type of engine oil and coolant should also be checked and changed if required as lower temperatures could gum up fluids.
The brakes require a once-over
Stopping distances can be significantly affected in wet or snowy weather. Have the brakes cleaned and serviced. Check and replace the brake pads if required and clean and grease the brake calipers if needed.
Monitor the tyres
Besides making sure that your tyres are in good condition (adequate tread, no cuts or bubbles), make sure your tyres are inflated correctly. An overinflated tyre increases the chances of skidding when driving in slippery conditions, while an underinflated one won’t provide adequate grip either. Upgrade to winter tyres or use snow chains only if required, otherwise you could unnecessarily damage road surfaces. Practice fitting these on the tyres so that you aren’t left guessing when if you need to use them.
DRIVING YOUR CAR
Driving in slippery conditions – which can be caused by ice, water, debris or an accident – are tricky. One must remember to be gentle with the accelerator, brake and steering so that sudden movements don’t result in a loss of control.
Throttle, break and steering inputs should be gentle on slippery roads.
In case the car does skid on a bad patch, the first thing to do is stay calm and look at where you want to go. Then, steer in the direction of the skid; for example, when the rear end steps out towards the right, turn the steering towards the right to straighten the car.
When starting from standstill, increase vehicle speed slowly and avoid revving the engine in low gears as traction is less than normal. Avoid changing direction, slowing down or accelerating suddenly mid-turn. Instead brake well before the turn and accelerate after you have exited the corner.
Cold weather also creates fog and driving through it requires adjustments as well. Reduce speeds and use the headlamps and fog lamps as visibility is significantly lower. Keep a good gap between you and the vehicle in the front so that there is a buffer in case of a sudden stop.
Some places in India also see the formation of 'black ice', which is a thin layer of ice that forms over the road due to the melting and re-freezing of water. While difficult to detect, look out for road surfaces that appear glossy or shiny and avoid them.
On an already slippery road, driving downhill requires one to keep a steady slow speed. Do not ride the brakes; instead use them sparingly and use engine braking to keep speed in control. Braking excessively or constantly feathering the brake pedal can cause the braking mechanism to overheat and fail. Keep the revs low and stay in the lowest gear possible.
IN CASE OF AN EMERGENCY
Sometimes, there is no escaping a mishap. Mother nature may just be in a mood or your car may suddenly break down due to an unforeseen issue. This is why it is recommended some essentials be kept and prepped in the vehicle in case the worst happens.
Keep safety essentials with you in case of an emergency.
A full fuel tank will help in case of a break down. You could run the AC to keep warm in the car while waiting for help to arrive. Keep some blankets or warm clothes just in case the AC fails.
Food and water
Some snacks and lots of extra water can help while waiting for help to arrive. A bit of food will ensure cooler heads prevail and the water will keep you from dehydration.
Battery packs and chargers
You’ll be in quite a pickle if your vehicle breaks down and your mobile phone battery runs out of juice. Keep a spare battery, have a fully charged battery pack and have a spare charger ready in the car.
Get some fresh air
If you’re stuck for an extended period of time and using the engine and AC to stay warm, a leaky exhaust could lead to carbon monoxide entering the cabin. As it is a colourless, odourless and poisonous gas, leave the windows rolled down slightly and let fresh air in once in a while to avoid suffocation.