The Motor Trade Association (MTA) has released a list of driving precautions to help prevent accidents on New Zealand's roads this winter. Cold and unpredictable weather is regarded as the most hazardous to drive in.
Experts believe that if a car is going to fail, it's most likely to do so when in the harshest operating conditions and for most owners, that's the winter months.
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Adequate vehicle preparation, knowledge and driving technique are critical for a safe journey.
Make sure your vehicle is winter ready
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. The experts know what to look for oil levels, heating and cooling systems, wiper blades, filters, battery and tyre pressures amongst other things. By doing this you'll have peace of mind in knowing that your vehicle is ready for the conditions.
All the control you have is delivered through four palm-sized patches of rubber where the tyres meet the road. Start by making sure your tyres are in good condition; they have at least the minimum tread depth and are free from cuts and damage.
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 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 that all four are in fact snow tyres.
When you’re driving in wintry conditions it is essential to keep the tyres rolling and not allow them to spin or slide.
Reduced visibility means you have to budget extra time for every drive. 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. Do not use warm water, as this may cause your windscreen to crack. People often only associate air-conditioning 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 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. Use your main beam, and remember to keep them dipped when travelling in foggy conditions; blasting them on to high beam only results in the light being reflected straight back at your eyes, making visibility even harder.
Know what to expect
If you're travelling out of town make sure you know what you're in for. 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.
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.
Things you might have with you...
While having things like a first aid kit and fire extinguisher make good sense at any time of the year, there are things that you should consider especially important for the colder months. A torch, perhaps a mat or cover to protect you from the ground should you need to change a tyre. Protective gloves and some form of reflective warning device are always a good idea too.