Winter driving tips

Andy Smith, AA breakdown patrol of the year

Andy's winter driving tips will help get you and your car safely through the coming months

Andy's winter driving tips will help get you and your car safely through the coming months

Formula One fan and keen kayaker Andy Smith, from Hampshire, was AA Patrol of the Year in 2012.

Andy’s career at the AA began at the age of 17, when he started work in the post room at the AA headquarters in Basingstoke. A long-held ambition to become a patrol prompted him to teach himself vehicle mechanics – reading textbooks from cover to cover – and in 1994 he began life on the road as a patrol.

Since then he has never looked back, and has undertaken additional responsibilities including volunteering his time to help maintain and display a 1979 Ford Escort patrol van – part of the AA's 40-strong heritage vehicle fleet.

Andy's winter driving tips will help get you and your car safely through the coming months.


Tyres need plenty of tread to clear water, and snow. The legal limit is 1.6mm, but at this time of year it is better to change tyres when the tread reaches a depth of 3mm. Consider fitting Winter tyres.


Modern batteries provide more power, but take a long time to recharge fully. A regular long run with the minimum of electrical accessories switched on, is needed. If that's not possible, invest in an 'intelligent' battery charger. These are lightweight, easy to use and switch off when the battery is fully charged, so there is no danger of overcharging – an intelligent charger is a great way of keeping the battery topped-up if you have to leave the car unused for several weeks too.


Antifreeze at the correct concentration is vital all year round as it prevents both freezing and corrosion. In most modern cars it should be renewed every five years, but in some cars the Antifreeze recommended change point is two years. Check your handbook for correct type and change intervals.

Easier starting

Depress the clutch when starting a cold engine as this disconnects the engine from the gearbox so there is less drag and eases the load on the starter motor.

Screen wash

Keep the washer bottle full of screen wash of the correct concentration so it doesn't freeze in the washers. In extremely cold conditions, you can use screenwash concentrate without adding any water. This helps to avoid the fluid freezing in the washer nozzles and on the windscreen – particularly dangerous when you're driving. Don't use washing up liquid as it produces too much foam, or engine antifreeze which can damage the paintwork.

Cleaned & lubricated

Wash the car frequently, when there is no risk of frost and treat any stone chips as bare metal will quickly rust. Spray a water dispersant into the door locks to reduce the risk of them freezing. Lubricate the bonnet lock so it doesn't corrode, and apply a thin layer of petroleum jelly to the rubber seals of the doors so they don't freeze up while closed.

Make sure all wheel trims are fitted properly to protect the wheel nuts from corrosion which will make wheel removal more difficult.


Keep plenty of fuel in the tank – at least half full – as you never know when you will be stuck in traffic or have to make a detour to reach your destination.


If the inside of the glass keeps misting up, use the air conditioning on a warm setting to dry out the car . Make sure you don't leave damp coats and wellingtons in the car.


We see many AA members who view their car as their coat and therefore, don't think to carry enough outer clothing. Take a warm coat, gloves and hat in case the weather or the car catches you out. If you do get stuck, you'll be very pleased you packed high energy foods such as chocolate, crisps, nuts, cereal bars, water and a hot drink too.


If you are travelling with children make sure you have food, games and spare nappies, for babies.

Always carry a fully-charged mobile, a pair of wellingtons and take some old bits of carpet and a shovel to clear snow, in case you get stuck.

On colder days be particularly careful on tree-lined roads – the trees prevent the sun's warmth from reaching the road, which may still be icy when all around has thawed.


In fog, I usually drive with the window down and the radio off – often you can hear problems like cars ahead going over bumps at low speed before you see them.

Snow & ice

On snow and ice just do everything very slowly because it can go wrong very quickly.

Safe and happy motoring!

(7 December 2012)