When you think of winter weather, you might fixate on visions of snow, ice and freezing conditions, which can be among the trickiest ones to drive in. But in the UK, you’re more likely to encounter heavy rain and flooded roads when you’re driving in winter. That doesn’t mean life is any easier, though – in fact wet driving can be harder than anything – but our top tips for driving in the wet are designed to prepare you, should you encounter the worst.
The first thing you really need to ask yourself is whether your journey is necessary? If you’re at home and know bad weather is coming, can your journey wait? if you’re at work, is there anything you can do to postpone your trip? With so many communication options available, it might be more viable to work at home, or do anything to help put off driving in bad weather.
Driving in heavy rain
If you’re caught in bad weather, you really need to adjust your driving to suit, and not simply carry on regardless. Wipers and headlights are vital tools in your armoury to keep safe when it’s wet. It’s worth fitting a new set of wiper blades ahead of the weather changing, so they clear your screen effectively, while it’s also worth checking all of your lights are working and changing any bulbs that might have blown.
If the weather closes in, it’s worthwhile turning your lights on, even in the middle of the day. Light can deteriorate quickly in bad weather, and spray can reduce this further. Even if you think you can see perfectly, having your lights on can help other drivers see you, too.
Rear fog lights are a bit of a contentious issue. They should only be used when visibility is severely limited in fog. However, if it’s wet, the glare and reflection caused by rear foglights can out shine your brake lights, so think carefully as to whether they should be on. And while some cars automatically turn off their fog lights when you turn the ignition off, it’s always handy to check they’re off when conditions don’t require them.
Wet roads can double stopping distances, so it’s essential that you increase the distance between your car and the one in front to reflect this. Fitting new tyres can also ensure you have plenty of tread to deal with water on the roads and give you plenty of grip in the wet.
If it’s been raining heavily, puddles and standing water can form at the roadside, and even accumulate on the road itself if the surface is poor. If it’s been raining for extended periods, then streams can also form across the road. If you have to drive through standing water, slow down to pass through it. Go too quickly, and not only will you spray other road users – and possibly pedestrians – but your car could aquaplane over the water, causing you to temporarily lose control of your car.
In this situation, there’s too much water for the tyre tread to cut through, and the tread skids over the surface instead. The main sensation you will feel if this happens is the steering going light in your hands. If you do drive through water, try and keep the car as stable as possible by being smooth with your inputs. Jerky steering, throttle and brake inputs can unsettle the car, which is more likely to see you lose control.
Whatever you do, slow and steady is a better way to drive in heavy rain that will see you arrive at your destination safely.
Driving in floods
Long periods of heavy rain can result in flooding, especially in low-lying areas and on roads that follow or cross rivers. There are some roads that flood commonly or even ford rivers, and these will feature depth markers at the side of the road to indicate how deep the water is. The basic rule of thumb should be that if you’re not sure about how deep a flooded road is, turn around and find an alternative route.
Driving through water carelessly could be extremely dangerous. Go too fast, and the bough wave you cause could drench other road users, while the water could find its way into the engine bay. If it then finds its way into the air intake and is ingested by the engine itself, the pistons won’t be able to compress the water, causing what’s known as hydrolock and engine failure.
And be sure to avoid crossing fast-flowing flood water. If you don’t know its depth, you could see your car being lifted and carried away downstream before you even know it.
If you need to cross a flooded road, the first thing you should do is approach it in the middle of the road. UK roads are crowned – the highest part is the middle, with the sides set lower to allow rain water to drain off – so the middle of the road will be the shallowest section of the flooded area. Approach at a low speed, but be sure to maintain your speed and continue through without stopping.
When the flood is severe and you’re in a queue of cars, then it’s best for each car to pass through one-by-one: the last thing rescue services need is to have to reach more than one car in a flooded area. Doing this will also give you a better idea of whether it’s safe for you to cross the flooded area in your car. Once you’ve passed through the water, always try your brakes. This will help wipe water from their surfaces, so that they are back to normal operation when you need them.
If your car becomes stuck in deep water, don’t attempt to restart the engine or you’ll risk turning a big repair bill into a huge one that could write your car off. Wait for the car to dry out and get a professional inspection before trying to drive it.
What are your top tips for driving in winter weather? Let us know in the comments section below…
Winter driving special