Keep Your Engines Roaring and Your Wheels Rolling this Winter, winter driving will test you!
Here at EcoCabs we are turning our thoughts to winter preparations. Not to be taken lightly, driving in winter is a proficiency in itself. Winter weather is not just about snow and ice. Fog, wind, dazzling sunshine and floods all cause hazards for drivers. This will be my first experience of winter driving with passengers. Providing taxis in Northumberland presents many challenges for the EcoCabs driver. However, all our drivers are trained in the art of ‘bad weather’ driving. Your safety and comfort is our priority and so I thought I should share my new found knowledge with you.
Prior to your journey
The first thing you should do is ensure you have allowed plenty of time. Time is the key. You can’t rush when there is snow and ice on the roads. EcoCabs drivers make extra allowance for journeys during the winter months. Book a taxi with EcoCabs this winter and we will endeavour to collect on time every time. On occasion we may be a little delayed but we ask that you understand this when booking your taxi with us. For the last 2 years EcoCabs has prided itself on being able to reach parts that others couldn’t. We even made local news for our sterling efforts in reaching people in the most remote areas and during the worst weather.
The second thing you should do is check the weather and traffic reports. If you are armed with this knowledge then you can ensure that your journey is as safe as possible and that you are prepared. Your EcoCabs taxi driver will have full knowledge of local traffic situations as well as the weather forecasts. Regular updates from our hub will keep everyone safe and sound.
Ice and snow make driving a very hazardous affair. Slowing down, speeding up and changing gear all become a danger in themselves. The skill is to keep it as smooth and slow as possible. When you book an EcoCabs taxi in Hexham you can be assured that your driver will be following this safe driving advice:
• Drive at slow speeds in as high a gear as possible.
• Maintain large distances between you and the car in front and stay alert to avoid sudden braking. Stopping distances increase 10 fold in snow and ice.
• Try and keep moving. Coming to a stop means gear changes, acceleration and braking. All of which can lead to loss of control of your vehicle. Once you have stopped you may find it difficult to obtain a good grip on the road and you may become stuck.
• When pulling away try not to accelerate until momentum is achieved. Careful control of the clutch pedal in 1st gear can achieve this. Alternatively try to pull away in 2nd gear.
• On approaching bends, slow down in a straight line and maintain a slow regular speed as you take the bend.
• In automatic cars it is best to select ‘2’ which will limit the gear changes and make you less reliant on brakes. Some auto transmission vehicles have a ‘winter’ setting which locks out 1st gear.
• If your car loses grip at the rear, do not brake. Wait until tyres grip and then gently accelerate.
• If your vehicle loses grip whilst you are braking, release the brakes and declutch.
• Remain focussed on your surroundings.
One of the most frustrating situations you may find yourself in is when the screen-wash freezes. It takes hours to defrost, with the engine running, and is so easily avoided. It is also a legal offence to drive with such poor visibility. Snow, ice and slush all create massive problems so take the following advice:
• Clear snow from your roof to prevent it suddenly collapsing on to your windscreen or blowing into the vehicle behind you
• Clean your windscreen inside and out to remove smears. Dazzle from the low winter sun is worsened by greasy windscreens (cream glass polish or dissolved dishwasher powder, and kitchen paper all work the best)
• Air conditioning will demist your windows quicker and reduce condensation
• Make sure your wiper blades are fit for the job
• Make sure your wipers are in the down position and off when you switch off the engine. Blades frozen to the screen may become damaged and worn when moved. In addition the wiper motor could be damaged.
• Make sure your washer fluid is made up to the correct ratios for winter conditions to prevent it from freezing
• Keep your lights clean and clear of snow and make sure all bulbs are working
• Keep your number plates clear of snow and mud
• Ensure your mirrors are frost and snow free.
• Use the correct lights for the weather. Fog lights will be necessary at times of harsh weather but do not dazzle other drivers unnecessarily.
The EcoCabs fleet manager is never busier than during the winter months. Under his usual remit of MOTs, 6 monthly health checks, valet cleaning and service schedules he also has the winter maintenance to organise. Winter tyres, antifreeze, winter car kits and battery checks are amongst the many items that must be maintained and organised. Every EcoCabs vehicle, from the 4 seat taxi through to the 10 seat minibus and 7 seat MPVs will be given rigorous tests and will be brought up to the high standards of safety that we insist upon here at EcoCabs.
Here at EcoCabs we all have a full winter kit in our taxis. It is a good idea for all drivers to carry the following items in their cars during the winter months:
• a torch
• a reflective triangle
• loose change
• first aid supplies including any medication that you may need
• basic tools
• sat nav system if you have one or a map – you never know when you may need to find an alternative route
• a fully charged cell phone
• jump cables
• a shovel
• j cloths, paper towels, rags
• carpet strips, sand or cat litter for traction (something you won’t need again as you will be leaving it behind)
• ice scraper and brush
• blanket (or a sleeping bag)
• Chocolate or biscuits (try not to eat them!)
If you should happen to breakdown or become stuck, even after you have contacted someone to let them know, it could be some time before they can get to you. You need to be able to keep warm, if you are unable to free yourself or get moving again.
Your tyres are what keep you gripped to the road. You can get special winter tyres fitted to the front of your vehicle, as we do at EcoCabs. Winter tyres have a higher silica content to prevent them from hardening in cold weather. This makes them better at gripping the road in poor weather conditions. EcoCabs taxis and minibuses are fitted with winter tyres right now. No sudden change in the weather will catch us out. Be prepared and change yours now if you feel the need. Many people live in remote parts of Northumberland and so will need to take this extra precaution. The AA recommends that tyres have at least 3mm of tread and certainly no less than 2mm. Also make sure that the tyre pressure is correct. Low pressure reduces stability and causes accidents
Obviously, much of winter driving is done in the dark and the cold. This puts an enormous strain on the battery. It also takes up to 5 times the power to start a car in freezing temperatures. Flat batteries in winter are top for causing breakdowns and non-starters. Lights, heaters and wipers put high demands on your car’s battery. The following advice can save you many a problem:
• Avoid running electrical systems any longer than required – turn the heater fan down and switch the heated rear window off once windows are clear.
• If the car stands unused most of the weekend, a regular overnight trickle charge is a good idea to give the battery a chance to restore.
• Turn off unnecessary electrical loads like lights, rear screen heater and wipers before trying to switch on the engine.
• Use the starter in short five-second bursts if the engine doesn’t start quickly. Leave thirty seconds between attempts to allow the battery to recover.
• Replace batteries that are near the end of their life (usually around 5 years) before the bad weather takes a hold.
Antifreeze costs just a few pounds but a frozen engine can lead to repairs costing hundreds. Signs to watch out for include the following:
• A continuous squealing sound – this is a sign that the water pump is frozen. Stop the engine immediately and allow the car to defrost. This could take days.
• Overheating engine a few miles from home – the radiator is most probably frozen. Again it may take days to thaw
You should check your antifreeze at the beginning of each winter season. Most modern cars use long-life antifreeze. Ensure you use the correct type for your vehicle.
Some extra tips
Here at EcoCabs we have picked up a few clever tricks and tips over the years. Our experienced and worldly wise drivers are only too happy to share their ideas:
• Use a lighter to warm your ignition key for a frozen lock
• Drive with clean dry shoes – snowy ones slip off the pedals
• Alert people at your destination that you are on your way and which route you are taking
• Leave at least a 10 second gap
• Road bridges and flyovers freeze first due to cooling air from beneath – watch out for ice
• Lighter steering indicates icy roads
• If you cannot avoid hitting something, hit it front on. This offers much more protection than a sideways collision and minimises the risk of rolling
• Try to keep the fuel tank as full as possible to avoid condensation in the tank
• Allow the car to warm up for a few minutes prior to setting off. This ensures the oil circulates to all moving parts.
• Slush and snow can build up on the inside of your wheels. This can throw the wheels off balance causing additional problems with steering.
In conclusion, please take care when you are out and about this winter. Don’t forget, if you are too nervous to travel or don’t want to take the risk, call us and book a taxi to town! We have the experience, the vehicles and the equipment to get you to your destination safely and happily. Whether you need a taxi to Newcastle Airport at a very early hour, a taxi from Newcastle Central Station in the late evening, a minibus for your Christmas party or a cab to Corbridge for some last minute shopping – we can help.