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Driving in a Winter Wonderland

4 min read
You may be an expert driver in Singapore, but your skills may not be sufficient to handle a car in wintry weather. Here’s what you need to know.

Driving in cold weather requires preparation — winter weather can be hazardous, even for locals, let alone those who are not too familiar with the climate. It may be approaching summer for countries in the northern hemisphere but, if you’re planning a trip to places like Australia or New Zealand, note that temperatures are dropping down south.

Here are some points to consider if you’re heading for a cold-weather drive.

Driving techniques  

The best tip for driving in severe winter weather conditions is to avoid it. If you have to, here are some basic driving techniques to handle freezing conditions:

  1. Give yourself a buffer between locations and do not rush. You will be forced to drive at slower than normal speeds, especially if it snows.
  2. Drive slower and do not speed. Speeding on snowy or icy roads is dangerous as it increases your risk of skidding. Lowering your speed also allows yourself greater reaction time.
  3. Keep at least three car lengths from the vehicle in front of you. Increasing your following distance offers a greater margin of safety should you need to stop suddenly.
  4. Under dreary weather conditions,drive with your lights on, even during the day,to make yourself more visible.
  5. Do not use cruise control on slippery or icy roads. Otherwise, you will not be able to detect the loss of traction.
  6. Do not over-rely on the four-wheel drive function of your vehicle — it is good for starting from a complete stop or going up a hill, but it can’t help much if you turn at a high speed.
  7. To avoid your car windscreen from fogging up in the cold weather, deactivate the Recirculation button on the air conditioner.
  8. Do not overexert yourself if you are feeling tired, as you need complete focus. Even clear roads could have a layer of ice present, making it very slippery. Take regular breaks to ensure that you stay alert.
  9. Check the condition of roads before driving. Consult the locals for advice when necessary.


Preparing the vehicle

While being extra cautious is essential, it is also important that you prepare your vehicle well before you begin the drive.

  1. Make sure that you completely defrost your front and back windshields before driving as frost significantly reduces your visibility. Wait until it has completely melted before driving.
  2. Do not overestimate your vehicle’s ability to handle the cold weather. Check with your car rental company if winter tyres are available, especially if you are preparing to drive on icy roads. At least 3mm of tyre tread is recommended. And do insist on winter tyres rather than all-season tyres as they have better a tread pattern that offers superior traction, and are made of softer rubber compounds that give better grip.
  3. Note that warm snow is more slippery than cold snow. It gives way more easily as the highter temperature causes a film of lubricant to form.
  4. Check that the coolant, or antifreeze, is filled up to the recommended level. Otherwise, you should ask your car rental company to top it up.
  5. Ensure that you have sufficient petrol, with at least three-quarters of a full tank, before you embark on a long drive — you never know where the next petrol station along the way might be!
  6. Be prepared for accidents or unprecedented stalls by keeping blankets, coats, bottles of water, important medication, extra portable mobile phone charger and snacks in your car.
Other essentials for drivers and passengers
While you may get that natural glow and rosy cheeks in cold weather, there are downsides to the extreme cold and dry conditions.
Ensure that you don’t neglect your skin. Apply sunscreen regularly to protect your skin from the ultraviolet radiation, which snow can reflect. Constantly apply lip balm to prevent your lips from getting chapped or wind-burned. Keep a bottle of moisturiser handy to prevent your skin from getting dry and cracked during the long drive.
If it still feels cold with the car heater on, a muffler, gloves, and ear muffs should help you retain heat.
The most effective tip to keep warm is to layer your clothes rather than relying on that one bulky coat. Having a good base layer or thermal wear will make all the difference. As it is the closest layer to your body, it will help keep you warm even when the temperature drops.