Disclosure: I received free review samples from The AA for the purpose of this review. I received no payment and was not required to write a positive review.
The current winter conditions mean that car drivers are facing unfamiliar and potentially dangerous situations on the road. Most of us are not used to driving in snow and ice and the below-freezing temperatures can also cause problems for previously healthy cars.
You need to prepare your car for winter conditions and also need to make sure that you have a few essential pieces of equipment with you to help keep you safe and possibly get you moving again if things go wrong.
Prevention Is Better Than Cure: Using Your Car In Winter Conditions
When it comes to winter driving, prevention is definitely better than cure. Some of the key points to make sure of are:
- Add extra screenwash to your car’s windscreen wash reservoir. Don’t allow it to freeze – driving along with with a smeared, icy, dirty windscreen is very dangerous, especially when the sun is low (e.g. winter commuting).
- Ensure your tyres are correctly inflated. Under-inflated tyres reduce stability and don’t increase grip.
- Are your tyres almost worn out? Aim for at least 3mm of tread for winter use – consider having them replaced if they are nearly down to the legal limit of 1.6mm.
- Be seen: Make sure all of your car’s bulbs are working and ensure that you clear the lights and registration plates of snow and ice before setting off.
- Allow a good 10 minutes to clear your car of snow and ice and demist the windscreen and windows before you set off. Don’t be one of those idiots who drives along peering through a misted up, icy windscreen. Similarly, clear snow from the roof of your car before setting off – otherwise it will fall off while you are driving and might obscure your view or cause problems for other motorists.
- Driving with heater, lights, demister and radio on, especially in heavy traffic, places high demands on your car’s battery. If you don’t get any longer runs in, you could find yourself with a flat battery in the morning. Consider hooking up a battery charger overnight sometimes to keep your battery healthy – look for a battery charger that offers a maintenance charging mode.
The AA sells two kits that are aimed at providing all-in-one solutions for winter motoring. We recently received one of each to review – here are my thoughts.
AA Winter Car Care Kit Review
The AA sells a Winter Car Care Kit (£7.99) that aims to provide you with some of the car care accessories you will need for winter driving. It contains:
- A can of windscreen CarPlan de-icer spray (300ml)
- A sample-size sachet of CarPlan screenwash fluid (enough for 1/2 a litre of water)
- An ice scraper
- A de-mister pad for clearing the inside of windows
- An air freshener – one of those dangly cardboard ones
Of these items, the de-icer spray, the ice scraper and the de-mister pad are all good, useful items, although I prefer to use a microfibre cloth to clear the inside of my windows.
The screen wash is only a sample/emergency sachet – it’s only enough for a maximum of 1/2 litre of water. Most car windscreen wash reservoirs are 2-5 litres, and in winter you will want to make sure yours is full and has extra screen wash fluid in it to prevent freezing. The air freshener is a bit irrelevant; you’d be better off having your window open a crack. This will enable you to hear what’s going outside (tyre noise changes on ice) and will also help prevent your windows misting up.
Simple Motoring says: The AA’s Winter Car Care Kit is a bit overpriced for what you get. Each item is essential (except the air freshener), but you’d be better off heading down the high street and buying the items separately. You will need to buy more screenwash even if you do buy the AA kit.
You might also want to consider: A foot pump to keep your tyres inflated correctly.
AA Winter Car Kit Review
The AA also sells a Winter Car Kit (currently £19.99), which despite its similar name is completely different. It’s aimed at providing you with things you might need if you get into trouble in snow, ice or just bad weather:
- Zippable carry case
- Folding shovel/pick
- Emergency foil blanket
- Reflective high-visibility yellow vest
- Dynamo LED torch (doesn’t need batteries)
Overall, I was impressed with this kit. Every item should be an essential part of your winter driving kit and it all fits into a convenient carrying case that can be tucked underneath your car seat or perhaps put in a door pocket. The carrying case has velcro strips down the back so it can be stuck to the side of your boot, too.
The folding pick/shovel is 37cm long from end-to-end when it’s unfolded. This type of folding shovel tends to come in two sizes and this is the smaller of the two. However, it is big enough to clear snow and ice from under your wheels and seems reasonably well constructed. If you think you might need to clear a wider area, I’d suggest getting a larger model, but this is a good compromise for occasional use.
Similarly, the dynamo torch provides a bright light from its three LEDs and can be left in your car without fear that the batteries will run out when you need to use it. To recharge the torch, all you have to do is squeeze the pop-out lever a few times. It is also pocket-sized and lightweight so is easy to carry around.
(Update July 2011: The torch has not lasted well. Having not needed it for a while, I tried to use it the other day and found that it had gone flat. No problem – but after more than 10 minutes of continuous squeezing it had failed to charge up properly and only provided a feeble glow. I carried on for a grand total of 15 minutes but it still would not hold any charge – it glowed brightly for a moment each time I squeezed the lever and then went dim again. Perhaps it’s my fault for not using it for a few months – but that’s inevitable with car torches in summer, isn’t it?)
Simple Motoring says: This is a good winter kit that is a sensible solution for everyday winter driving.
You might also want to consider: A portable radio for traffic/weather reports (to save your car battery), a 12V mobile phone charger, a thermos flask full of hot water, tea bags, packet soups and sleeping bags, especially if you are going any distance from home. A better quality torch.