Brace for winter,

says GEM

Winter driving

AS Britain mops up after weeks of heavy rain and strong winds, road safety organisation GEM Motoring Assist is warning drivers to be ready for plunging temperatures and icy roads.

GEM says now is the time to check batteries, antifreeze, tyres, wipers, lights and other vehicle essentials to minimize the risk of a cold weather breakdown.

Temperatures are expected to fall as low as -5C across large parts of the country, prompting a yellow-level cold weather alert.

Driving conditions are likely to be hazardous due to large amounts of road surface water that's now at risk of freezing.

GEM road safety adviser James Luckhurst said: "Low temperatures mean car batteries have to work harder and there's an increased risk that some simply won't be strong enough.

"Getting your car checked now hopefully means you won't be caught by surprise when the cold weather arrives. The last thing anyone needs is to break down on a chilly morning.

"Prevention is always better than cure, so by paying some attention to a few winter maintenance needs, you will greatly reduce the risk of a breakdown in the coming months.

"Once you are on the road, try to drive as smoothly as possible when it's icy. Avoid sudden braking or accelerating, take bends more slowly and leave a big gap from the vehicle in front. Also be ready for road conditions to change, even over short distances."

GEM has produced five steps for reducing the chance of a breakdown or malfunction this winter:

1. Get the battery and charging system checked to ensure best performance. A large number of winter calls to GEM's breakdown control centre relate to flat batteries. Cold weather puts a lot of strain on tired batteries, so consider changing it now to avoid the inconvenience of a breakdown.

If your battery seems to be turning over more slowly than usual, get it checked straight away. Similarly, if the battery warning symbol illuminates on the dashboard, do get the battery checked.

2. Ensure your car's cooling system has the correct levels of antifreeze, which is vital to prevent the water in your engine's cooling system from freezing. GEM recommends you consult your local dealer or a qualified mechanic to ensure this is done correctly.

3. Make sure all the lights on your car, inside and out, are working properly. Clean them regularly to ensure they are free of dirt, so that you can see, and others can see you.

4. Check tyre tread depth and pressure weekly through the winter. Good tyres will ensure the safety systems on your car are as effective as possible. GEM recommends a minimum tread depth of 3mm (the legal minimum is 1.6mm), as this will disperse much more water from the road and will minimise your risk of skidding and losing control.

5. Check your windscreen wipers, front and rear. Make sure they are working properly, and top up your screenwash regularly using cold weather washer fluid. Do not use the windscreen wipers to clear ice, as this will quickly lead to damage.

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