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The grip of winter is near for the majority of countries, and with it comes the threat of severe weather. Whether you're just not used to driving in snow or are driving on unfamiliar roads while abroad for the holidays, poor weather conditions can spell trouble. Even if you have purchased car excess insurance, having a checklist can help ensure that your journey is as safe as possible.
Check with your chosen rental company that the service history of your hire car is up to date. If you're renting a car for a while, keep an eye on the wiper blades and lights, and look out for dashboard warning lights relating to the battery.
Prepare an emergency kit that includes warning lights, snow removal tools, jumpstart cables, a torch, extra clothes and warm blankets, a first aid kit, food and water.
Check tyres have adequate tread before you set out on each journey. Balding tyres and icy conditions are a dangerous combination. If heavy snow is expected where you plan to travel, ask your rental company about winter tyres.
Ensure the windscreen wash contains a recommended antifreeze product. If you rely on water alone, freezing temperatures could render windscreen wipers useless.
Check weather reports for your planned route. If particularly treacherous weather is expected, ask yourself if your journey is necessary.
Take the time to completely clear the car from ice and snow before you set off. Remember that using boiling water is likely to crack windows and paint: use lukewarm water instead.
Remember to accelerate slowly while driving and change up to a higher gear as soon as it is reasonable to do so. Moving off in second gear can help to reduce wheel slip.
Leave sufficient room between you and the vehicle in front. Braking distances significantly increase over winter and it may be necessary to leave ten times the typically recommended gap.
Stick to gritted roads whenever possible. If driving on fresh snow is unavoidable, steer clear of driving in the wheel tracks of cars in front, as the compressed snow may be particularly icy.
If you do skid on snow or ice while driving, avoid the temptation to try to steer out of it. Instead, steer gently in the direction of the skid and don't stamp on the brakes.
When braking, steering, accelerating and changing gears, use the controls as slowly and smoothly as possible.
The low winter sun can cause a devastating glare to reflect off the snow. Reduce the impact this has on your driving by wearing a pair of quality sunglasses.
Remember that posted speed limits relate to driving in ideal conditions. Always drive at a speed that's appropriate to the conditions.
Slow down well before you enter a bend. Braking while in a bend increases the likelihood of your car spinning.
Avoid locking your wheels when braking by giving yourself plenty of time to stop. Getting into a lower gear will help your speed to reduce naturally before you apply the brakes gently.
While it's tempting to have the heater on full blast, excessive warmth can cause drowsiness. If possible, keep the windows partly down to ensure your rental car remains well ventilated.
If snow is falling as you drive, your visibility will be reduced. Use dipped headlights to help you remain in clear sight of others on the road.
Remember that road surfaces under bridges can remain slippery long after other surfaces have dried out, so take extra care and drive slowly.
Make regular stops to remove any snow and ice that have built up on the vehicle while driving. Windows, lights, number plates and wheel rims should all be clear.
If you get stuck and the items in your emergency kit can't get you moving again, stay with the vehicle and call your car rental company for help.
Following these tips should help you and your passengers to stay safe in your car over winter. Above all, it's important to remember that it's better to get to your destination late than not at all, so take it easy.