Those who live in the mountains at higher altitudes will of course see it differently, but for most people from lower altitudes, winter comes later and brings rather ordinary inconveniences, such as having to scrape frozen windows in the morning, sitting in a frozen seat, clutching an icy steering wheel, standing in line behind the fog truck and sniffing its old chipped Euro 3 diesel.
So now we will not focus on driving in the snow, which has its own specifics and for the last few decades in lower altitudes it has only been for a few days a year. In addition, my colleague Jan Červenka was already involved in driving in the snow, when he described the four most common mistakes that drivers make. That way you can remember them.
Don’t underestimate car preparation
For trouble-free winter operation, it is necessary to spend some time preparing the car. No need to lie under it in the mud. Check the wipers and replace the wiper blades if necessary so that you can also see something from the car. You can do this trivial task yourself. Stock up on antifreeze for the washers. Use up the old summer one and buy either a concentrate or a ready-made mixture capable of withstanding at least -20 °C. We have already written about how to choose a mixture for washers. Instead of buying at gas stations, buy the mixture either online or at a regular supermarket. It is much cheaper there.
We have already written several times about the preparation of the car, just in a nutshell – it is good to check the condition of the coolant and its ability to withstand frost. Engine cooling is important for reliable (and comfortable) winter operation in winter. The usual troublemaker is, for example, the thermostat, because of which the car does not have to warm up to operating temperature and does not heat up at all.
Depending on the conditions where you are going, also carry the necessary tools in the car. Are you going to the mountains? You will probably want to pack chains, a shovel, a broom for sweeping away snow, a quality window scraper, as well as a spray for defrosting locks and door seals. Starting cables or a towing rope are also not out of the question…
We are most often troubled by the battery in the winter. Paradoxically, he doesn’t mind the cold, but the summer heat, on the contrary. But only in winter, when the starter has to turn with a frozen engine and congealed oil, the weak battery reaches its limits. The condition of the battery can of course be measured during a load test at the service center, but as soon as you start having problems with starting and regular recharging at home using a charger does not help, the battery will need to be replaced. Even for an ordinary car, a battery costs two to three thousand, cars with variable charging tend to have more expensive batteries, easily five thousand or more.
Also try to help your car battery. If you use the car on very short journeys and often start it, limit the use of comfort appliances, such as heating the seats, the steering wheel and even fog lights. The battery is not enough to recharge the consumed current on very short routes and usually needs at least 30 to 50 km of driving to be fully recharged. If the car has a stop/start system, turn it off manually. Each car has a button for this, or you need to click through the infotainment to the relevant item. Although the cars are trained to disconnect the stop/start in the event of a low battery, it cannot be relied on much.
Don’t warm up a modern car at idle
There are also endless discussions about whether it makes sense to let the car idle and wait for it to warm up, or whether it is best to drive right away. We have already covered this in a separate article, which you can read below, so let’s repeat the most important things related to this issue.
Modern cars don’t like idling when cold, and it can actually be harmful to them. Thanks to the very good pumpability of modern oils even in cold weather, the engine with high-quality oil lubricates immediately even when cold and has no problem working (although it is good to save the car for a while before it warms up).
Engines with direct gasoline injection then suffer from the phenomenon of oil dilution with gasoline, when the fuel injected into the cylinders does not evaporate enough and the piston rubs it into the oil. This is also why it is better to warm up the engine as quickly as possible by normal driving. Drains integrated in the cylinder head and often the electric heating of the coolant are used to warm up the car quickly. And it also starts to heat up quickly – much sooner than if you let it idle for ten minutes while you finish your coffee at home.
Wash your windows thoroughly
And now we come to the points that are important mainly for safe operation. One of the most common ailments of Czech drivers is driving with horribly dirty and jammed windows. Is it really such a problem to buy new wiper blades every year for a few hundred? After all, half of you can’t see anything at all from those cars, how you smudge your windows with swollen and cracked rubber bands. Also wash the side windows and mirrors regularly so that you can see in all directions from the car. Those two or three minutes with a cloth and window cleaner will probably not hurt you once in a while.
In addition to the cleanliness of the window from the outside, think about the cleanliness of the window inside. Dust and dirt settles on the glass, and in a month you have an unsightly layer of grease on the inside of the windows, which casts reflections, and then oncoming vehicles dazzle you. All you need is two microfiber cloths and window cleaner. Spray the window cleaner on a cloth, wash the window thoroughly and wipe it dry with a second cloth. A clean window will also fog up a lot less.
Air conditioning is also related to fogging and visibility. Its use is therefore good even in winter. Not only do the individual components of the air conditioning system need to be lubricated, but the air conditioning primarily helps with the demisting of the aforementioned windows. Instead of dabbing the windows with a tissue, let the air conditioner work to demist your windows.
Be careful on bridges and in the shade
And let’s not forget a few useful tips for driving the car itself. There doesn’t necessarily have to be snow everywhere to make it slippery as hell. The most dangerous are mainly the bridges, which freeze completely and can have a continuous layer of ice on them, while the rest of the road is just wet. Then, when you drive onto such a slightly curving bridge on the highway at 130 km/h, the car marches into the guardrails. One typical example is, for example, the highway bridge on the 10.5 km D6 over the railway line 120 near Pavlova, where there is an accident almost every frosty morning for exactly this reason.
Similarly risky are places in the shade, where the weak rays of the sun do not reach. Just drive down an alley in winter and the road will be frozen under every tree. It is precisely these jump differences in grip that are dangerous, because it adapts poorly to them. When it slides all over the place, the driver adjusts. But when you leave and the road is otherwise passable all the way without problems, even an experienced driver can easily get into trouble on such icy surfaces.
It slides even on cold surfaces
Unfortunately, in the omnipresent media, police and political massage of “traffic experts” about the necessity and obligation of winter tires, the information is lost that on an icy road it will simply always slide and that winter tires do not guarantee that you can fly even on icy or otherwise very slippery roads, ” as if it didn’t smell”.
It is always necessary to adapt the speed and driving style to the slippery road. It is true that high-quality winter tires will perform better than summer tires on ice, but the car will not stop on the subway as if it were dry. It is ideal to test how the vehicle behaves and what it does when it slides a lot in a quiet, open area somewhere. As a driver, you should know the limits of your car’s capabilities. However, learning the right reactions requires regular training, so if you are serious about driving a car, we definitely recommend a professional ski school. To get started, all you have to do is find an empty parking lot and try hard braking or jerking the steering wheel on ice or snow. You will see what it (doesn’t) do to the car.
A quad bike won’t save you from trouble
Also, disabuse yourself of the illusion that all-wheel drive on your car is safer, that it will save you from skidding, etc. The only major advantage of an ATV is that it has better initial traction, so you get off on a slippery road better. This way, the car will pick up speed better, but it won’t brake or turn better. On the contrary – a comparable car with only one axle drive is lighter and will go through the bend at a higher speed (albeit slightly) thanks to the smaller inertial mass.
In addition, most modern ATVs only work when starting, and when a certain speed is exceeded, the drive of the second axle is disconnected (this saves stress on the system and emissions). Likewise, the wheel drive is disengaged as soon as ABS or ESP is activated. Of course, there are cars with permanent wheel connections, for example some Audis or Subarus. But their potential can only be used by a very experienced driver and in a way that we would describe as somewhat aggressive and irresponsible in normal traffic.
So let’s sum it up – yes, an ATV will help you drive up a frozen hill. But it certainly won’t help you if you fly like a “beast” into a corner covered in ice.