David MottonSee other Advice articles filed in ‘On the road’ written by David Motton
Tow Car Editor
As winter weather grips the country, make sure you're driving as safely as possible when on tour. Depending on where you live in the country, right now it's either very cold, or borderline Siberian. You may have a blanket of snow, or perhaps snow is forecast. Either way, driving conditions are not good.
Driving any vehicle in wintry weather can be hazardous, let alone a heavy motorhome, with longer stopping distances and reduced grip. The road safety experts at IAM RoadSmart have some tips for winter driving, many of which are pertinent for motorhomers. We also have some advice of our own.
So read on for our guide to touring safely in winter!
If you can, stay put
"The best advice is to avoid travelling in extreme weather', says IAM RoadSmart's head of driving and riding standards, Richard Gladman. "If no one is moving, you just add to the problem - so listen to travel advice."
We'd second that. If the weather is really bad, with snow and ice making driving conditions difficult, rethink your touring plans. Either delay travelling by a day or two until the weather improves, or cancel the trip entirely and rearrange it once the weather has cleared.
"If you do have to travel in bad weather, plan your journey thoroughly. Think about where you are going and what it will be like all the way along the journey. If you can, avoid travelling on less-used roads or country lanes as these are less likely to be gritted," says Gladman.
Very narrow country lanes can be a challenge in a motorhome at the best of times, but become treacherous if driving in snow. At this time of year it's more important than ever to contact the campsite you are heading to and confirm the best way to approach the site, which may not be the most direct route. Sat navs are not always right! The campsite warden can also give you an update on the weather conditions at your destination to help you decide whether or not to travel.
Prepare your vehicle
Before setting off, clear all your windows and mirrors fully. Clear off snow piled on the roof and bonnet as much as you can - using a long-handled broom can help - as it can fall and blow on to the windscreen, or onto vehicles following you. Don't leave anything obscured.
Take your time
IAM RoadSmart's tips on how to drive in wintry weather are important, and apply just as much to motorhomes as to cars. "Start your car gently from stationary and avoid high revs. If road conditions are extremely icy and you drive a manual car, you should move off in a higher gear rather than first gear. You should stay in a higher gear to avoid wheel spin," says Gladman. He's right, of course, but starting off in a higher gear than first may not be possible with the weight of a motorhome to drag forward. It can take careful balancing of the clutch and throttle to pull away when towing on a slippery surface.
"It's important to get your speed right when travelling in snow. Never drive too fast that you risk losing control, and don't drive so slowly that you risk losing momentum for getting up a slope," he says.
"Increase your following distance from the vehicle in front of you. It may take up to 10 times as long to stop on snow or ice; build this into your following distance - this will give you more time to slow down using engine braking, which is less likely to induce a skid.
Make sure you slow down sufficiently before reaching a bend so you have enough time to react to any hazards that might appear as you go round it - and so you don't skid, as well. You should have finished slowing down before you start to turn the steering wheel.
Expect the unexpected
When touring in winter, it pays to be prepared for bad weather and delays.
"At the very least you should have a shovel, torch, blanket, jump-leads and tow rope," says Gladman.
You should ensure your mobile phone is fully charged, and the number of your recovery organisation is saved into it. A bottle of water and a snack may also prove useful and don't set out without knowing the locations of petrol stations on your way.
The right tyres for the right time of the year
IAM RoadSmart's advice focuses on what you can do if you are about to set off on a journey. But there are steps you can take well before the worst of winter arrives. Consider fitting winter tyres if you want to stay mobile all winter. They don't just make a difference when there's snow and ice about. They offer better grip once the temperature drops below 7°C.
Winter can be a magical time of year to be touring, with quiet campsites and crisp bracing weather. But when winter bites hardest, safety has to be the top priority. So if you do have a winter touring break planned over the next couple of days, pay close attention to the weather before you set off. And if you do decide it's sensible to travel, take extra precautions to make sure you stay safe.