Winter Classic? Sounds like a good name for a sporting event and that’s exactly what it looks like out on the roads at the moment as “The Beast from the East” terrifies the country. Is this really the nation that defied the Axis powers? Apparently winter now justifies a TV programme so that intrepid reporters can interview people who took 4 hours to get anywhere and who are “Disgusted with the weather”.
I know many of you will be horrified at the thought of even opening the garage door on your cherished vehicle at this time of year, but some are more adventurous than others and some simply have to. Alfies 25 years old Saab Turbo (KjmoSaabi) is the very definition of a ‘modern classic’, it’s his daily driver and we know many younger classic owners that are in the same position. It has to go out, there is no option.
As a country we are a bunch of ill prepared winter wimps. An old colleague of mine moved to Canada and on his first day in the office he noticed through the window heavy snowfall starting. After half an hour it was looking like what the English (careful choice of word there) call “deep” and he suggested they should all head for home. He was laughed at. After 4 hours it was deeper than anything he’d ever seen and suggested the same again, but this time they didn’t laugh at him, they just showed him where to plug his car sump heater in. The fact is, the day we called "NATIONAL SEVERE WEATHER CONDITIONS" the Finns would call "Friday".
Here is the main reason the south falls apart at the first sight of snow (if you ignore the excuse for a day off because “I can’t get in”): Lack of preparation. The key element of this ‘winterisation’ is Winter tyres. Now, any time I mention these at least one person retorts with “There aren’t enough snow days in the UK to warrant them, I’m not paying twice as much for tyres to have two sets”. Well, here is my response to that:
Below about 8 degrees C, the rubber compounds used in summer tyres (called “All Weather” because they’re a compromise) starts to harden and hence lose grip. Their treads are designed to move rain, not slush and snow. A winter tyre compound is designed to work better at temperatures below 8 degrees, so when the summer tyre is giving up, the winter one is just coming into its own. Its called a Winter tyre, not a snow tyre, its for use right across that season, when temperatures are within its operating range. As for “paying twice as much”, well whilst you are using the winter tyres you are not wearing down your summer ones!
They really make a difference, in traction, cornering and most of all, braking. Tests demonstrate the latter and we’re not talking a few feet (which in itself is the depth of a pedestrian and therefore admirable), no its yards, the depth of several cars stopped in front of you. If you are a cynic who doesn’t trust any of the evidence then go to the French Alps, that little Renault that just passed you and made it safely round that mountain bend didn’t do so just because the driver is used to the conditions, its also because he is on the right tyres. In fact, in many regions in Europe Winter Tyres are compulsory at this time of year.
“Ah its ok, I have 4 wheel drive” is another retort. Well, you keep believing in that fallacy if it gives you comfort. If its on summer tyres it will give you no better braking and no better lateral grip, although it will help with traction because the torque is of course spread between all four wheels. Now, a 4x4 on Winter Tyres, that’s a different story. Our Subaru on Winters is unstoppable.
To cope with that bit of deeper snow, carry a set of snow chains for your driven wheels. They're only about £30 a pair and will get you out of most snow situations in the UK. Yes, they might sit unused in the car for two years at a time, but when it gets busy like storm 'Emma' today, thats about how long you'll wait for recovery to turn up to take you home. Which is the reason to stick extra warm clothing or a sleeping bag in the car, our steel boxes lose their warmth very quickly if the heater is out of action and if you have to run the engine to keep warm, check the exhaust isn't buried regularly if its still snowing.
Is your anti-freeze level sufficient for the temperature drop expected - Check your battery condition and clean terminals - Winter Tyres - Snowchains (or boots) - Moisture repellant (for engine electrics) - Snow shovel - Torch - Sleeping bag - Tow strap - Phone charger for the car - Number of your recovery company - scraper - deicer
Is your journey necessary (open to your own interpretation) - Do you have enough fuel for the journey even if it takes twice as long - Clear your car of snow BEFORE you leave and don't forget in the grill so your radiator can breath - Check routes on the AA or Googlemaps website - Leave extra time - know which are your driven wheels*
3 rules: Distance, Distance, Distance. No matter what slide you get into, if there is plenty of room in front of you vehicle then you can coast gracefully to a stop. When turning do not make violent movements of the wheel and do not try to accelerate when turning. Move up a gear to the one you would normally be in so you keep the torque being applied to the wheels down. Think about your lights. Since a lot of moderns have automatic lights, people forget about them, but the sensors are confused by bright snow and keep them switched off. When traversing uncleared roads it may seem instinctive to drive in the tracks made by other cars, but actually the fresh snow will usually give you more grip.
Excellent advice from the Highway Code is here: GOV ADVICE ADVERSE CONDITIONS
*There is a lovely video on line of someone who is struggling to get their BMW out of their close in the snow. They do absolutely the right thing and get their snowchains out and fit them. But, the wheels just spin when trying to move off again...because they have fitted them to the front wheels of their rear wheel drive car.
Alfie has just run his Mum to town. He drove up a long slope past the moderns stuck at the side whose drivers all looked confused as to what the weird little black car was that just humiliated their all powerful German machine with its wide tyre option. Alfies Winter Tyres are on the original Alloys and he bought some snazzier wheels for his summer driving from another Saab enthusiast via an auction site, so they didn’t even cost a lot. In Europe the Winter tyres are usually on steels for cost and to avoid salt corrosion of the alloys.
So when Alfie got his Mum to work through 20 miles of icy lanes and slopes she found herself the only one there. Colleagues from just the other side of town “couldn’t make it in”. Like I said, winter wimps.
Drive safely and be careful out there. Oh and no, we’re not and neither are we affiliated to, a tyre dealer.
POSTSCRIPT: I am reminded of a story I read in Supercar Classics (what a great magazine that was) years ago. They were interviewing Nick Mason and he relayed that one snowy day his modern wouldn’t start, so he took the kids to school in his Classic. That was his Ferrari 250GTO. Respect, Mr Mason.