Winter Driving Tips

Slow down

It might seem obvious, but a lot of us forget that we need to drive differently in the winter. If it’s dark, or wet, or icy, for example, slowing down buys you time. It gives you time to access situations and, crucially, to react.

Keep more distance

You might have heard the saying ‘only a fool breaks the two-second rule’.

If you haven’t, then it’s simple. It’s a way of measuring the distance between you and the vehicle in front.

You should keep a two-second gap between you and the vehicle in front and you can measure this by beginning the above saying (it takes two seconds to say it) when that vehicle passes a fixed point. If you pass it before you finish the saying then you’re two close. Now, in winter, try extending this to four seconds.

Stopping distances in the wet are twice what they are for dry roads and on ice they are 10 times as far.

Set aside more time for your journey

If you can, give yourself more time. This will mean that you can factor in the increased potential for delays, as well as giving yourself a mindset that you’ve got plenty of time and don’t need to rush, again reducing the odds of having an accident.

Be mindful of the extra risks

The difficult thing about winter driving can be the hidden risks. Black ice is one such thing – a road might look fine, but could have a layer of ice across it.

Be particularly careful on tree-lined roads. Think about it – the trees mean that the sun doesn’t get onto the road, so the surface could still be icy even when all around it has thawed out.

Watch out for big puddles in the dark when it’s raining – hit one at speed and it’s all too easy to lose control of your car. And, as much as we all love sunny winter days, low sun at this time of year can blind you when driving. Take extra care.

Make sure you and your car are prepared

Washing your car during the winter might seem a bit of a waste of time, but it’s far from it. Although it might seem a fruitless task in the knowledge that it’ll be dirty again within minutes, salt that is used to keep roads ice-free, although with general dirt, builds up quickly during the winter.

So wash your car regularly, in particular keeping the windows and lights clean – as they can quickly build up a film of grime. Keep your fuel tank topped up in case of delays and diversions and keep an eye on traffic information.

Clear your windows properly before setting off and carry a scraper and de-icer. 

Preparing your car for winter

Get it serviced

It might seem obvious, but get your car serviced.

It can be all too easy to forget to do this as often as we should – that year can come around more quickly than we realise. If your car is still under warranty, then regular servicing as per the manufacturer’s requirements is a must.

However, it will pay to get things checked before winter kicks in regardless. Many dealers offer free winter health checks so take advantage of these if available near you.

You can also do a lot of the checking yourself, like oil land waters levels, engine coolant and make sure your wipers don’t need replaced.

Get your brake pads, brake discs and brake fluid checked to make sure your car is stopping as well as it should. This is especially important in winter when roads are wet or icy. Check the fan belt and alternator belt are tight and not worn.

Check the spark plugs and other leads are in good condition. Do this regularly through the winter – and, indeed, all year round.

Check your tyres

Tyres are very important – they’re the only part of your car that’s in contact with the road, after all. The legal minimum for tread on your tyres is 1.6mm, but in practice at least 3mm is recommended. Make sure your tyres are in otherwise good condition, checking for cracks in the side walls and other irregularities.

Winter tyres are also worth considering. Although it can seem a bit extreme in the UK and could be considered an unnecessary cost, winter tyres are designed to deal with the worst of weather.

And, if you swap them over in the summer, both sets of tyres will last twice as long, making the overall cost little different.

Remember the basics

Don’t forget the basics that can be done very quickly.

Keep your lights clean. Although it can often seem pointless to wash your car every weekend during the winter, do make sure that your lights are clean. Dirt from the road, especially wet roads, is much worse in poor winter weather and headlights quickly accumulate a grubby film that can reduce the effectiveness of your lights dramatically, so clean them often.

The same goes for your windscreen and wipers. A dirty screen can add to the effect of glare when driving in the dark and make for a streaky view in the rain – which is both annoying and dangerous. Clean the wipers themselves, while checking for deterioration, to make sure they wipe the screen smoothly and without streaking. Replace them if you need to.

Be ready for the worst

Don’t think that preparing for the worst is a silly idea. If you do break down, you’ll be glad for that box of handy stuff you put in your boot for such eventualities.

Include a shovel – in case your car is physically stuck in snow or mud – a torch, blanket, hi-vis vest, screen wash, de-icer and scraper and food and drink supplies.

Make sure, too, that you have a fully charged mobile phone, or the means to charge it.

Neil Worth, road safety officer for GEM, the road safety and breakdown recovery organisation, said: “If you need to drive, have a plan ready that can help you postpone a journey. “Agree to reschedule a meeting or a visit if it’s not vital. In that way, you’re avoiding a lot of potential trouble for yourself, and ensuring you won’t be putting additional strain on emergency and recovery crews, who are sure to be at full stretch in the coming days. “If you’re out and about when snow hits, then the simple preparation measures suggested above really can make a big difference to help keep you safe.”

Check your cover

Above all else, check you’ve got adequate breakdown cover in place.

If the worst does happen, you want to get home quickly and safely.

Breakdown cover these days has various levels, so make sure yours covers what you need. Basic cover will get you roadside assistance – and if your car can be fixed you’ll be on your way. If not, you need cover that will at least get your car to the garage.

If you can afford it, higher-level cover will get you on to a destination of your choice.

Also check your insurance cover. It goes without saying that the risk of a crash increases in bad weather, so check you’re covered if the worst happens. And make sure that you carry details of what to do if you do break down or have an accident – phone numbers and policy numbers are key.

The things you need to know from the Tokyo Motor Show

Two tantalising concepts from Mazda

Mazda revealed two concepts at the 2017 Tokyo Motor Show.

The Mazda Kai Concept, a compact hatchback that the Japanese marque says “heralds a new generation of inspired vehicle”, made its world premiere. It was the second appearance for the Mazda Vision Coupe, a design concept that debuted at a pre-show event called Mazda Design Night 2017.

Featuring the next-generation Skyactiv-X petrol engine, Skyactiv-Vehicle Architecture and a “more mature expression of the Kodo design language”, the Kai Concept embodies the technology, engineering and styling concepts that will define the coming generation of Mazdas, it said. Refinements in all areas of dynamic performance have produced a considerably quieter, more comfortable ride and enhanced performance, Mazda said. The Kai Concept features “muscular, solid proportions in a form brought to life by a delicate flow of reflections over the sides of the body”.

Highlights of the Vision Coupe, meanwhile, has a simple “one-motion” form that “conveys a sense of speed”. The concept’s name pays homage to Mazda’s tradition of design elegance represented by coupé models like the Mazda R360, Mazda’s first passenger car, and the Mazda Luce Rotary, also known as the Mazda R130.

Mazda also had the spotlight on the all-new Mazda CX-8, a three-row SUV going on sale in Japan later this year, as well as the 2018 Mazda MX-5 and 2018 Mazda MX-5 RF.

Nissan focuses on its electric cars – with a Nismo twist

Nissan expanded and showcased its electric vehicle capability at the Tokyo Motor Show. It presented two all-electric concept vehicles, signalling, it said, its intention to “maintain electric vehicle leadership in the sector”.

The concepts included the new Nissan IMx all-electric Crossover and new Nissan LEAF NISMO. It also confirmed its participation in the 2018-2019 season of all-electric Formula E racing. Nissan said that the IMx zero-emission crossover concept “delivers outstanding driving pleasure with seamless social integration”. It’s an all-electric four-seater crossover concept offering fully autonomous operation and a driving range of more than 370 miles.

This concept utilises Nissan’s all new and dedicated electric vehicle platform married to twin motor power units that deliver 320kWh capacity and an incredible 700Nm of torque.

The platform allows the floor to be completely flat, resulting in a cavernous cabin and enhanced driving dynamics. Nissan says that a low centre of gravity means sharp handling “that promises to redefine the crossover segment”. “The Nissan IMx zero-emission crossover concept vehicle embodies the future of Nissan Intelligent Mobility,” said Daniele Schillaci, executive vice president of global marketing and sales, EV business, and chairman of Nissan’s management committee for Japan, Asia and Oceania. “Through Nissan Intelligent Mobility, Nissan is committed to changing the way people and cars communicate, as well as how cars interact with society in the near future and beyond.”

Speed fans will be most excited about the Leaf Nismo concept, which Nissan says is a marriage between clean and efficient electric technology and the driving dynamics that characterise Nismo. The Nismo Concept version of the new Leaf has a sporty exterior, as we can see. Nissan says that the application of Nismo racing technology to the car’s body results in enhanced aerodynamic performance and less lift, without sacrificing the Leaf’s drag coefficient. It said that “the black interior features Nismo’s signature red accents, creating an exciting, high-performance feel”.

Mitsubishi heads in a new direction

Mitsubishi marked the launched of a new brand strategy at Tokyo with the world debut of its e-Evolution Concept. It said that the all-electric, high-performance SUV embodied its new ‘Drive your Ambition’ global tagline, with the aim to be ‘adventurous and progressive’ in design and product.

Mitsi said the concept was “a technical prototype to illustrate the strategic directions of a renewed MMC brand, incorporating the strengths of the SUV and EV with the ability to integrate new systems for a connected mobility customer experience”. “We aim to provide vehicles that fulfil our customers’ desires through outstanding design, combined with the power, authenticity and carefully-considered functionality MMC is known for,” said MMC head of global design, Tsunehiro Kunimoto.

The e-Evolution uses high-performance electric motors, fed by a high-capacity battery system, to deliver the smooth, torque-rich responsiveness that is the trademark of EVs compared to petrol-powered vehicles. The drive battery is located under the floor mid-ship of the vehicle, providing a low centre of gravity for improved driving stability.

The triple motor 4WD system employs a single motor to drive the front wheels complemented by a new Dual-Motor Active Yaw Control (AYC) system that couples two rear motors through an electronically controlled torque-vectoring AYC unit. All of this is integrated into MMC’s unique Super All-Wheel Control (S-AWC) vehicle dynamic control system to greatly improve its cornering and traction performance, the firm says.

Honda had a busy one

Honda, being Honda, showcased everything from cars to motorbikes to weird and wacky visions of our future mobility at the show.

It continues to expand its line-up of hybrid vehicles and says that it will continue to strengthen hybrid, plug-in hybrid and EV models. The headline for the show was the Sports EV Concept, a sporty-looking compact and low-slung little thing that combines, Honda says, electric performance with artificial intelligence for a proper driving experience.

Built on a newly-developed dedicated EV platform, the Honda Urban EV Concept was also revealed to indicate the technology and design directions for Honda’s future mass-production EV models. A new model based on this concept will go on sale first in Europe, and then in Japan in 2020. The Honda NeuV is an EV concept model that explores the potential of mobility products which will be further expanded by automated driving technologies and AI. Honda said that NeuV makes judgments about the driver’s state of stress based on facial expressions and/or tone of voice and provides assistance to the driver to support safe driving and, by learning the driver’s lifestyle and preferences, provides suggestions to the particular driver, realising communication between driver and mobility.

Slightly more back in the present, the new CR-V SUV was on show. It includes a hybrid model equipped a hybrid for the first time and also news that a three-row seating type will be added to the line-up of the petrol model. It goes on sale next year. The Clarity PHEV, a new-generation plug-in hybrid model, features an exterior form with low vehicle height, spacious cabin that seats five adults and a large-capacity cargo area. It also goes on sale next year.

Looking somewhat further into the future, in a way that only Honda can, was the RoboCas Concept, a small-sized electric mobility product created “to make people’s dreams and ideas come true”. It said that different types of carrying space with a canopy can be “freely combined with a compact-sized vehicle body base which has a driving function”. The firm also exhibited a host of motorcycles and other futuristic mobility products at the show.

 

Toyota debuts several concepts and new models

Toyota unveiled a series of concepts and new models in Tokyo.

The GR HV Sports concept, it said, represents a new way to enjoy cars by integrating the thrill of a sports car with the environmental friendliness of an eco-car. We can but hope.

It takes design cues from the Totora Gazoo Racing TS050 Hybrid racing car that competes in the World Endurance Championship and its targa top is influenced by the firm’s convertible sports cars of old, including the Sports 800 and Supra. The concept is powered by the Toyota Hybrid System-Racing (THS-R) tech refined in the TS050.

Also showcased was the Tj Cruiser, which “represents the harmonious balance between the roominess of a cargo van and the powerful design of an SUV”.It’s clearly aimed those ‘lifestyle’ type people, who want to take the same car to work and the mountains. Toyota says that the “T” stands for “Toolbox” in reference to how the car can be used like a toolbox, while the “j” stands for “joy” in reference to the joy of visiting various places by car.

Inside, the passenger seat can be reclined completely flat, making it easy to carry lifestyle-y items like three-metre long surfboards and bikes. A nod to the past while looking to the future came in the form of the Crown Concept, a concept vehicle “developed in pursuit of driving performance and connected technology”.

It features the blend of the Crown tradition with its birth in 1955 and the innovation to be expected in the Crown in a next generation mobility society, says Toyota.

The new third generation Century was also unveiled, “carrying on the tradition of master craftsmanship and high-quality monozukuri (all-encompassing manufacturing) while realising high-demand environmental performance and a design layout that pursues passenger comfort”. The Century is now powered by a 5.0-litre V8 hybrid system for, Toyota says of a model that the UK won’t be seeing, outstanding fuel efficiency. In addition, the wheelbase has lengthened, the height difference between the scuff plate and floor has decreased, and the height of the door opening has increased, all of which are refinements improving the rear seat riding experience, it says.

The Best New Cars For Less Than 15000

Ford Fiesta

It’d be impossible to leave Britain’s best-selling car off of this list, so let’s begin with this. A household name for 40 years, the Fiesta is as popular as ever.

Like all cars, it’s grown over the years and is now an all-rounder that can happily be used as your only car. The latest version is claimed by Ford to be the most technologically advanced small car in the world.

The range now gets the Vignale treatment, bringing Ford’s posh moniker to its small car for the first time. There will also be an ST-Line sporty model, a Titanium and an Active crossover.

It gets pedestrian detection – the first Ford to do so – and active park assist.

You can have a Bang and Olufsen sound system and Ford’s latest infotainment system.

Engines include the 1.0-litre EcoBoost petrol, with 150ps, as well as the Fiesta’s first high-powered diesel. Prices start from £12,715.

Ford Fiesta

Kia Picanto

While Kia has gone upmarket over the years – and done very well for it – its little car remains true to the original ethos of affordable motoring that brought the South Korean firm to the UK in 1991.

The Picanto is still functional and cheap, but with a decidedly 2017 spin. Base spec gets electric front windows, USB socket, auto headlights, hill-start assist, split folding rear seats and six airbags, which, arguably, is all you really need.

Further up the range you can add automatic air con, electric rear windows, cruise control, sat nav, a rear parking camera, Bluetooth, heated mirrors, leather trim, alloys, body-coloured bumpers and door handles. The GT-Line has a nice sporty look to it as well. It’s roomier than ever, says Kia, with more luggage space.

Kia hasn’t bothered with diesel engines, sensibly, so there is a base 1.0, a bigger 1.25 and the gem of the range, the turbo 1.0 T-GDi. The Picanto is quiet and refined at speed and the driving position is very comfortable, even for the tall. The interior is decent, if still a little basic until you get towards the top of the range. You can have one for as little as £9,450 and the most you can spend, at the moment, is £13,950.

Kia Picanto

Citroen C4 Cactus

This quirky one from Citroen is everything that we love about French cars.

The C4 Cactus stands out, is actually rather good, and is packed with useful stuff. All cars have good kit, with standard spec including hill start assist, cruise control, electric windows in the front, a touch screen system and digital radio. On the inside this crossover is minimalist and functional, but not lacking in smartness, and storage is everywhere.

It’s low on running costs – CO2 on the BlueHDI diesel, for example, is a mere 92g/km, while claimed combined mpg is 80. Economy on all engines is in the 60s, with CO2 getting no higher than 107g/km.

The Cactus is great value package, particularly for families. List price is a touch over, but there’s no reason you can’t bag one for just under £15,000 in reality.

Citroen C4 Cactus

Dacia Duster

Dacia is a brand for those wanting no nonsense and the Duster SUV is a prime example. In fact, you’re unlikely to find a more capable new car at a lower price.

You get plenty of space, plenty of practicality and decent all-round build quality thanks to Renault underpinnings. That also means that you get reliable, efficient and clean Renault petrol and diesel engines. And the value is plain to see – while the base model comes in well below our threshold here – at a bargain £9,495 – even the top-end version, with all the bells and buttons, only busts our top end by £195.

And there’s a new one coming, too.

The next generation Duster is coming in mid-2018 – the question is whether it will stick to the same ethos. Dacia is promising new styling, equipment and an updated interior. There will also be new kit including a multi-view camera, blind spot warning and automatic air con.

Dacia Duster

Vauxhall Corsa

It is perhaps a testament to the Corsa’s popularity that Vauxhall only tends to see the need to give it a major overhaul every eight years or so. The current Corsa is a couple of years into its life now and still looks nice and fresh.

Like most Vauxhalls, it’s come a long way since the previous generation and is now modern and slick inside and out. There are decent petrol and diesel options, all clean and efficient and, for the most part, peppy.

There’s decent connectivity on offer and the Corsa comes with very handy wifi as well. There are some nice sporty versions to be had as well. Prices start from less than £10,000 and Vauxhall is always up there when it comes to tempting finance deals.

Vauxhall Corsa