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Best tips for preparing your car for a trip to the snow


Icy roads, snowstorms, low temperatures are all hazards we have to prepare for when heading to the snow for our winter getaways.

Being prepared for them before you leave home will help you cope when you're faced with them.

Check your car

Before you leave check that your car will handle the tough challenges it will face in snow areas.

Check your tyres, lights, wipers, and washers to make sure everything is in good working order.

RELATED: For more information on preparing your car for winter check our handy hints guide here.

Don't get cranky

Temperatures are likely to be well below zero in ski areas, which really tests your car's battery, particularly when you come to start your car first thing in the morning.

Make sure the battery terminals are clean and the clamps are tight.

A battery typically lasts three to five years, so if yours is getting near that age have it checked by a battery retailer or a tyre store. It's better to spend the money on a new battery rather than risk being stranded in a ski area with a dead one.

Carry jumper cables with you to get you going if your battery struggles in the cold.

Having jumper cables with you might also help get someone else going.

Avoid the big freeze

The coolant used in today's cars is a mix of water and anti-freeze. The anti-freeze increases the temperature to boil, enabling our cars to better handle the hot weather, but perhaps more importantly it prevents our engines from freezing in the sort of cold conditions you would expect to find in ski areas.

Ensure the coolant in your engine is of the correct mix to cope with the temperatures you are likely to find in ski areas.

If you're not sure about it check your car's owner's manual, or ask for advice at your local auto store.

While you're at it make sure the windscreen washers also have anti-freeze so they don't freeze up and stop working when you most need them.

Use the correct fuel

Before you enter the snowfield plan to stop and fill your car with fuel.

If you're driving a diesel fill with alpine-mix diesel fuel so the fuel system doesn't freeze in the cold conditions. It's worth checking ahead of time to find the service stations stocking the winter blend fuel that are closest to the ski fields.

A car with a dual-fuel LPG/petrol system should be switched to petrol before you get to the snow area and run on petrol while you're in the ski area.

It's a good idea to top up your fuel tank, whether petrol or diesel, with fuel before heading up the mountain in case you have to stop for an extended period for any reason and need to keep your engine running to stay warm.

Read the owner’s manual

Before doing anything break out the owner’s manual and read the manufacturer’s recommendations for driving in the snow.

Snow chains cannot be fitted to every wheel and tyre combination sold here in Australia, so check your owner’s manual to make sure that you can fit chains to the wheel and tyre combination fitted to your car.

Switch to winter tyres?

Many sporty cars are sold in this country with high-performance summer tyres that are not ideal for driving in the snow.

If you’re a regular visitor to snow areas consider fitting winter tyres to your car.

Do I need chains?

Drivers entering a snowfield in Victoria must carry snow chains in their cars, and must fit them when directed to do so.

The Victorian law applies to all vehicles, whether two-wheel drive or four-wheel drive.

In New South Wales, it's only drivers of two-wheel drive vehicles who are required to carry chains.

Four-wheel drives are not required to carry chains in New South Wales, but it's highly recommended that they be carried, particularly if the driver is inexperienced in alpine driving conditions.

When required chains must be fitted to the drive wheels of the vehicle. That means the front wheels on a front-wheel drive vehicle and the rear wheels on a rear-wheel drive vehicle.

Practice fitting the chains so you're familiar with how to do it before you get to the snowfield

If you drive a vehicle with on-demand all-wheel drive the chains should normally be fitted to the front wheels.

On a vehicle with full-time four-wheel drive the chains should be fitted to the front wheels to aid with steering and braking.

The chains must be suitable for fitment to the wheel diameter and the size of the tyres on your car. Go to your local tyre retailer for advice.

Before you leave home practice fitting the chains so you're familiar with how to do it before you get to the snowfield and have to fit them on the side of the road in the cold and snow.

When do I fit chains?

When directed to by an authorised officer or when you see roadside signs instructing you to do so.

There are special roadside bays at the entry points of the snowfields where you can pull over and fit chains safely.

Prepare for emergencies

Driving in snow and on icy roads is challenging and drivers should always be prepared in the case of a breakdown, or worse, an unplanned off-road excursion.

It's wise to have an emergency first-aid kit, torch, towrope and a spade in the car to help get you out of trouble.

To cope with the cold in the event you have to get out of your car it's wise to have warm clothing, like a jacket, hat and gloves, with you.

All-wheel drive or two-wheel drive?

Driving in alpine conditions demands extra care. Lower your speed, allow more distance to brake, don't accelerate too hard and spin the wheels, and ease your way around bends with minimal throttle.

All-wheel drive is a safer bet than two-wheel drive in slippery conditions, particularly for inexperienced drivers, but it still requires caution on the part of the driver.

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