How to prepare your van for winter driving

Steve Mark, Brand Director at Vanarama gives installers tips on how to prepare your van for winter driving.

After a relatively warm November and December, you’re probably not worrying too much about whether your van is suitable for winter driving. But the weather can turn quickly in the UK, and colder, more adverse winter weather conditions are just around the corner.

Driving bad weather webAt Vanarama, the best advice we can give to van drivers at this time of year would be to avoid going out in bad weather conditions. But as a tradesman, your livelihood often relies on you getting to your customers when they need you most, and so driving in snow, ice and other winter weather is a necessity.
With preparation and planning however, you can make things easier for yourself and your van.
How to prepare your van for winter driving:
Before you head out on any job or call out, you should make sure that your van is safe for driving in winter conditions and prepared to handle snow, ice and sleet.
To ensure your van is in the best condition, make sure you check the following before starting your journey:
Check your van battery is in good condition, including the electrolyte level. This is affected by low temperatures, and a battery is expensive to replace. Many local garages offer free checks for this, which is worth taking advantage of.

  • Make sure you have adequate pressure in your tyres. Cold weather will cause tyres to lose pressure faster than usual, so make sure they’re topped up.
  • Check your tyre treads as well. Ideally, they should be at least 3mm deep to give you maximum grip. If you live in an area prone to adverse conditions, consider switching to winter tyres.
  • Ensure you have the appropriate level of engine coolant. Check you have sufficient antifreeze to prevent damage.
  • Stock up on windscreen washer. You’re likely to use more in winter conditions, and should increase the concentration to prevent the water from freezing.
  • You might also want to check your windscreen wipers too. With more dirt, grit and salt on the road, they need to be efficient at keeping your windscreen clean and clear.

Where possible, keep your van under cover to minimise the effect of frost, ice and snow. If your van is kept in the open, a little bit of WD40 on the locks, and a thin coat of silicone based furniture polish on the rubber door seals, can prevent both the lock and the door from freezing.
If you find the lock is frozen you can buy lock de-icer, or alternatively, warm up your key before gently working it in. Don’t use too much force, or you run the risk of it breaking off in the lock.
Essentials you should carry in your van
If you’re travelling around a lot during adverse weather conditions, you’ll want to make sure that you and your van are prepared for every eventuality.
You may already have a lot of these essential items stored in your van somewhere, but it’s always best to check. If you get stuck they’ll definitely come in useful.

  • An ice scraper
  • De-icer
  • A shovel – in case you need to dig your way out
  • Jump leads
  • A tow rope
  • A piece of old carpet or some rags – to place under your van wheels and prevent them from skidding
  • A torch – and batteries which work
  • A blanket – just in case you need to bed down in the van for the night whilst you wait for help
  • Boots or wellies – along with other cold weather gear in case you need to walk for help
  • A mobile phone and a charger
  • A first aid kit

We’d also recommend a warm drink and some food too – just in case you’re stuck for a few hours.
Driving in snow and ice
When you are heading out to a job make sure you give yourself extra time to get there, and stick to the main routes wherever possible. These are more likely to have been gritted and will make driving in your van much easier.
Slow and gentle manoeuvres are the key to driving in the snow or ice. Any sudden movements will result in the wheels skidding and the van veering out of control.
Try and set off in second gear to prevent wheels from spinning, and keep to a high gear to prevent over revving.
When tackling a hill choose the gear you’ll need to get right to the top. Wait until the road is clear and then attempt it. This way you’ll hopefully be able to keep a steady speed and negate the need to stop in the middle of the hill.
Stopping distances are much greater in snow and ice, so make sure you keep your distance and reduce your speed over a longer period.
Use a low gear when travelling downhill and try and touch the brakes as little as possible to prevent skidding. Apply gently pressure when you do need to hit the brakes.
If you start to skid always steer into it. Stop braking and push the clutch down to give full power to the tyres for improved grip.
If you get stuck
Try and place the old carpet in your van directly underneath your wheels, and then try and slowly accelerate away from the snow. Once you are free try not to stop again.
If the worst does happen when you’re out on a job, and your van gets stuck in the snow, consider your surroundings. It may be safer to stay in your van, rather than seek out help. If you’ve followed the checklist above, you should have everything you need to await rescue.
Make sure you secure your van and anything valuable in it if you do seek help.
Having breakdown cover is also especially useful in winter, as is knowing a good friend who has a truck which can help pull you out.
[author image=”” ]Steve Mark is Brand Director at Vanarama. Vanarama is a leading van leasing broker, helping equip all types of tradesmen with the perfect van for their business needs. [/author]