Perils of winter driving

Driving in winter in India maybe fun, but as the clouds gather, or when the sun dips below the horizon or early in the day, an intense fog creates death traps even on the best highways that have now come to be.

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By Chanakya

Driving in winter in India maybe fun, but as the clouds gather, or when the sun dips below the horizon or early in the day, an intense fog creates death traps even on the best highways that have now come to be. The intense cold apart, this is something every driver, long distance or even within the city, has to be careful about.

With winter approaching and the pollution rising, we thought this would be a good time to give you some warnings and suggestions on how you should drive and what precautions you should take. Carefully read through before venturing into a long drive in the winter months ahead.

The smog care
Driving through smog needs extra care. While the smog is worse around metro cities, such as New Delhi, the fog takes over as you launch into the expressways. Even in the cities, driving can be dangerous, with you not being able to see the lights of the car in front of you, or the potholes, and not even the pedestrians on the road.

Fog is considered to be among the most dangerous weather conditions in which you can drive. It reduces the visibility and brings trouble to both new and experienced drivers alike. The best approach would be to stay off the roads when there is fog. Of course, work will take you through it, and this you cannot help.

The density of fog is often quite unpredictable. In a dense fog, the driver cannot see beyond his own vehicle’s limits. In such conditions driving can prove to be quite challenging unless proper precautions are taken.

Drastic changes
During the winter months in India, the weather becomes pleasant in certain parts, while in others, it affects daily life in several ways. If you have started on a decent stretch and are speeding merrily, you will not even know when a thick blanket of fog (or even smog) envelops you, giving you little warning of slowing down.

The drastic change in the climate calls for a few extra steps to keep your vehicle protected.

In case you have to drive through fog, remember that such severe weather conditions require the driver to stay completely focused. Hence, distractions such as talking over the phone or listening to music should be avoided at all costs.

Here are some basic tips.
How to safely drive in fog
Busting a myth: A common myth prevails among road users that high beams will light up the road better since there will be more light. The truth is: keep the headlamps of your car on low beams for better visibility. Blasting big lights on the fog ahead means more light will reflect off it like it’s an empty white canvas, making it more difficult for your eyes to adjust. If your car has fog lamps, good. If not, aftermarket fog lamps are easily available. But if you haven’t had the chance to install them, keep the headlights on low beam to light up the lower part ahead of your car.

Use Fog Lights (if equipped): Fog lights, as the name suggests, are specifically developed for driving through thick fog or other conditions in which visibility is heavily reduced. These lights extend the driver’s visibility as far as possible.

Safe distance: Maintain a safe distance from the vehicle ahead. It is common to see vehicles tailing each other during foggy conditions so the one ahead can act as a heads up, but a smaller distance from it gives you a shorter window to react if it hits emergency brakes. Go slow or at a reasonable pace even if you think the highway does not have much traffic.

Quick reflexes: You need to keep your reflexes sharp. No one expects you to train as a ninja, but turn off the music, be alert and honk at intersections or turns (that is no excuse to sit on the horn either). Avoid unnecessary lane changes.

Busting another myth: Hazard lights need not be switched on while driving, use them only if you have to stop for some reason. However, try to avoid stopping on highways if you don’t really have to. The purpose of hazards comes in only if you have to stop for an emergency or warn other drivers of an accident up ahead.

Condensation: The fog outside is cold and hence causes condensation to build upon the windscreen and windows. If your car does not have a defogger, roll down the windows slightly and use the car’s heater on the windshield to clear the moisture. Agreed, rolling down the windows a bit can make it a little chilly for the occupants but you must do it for the greater good.

Do not drift: When driving through fog there is a tendency to move towards the middle of the road. Keep a check on this and ensure that you are in your lane throughout.

Switch on the heater: If there is fog on the outside and your windows are closed there could be condensation inside. It is best to turn on the heater to avoid this.

Monitor your speed: It is best to go slower than usual when driving in extreme weather conditions. When you slow down you will have more time to react to situations like roadblocks and other such hazards. If the visibility is very poor, it is crucial that you park your car at a safe place until it gets better.

Use low-beam headlights: Since fog consists of water droplets that reflect light and even spread it, you should refrain from using high-beam when driving through fog. For other drivers to see you, low-beam headlights are the best option. Your tail-lights and blinkers should ideally be on for other drivers to spot you.

Use the indicator: It is important to indicate your intentions to the drivers at the back. So, if you are making a turn you should turn on the indicator for a minimum of 10 seconds, so that the cars behind you can slow down.

Winter car care tips
The most basic of necessities is to have your car maintained well. Get it serviced regularly and don’t skimp on replacing parts that show above average levels of wear and tear. This will help reduce chances of a vehicle breakdown.

Give it a thorough cleaning
Use lukewarm water to clean all the windows, wing mirrors, all light units (headlights, tail-lights, fog lamps, and others) to ensure good visibility. Do not use hot water, as the difference in temperature may cause glass to crack. In areas where snowfall is common, remove any snow that may have accumulated on the roof, so that it doesn’t slide onto the windscreen and obstruct the view while driving.

Give the electricals a check
All the lights both outside and inside the car – should be kept working normally. To keep the cabin at an acceptable temperature, the climate control system should function well. The wiper blades should be changed if necessary and its motor serviced to keep the windscreen free of snow or debris. An addendum to keeping your wipers working is to have a full tank of the correct mixture of water and washer fluid.

Inspecting the engine
Cold weather can affect battery performance and create problems while starting the engine. Replace the battery if it is old and get all the cables and leads checked. The engine oil and coolant should also be checked and changed if required, as lower temperatures could gum up fluids.

Brakes require a once-over
Stopping distances can be adversely affected in wet or snowy conditions, so have the brakes cleaned and serviced. Check and replace the brake pads if required and clean and grease the brake callipers if needed.

Monitor the tyres
Besides making sure that your tyres are in good condition (with adequate tread and no cuts or bubbles), make sure they are inflated correctly. An overinflated tyre increases the chances of skidding when driving in slippery conditions, while an underinflated one won’t provide adequate grip. Consider an upgrade to winter tyres or snow tyres, or even the use of snow chains (this is required for mountain roads, specifically, in India); practise fitting these on the tyres so that you don’t get flustered trying to do it when you really need to use them.

Anti-fog sprayers for cars
Some companies have anti-fog spray for cars. Generally such anti-fog sprays are available in small packs and are easy to apply. There are also products which can be sprayed on the windshield or can be applied to a clean napkin/towel or spread. This anti-fog spray for cars is safe to use, is non-toxic in nature, and is biodegradable.

Emergency essentials for winter driving
Sometimes, there is no escaping a mishap. Mother Nature may just be in a bad mood or your car may suddenly break down due to an unforeseen issue. Therefore, it is recommended that some essentials be kept in the vehicle, in case the worst happens.

Keep warm but get some fresh air too
A full fuel tank will help in case of a breakdown. You could run the climate control system to stay warm inside the car while waiting for assistance to arrive. However, remember to not do so in a basement or garage/shed, or even out in the open, all the time. Keeping an engine idling can cause the HVAC system to introduce harmful and poisonous gases like carbon monoxide into the cabin. Since it is a colourless and odourless gas, you won’t realise you are being poisoned. Keep some blankets or warm clothes just in case the climate control system fails or if you cannot use it.

Food and water
Some snacks and lots of extra water can help while waiting for help to arrive. A bit of food will ensure cooler heads prevail and the water will keep you from dehydration.

Battery packs and chargers
You’ll be in quite a pickle if your vehicle breaks down and your mobile phone battery runs out of juice. Keep a spare battery, have a fully charged battery pack and have a spare charger ready in the car.

Top brand cars with stock LED fog lamps in India:
Honda Jazz
A glorious premium hatchback from the house of Honda, Jazz has been in the game for over a decade now. Evolving with time, Jazz has always offered top-class features. Topping the list now, is stock LED Fog Lamps that are offered from the top-end ZX variants that retail for Rs 8.88 lakhs, making the Jazz one of the very few hatches in India to offer stock LED fog lamps.

Honda City
A sedan that has carved its own niche in the segment, the Honda City has seen it all. With 5 generations in existence, the Honda City is a name that has always been one of India’s best sedans. With a plethora of features on-board, the Honda City in its top of the line avatar (ZX) also offers stock LED fog lamps. The ZX trim of the City can be brought home for a price of Rs 13.44 lakhs.

Maruti Suzuki Ciaz
A vehicle that is synonymous with comfort, convenience and superb efficiency, the Ciaz also comes with ample safety features on-board. Being a value for money package, the Ciaz is indeed the choice of many. Evolving over the Ciaz the Ciaz now offers stock LED Fog Lamps from the Zeta trim onwards that is sold for a price starting from Rs 9.85 lakhs onwards.

Kia Seltos
A newbie that took the compact SUV segment by a storm, the Kia Seltos tops the list in almost every aspect. From driving dynamics to comfort features, the Seltos is quite an offering. Among several features on-board, the Seltos also offers stock LED fog lamps from the HTK trim onwards that can be brought home for a price of Rs 10.74 lakhs onwards.

Nissan Magnite
Launched merely months back, the Nissan Magnite is a compact SUV that has impressed the masses with its aggressive price tag, great build quality and a value for money offering. At a time when manufacturers ignore features like LED fog lamps, the Magnite brings it onboard its XV Premium trims that retails for a price starting at Rs 7.68 lakhs.