Disclaimer This article is intended as a general guide only. You should consult a qualified mechanic for specific advice.
If you plan to drive to the snow this season, it’s essential to prepare your car before you leave for driving in sub zero temperatures and potentially hazardous conditions. Here are our tips to get you safely up the mountain and on the slopes.
Minor maintenance problems below the snowline can often turn into major concerns once you're up the mountain, so make sure your vehicle is in good condition.
“Your wipers, demister and heating system must be in top working order,” says Australian Ski Areas Association CEO, Colin Hackworth, who has spent decades chasing winters on snowy roads both sides of the equator.
“Check and clean all your lights and reflectors – they'll be important for visibility in bad weather.”
In freezing conditions you'll be relying more than ever on your vehicle for safe handling so check your battery, electrical and steering systems. If they're old or faulty, make it a priority to fix or replace them.
It’s key to also ensure your brakes are evenly adjusted. Otherwise, when applying them your vehicle may pull in one direction, causing the car to skid or spin out. Similarly, tyre pressure should be balanced for the weight that you are carrying – consult your car’s manual for correct tyre pressure for load and temperature.
QBE National Product Manager for Private Motor Insurance, Rachel Spooner, suggests that the correct car insurance will give you peace of mind to drive anywhere in Australia in any weather conditions.
But ensuring your car is functioning correctly is also vital, says Rachel. For example, it’s important to check that your car’s air conditioning is functioning smoothly.
“You might need it to defog your windscreen once you’re on the road,” she explained.
Adding anti-freeze to your engine radiator will reduce the chances of it – and your engine block – cracking and leaving you out in the cold.
Many later model cars may already use a coolant that's appropriate for cold conditions, but don't take the chance – check with your mechanic to see if you need to change coolants.
To ensure your windscreen doesn't freeze-over and leave you blind on a bend, add a small amount of anti-freeze to your windscreen washing fluid.
The correct fuel
If you're driving a diesel vehicle you'll need to fill at least three-quarters of your tank with alpine diesel, advises Colin.
“You'll be able to get your alpine diesel at all sub-alpine towns so plan to arrive there with plenty of room in your tank,” he says.
Alpine diesel is a special blend of fuel with a lower freezing point than regular diesel. “If you don't fill up with alpine diesel your vehicle won't start in sub-zero temperatures and you'll risk severe engine damage.”
“Think 4WDs are safe in the snow? Think again,” says Colin.
“A Hyundai i20 or Toyota Corolla is every bit as able to get up to the snow as a Range Rover because, unless you've got winter tyres, you get your traction by way of snow chains.”
QBE’s National Product Manager Private Motor Insurance, Rachel Spooner, says you should find out about the requirements for snow chains in your planned area of travel.
“It may not be necessary to have them fitted, but many areas require you to carry them so you might find yourself up for a fine if they’re not attached to your wheels when required. And of course, make sure you know how to fit them to your car,” she says.
Ensure the chains are correctly sized to your vehicle tyres, read the vehicle manual on fitting chains and do a practice run.
If you’re unfortunate enough to get stuck on the way to your destination, be prepared with food, water, blankets, a strong torch and a shovel for digging your vehicle out if need-be.
“You may want to check you’re covered for emergency temporary repairs, emergency accommodation, transport and towing costs in case your car cannot be driven,” Rachel added.
QBE’s comprehensive car insurance covers your car anywhere in Australia under any weather conditions.
Here’s a checklist to help you prepare for driving in the snow:
Complete any outstanding maintenance work.
Check if your coolant is suitable for cold weather and change it if necessary.
Practice fitting snow chains.
If you're driving a diesel vehicle, arrive at the base of the alpine region with enough room to fill your tank with at least three parts alpine diesel.
Keep protective gear easily accessible in case you have to fit your snow chains.
Bring blankets, a shovel and a good torch for emergencies.