Tips for successful winter driving in your BMW

As darkness creeps in and winter descends, many of you will be packing your BMWs away until next April.

 However, there are plenty of reasons to keep driving your BMW through winter, and with the proper preparations and precautions, there’s no reason why you shouldn’t. Maybe it’s an only car and you still need to get about, or maybe you just want a little harmless fun as the grip levels decrease.

 It’s not all about preparing for bad weather, either. Winter can sometimes bless us with those beautiful, crisp, sunny days, which often provide the opportunity for some truly memorable driving. Careful preparation will make the most of your winter adventures.  

 Before driving:

–     Make sure that the boot is stocked with winter safety essentials – an ice scraper, a first-aid kit, and the usual    blanket/hat/gloves/torch/emergency food pack.

–       Rear-wheel drive BMWs are more liable to becoming stuck in an unexpected snow storm, so carry a telescopic shovel, some kitty litter or salt in a bag to melt the snow, and a tow rope. It shouldn’t be too hard to find somebody to tow you out if you become stuck, but they might not have a tow rope themselves.

–       Have the battery tested and replace it if there is even a hint of doubt as to its condition – the cold will exacerbate any existing issues, plus the added drain of the heater, fans and lights will place extra strain on the alternator.

–       Carry a set of jumper cables, just in case

–       Winter tyres will make a considerable difference to traction and grip when the temperature drops. Many summer tyres, particularly high-performance tyres, are simply not designed to operate at low temperatures. When the ambient drops much below 2 or 3 degrees, they simply won’t grip in an emergency. Consider buying a second set of wheels and fitting them with winter tyres – many dealers and tyre shops will even store your other set for a reasonable charge if you have no space.

–       Religiously check all tyre pressures, and get a full wheel alignment. You don’t want the odds stacked against you before you even hit the road.

–       Thoroughly wash and clean your BMW before you drive on gritted roads, and carefully apply a layer of good quality wax to the paintwork to help protect it. You may need to re-apply it during winter, but the effort will be worth it.

–       If possible, consider having the underside of the car sealed (or re-sealed) before driving on gritted roads.

–       On convertibles and BMWs with frameless door windows, apply Vaseline to the seals where the door glass meets the roof – this will help to repel water and will keep the seals supple in the cold.

 Behind the wheel:

The cold, sunny days will be rewarding, and when the weather turns they will be met by the joys of piloting a BMW in low-grip situations. You just need to approach it with care and respect.

–       Take your time. It’s easier said than done, but allow plenty of time to reach your destination. If it’s particularly foul then reconsider your need to drive. If you do drive, do not become rushed or pressured under any circumstance.

–       Regularly clear any built-up snow from the soft-top roof of a parked convertible. The metal frame wasn’t designed to hold that weight.

 –       Give your BMW plenty of time to warm up before you drive. Oils don’t properly protect until they reach their optimum temperature. True, modern oils have a much wider operating range than older oils did, and this advice is more pertinent to older cars than newer ones, but you never want to put load on stone-cold components if it can be avoided. This will also allow time to remove any ice with your scraper, and to ensure that the windows are properly demisted. You don’t need to wait until the engine is fully warm, however. A good rule of thumb is to slowly drive away when the temperature gauge has moved the thickness of its needle above the ‘C’.

 –       Be particularly careful raising or lowering a vinyl soft-top roof if it is particularly cold, as the vinyl will shrink around the frame. The vinyl will rip if it’s too cold – only lower once the heater has warmed up the cabin of the car, and raise the hood as soon as you finish driving for the day.

 –       Keep the fuel tank full – this will put more weight over the rear wheels which will help with traction, and it will avoid condensation building up overnight and freezing over the fuel pickups.

 –       When driving on slippery surfaces (or anytime, really), absolute smoothness of all inputs is key. Drive as if there is a glass of water perched in between your legs, and you wish to avoid spilling it.

 –       Never become distracted; you could find an unexpected patch of ice or an accident around the next corner. Just because you are prepared and are driving carefully doesn’t mean that everyone else is.

 –       And finally, during winter, regularly wash your BMW, including the underside to remove any built-up grit. Consider investing in a high-pressure cleaner, and spray the underside after every major drive.