A winter landscape can look like a gorgeous wonderland, but if you hire a car in the winter season, you shouldn't forget that it can also be dangerous. Adverse conditions have many causes, including hail, snow, ice and high winds, but you can still have a safe and enjoyable journey in your hire car if you prepare in advance.
Driving your hire car in built-up areas and cities is relatively easy, as roads will usually have been ploughed, gritted and cleared as much as possible. However, if you are driving through rural areas, such as many of the picturesque country lanes or small villages in France, this may not be the case, so you'll need to take extra care. A 4x4 is certainly advised.
Hiring a car also gives you the freedom to explore other winter destinations including wonderful ski resorts such as those near Torino in Italy, although extra care will be needed when navigating these routes. Torino enjoys excellent snow fall, as does the Ax Valley in the French Pyrenees and the numerous beautiful towns in the Alps such as Chamonix, Tignes and Val d'Isere.
Big Bear Mountain in America is another popular place to visit in your hire car if you want to take part in winter sports and if you want to experience something different, why not head to Norway or the Sierra Nevada in Spain. For 'summer' snow, you will need to head to the southern hemisphere to the main resorts in South Africa, Australia and New Zealand.
Winter driving conditions can be tough on both the driver and the vehicle. Here are some tips for driving your hire car safely in winter conditions:
- Know where you're going before you set out in your hire car, as everything can look very different under a layer of thick snow, and signs may be obscured.
- Listen to weather forecasts and check for road closures.
- If a storm is predicted, don't drive your hire car. Wait until it has passed - it's better to be delayed than to risk an accident.
- Winter sun can be low and cause glare, especially in snowy conditions, so have tinted driving glasses to hand in your hire car.
- Always wear your seat belt and ensure that your passengers do the same.
- Before you start out check your hire car's tyre pressures, and ensure that windows and mirrors are clean and free of snow and ice.
- Make sure that both you and your hire car are equipped for bad weather. Dress warmly and use anti-freeze and de-icer on your hire car. These should be carried with you, along with a scraper to clear your windows, as perfect visibility is important. The windshield wash should be mixed with a winter solution.
- If you break down, stay with your hire car and keep warm and dry. Switch on your hazard lights.
- Take note of where you are, so that if your hire car breaks down you can give details of your location.
- Never drive too close to other cars; safe stopping distances are greatly increased in winter conditions.
- Drive slowly and avoid overtaking unless it is absolutely necessary.
- Try not to brake sharply. If you do go into a skid, drive into it, and never brake on ice.
- Watch out for black ice - remember it may not always be visible. Drive your hire car with extreme caution.
- Use your hire car's controls with care.
- As beautiful as snow can be, don't get distracted by the scenery when driving your hire car. Pay attention to the road, other road users and pedestrians.
- Children love to play in snow, so watch out for them.
- Make your moves early and make other drivers aware of your intentions.
- Do not attempt to drive your hire car in the dark in bad conditions.
- Watch out for hail storms. Hail can freeze on the roads.
- High winds can cause severe problems, such as objects blowing out into the road and falling trees. Drive your hire car at a safe distance from large vehicles, such as lorries, which may be unstable. Keep your steering under control.
- If conditions become too bad to continue, stop your hire car in a safe place out of the way of other motorists, and use your hazard lights.
- If visibility becomes an issue, use your headlights and greatly reduce your speed. If conditions worsen, pull off the road until the weather improves.
- If you are on a long journey, take regular breaks, as driving your hire car in winter conditions can be tiring. Remember that your eyes can tire quickly when the landscape is all white.
- If your hire car's wheels get stuck in snow, shift into a high gear and gently go back and forth until you are free.