These winter months can prove exceptionally challenging for BMW drivers. We highlight crucial pointers for driving in winter conditions, examine the facts behind winter tyres, and offer essential tips for winter vehicle preparation and car care…
What You Need To Know About Winter Tires
Winter tyres are much maligned or often just plain misunderstood. As their name suggests they are designed for use during the winter months and vary considerably compared with their summer counterparts.
It is a common misconception that they’re useful only in snow. Below 7°C it becomes too cold for your summer tyres to function properly as the rubber becomes hard and, as a result, tyres are not able to generate the same levels of grip they normally would in warmer conditions. Combine the lower temperatures with often wet or damp roads and your summer tyres can have a hard time coping, winter tyres on the other hand will be in their element. Winter tyre compounds are designed to remain softer even in very cold conditions, providing more grip, their tread patterns are designed to deal not just with snow and ice but also with damp and slippery surfaces. The British Tyre Manufacturers’ Association found that a car braking at 60mph on a wet road at 5°C stopped five meters earlier when fitted with winter tyres; that’s roughly a car length and could be the difference between having an accident and avoiding one. Driving a four-wheel drive vehicle doesn’t mean that you don’t need winter tyres.
Having four driven wheels does help to a degree, but if none of your tyres can gain purchase on the surface you’re sitting on then you’re going to struggle regardless. A two-wheel drive car on winters will feel more stable and secure and will be a lot easier to drive in bad winter conditions than any four-wheel drive vehicle on summer rubber. And you can’t just get away with winters on the front or back – you’ll be creating massive imbalance because one end of your car will have plenty of grip while the other end won’t, you’ll either end up with terminal understeer or snap oversteer, both undesirable.
All-season tyres are an alternative. These have been around for a long time but have only really become popular in the UK in recent years when the larger European tyre manufacturers began producing them. However, all-season tyres are a compromise.
The problem is that in the warmer summer months all-season tyres don’t perform as well as dedicated summer tyres, while in winter they don’t perform as well as dedicated winters, leaving you with a middle-of-the road tyre that doesn’t perform especially well in either season. The latest all-season tyres from the likes of Dunlop, Continental and Michelin however are different, using a clever combination of compounds and tread patterns to enable the tyre to perform well in warmer conditions while still being able to tackle snow and ice. We have tried them and they are good, likely the best option for those who don’t want to go swapping wheels around twice a year, but still not as good as dedicated summers or winters in the absolute worst conditions. Over the page follows a number of key reasons as to why winter tyres perform as well as they do…
Compound of Winter Tyres
A winter tyre’s compound will be softer, enabling it to remain pliable even at lower temperatures, thus enabling it to deliver grip in conditions where summer rubber remains hard and cold. Winter tyres use compounds containing more natural rubber and advanced Silica, like Falken’s Eurowinter HS01, helping them to remain supple to provide extra grip in freezing conditions
Markings of Winter Tyres
Mud+Snow markings alone do not mean that a tyre is rated as a full “winter”.
The M+S rating indicates that tyres will perform better in snowy conditions than summer tyres, you will often fi nd the M+S rating on SUV/4×4 and all-season tyres, but they are not as good as dedicated winter tyres and will not perform as well. The Alpine markings – the three peak mountain snowfl ake (3PMSF) symbol – signifies that tyres have met or exceeded defi ned limits in winter testing and are recognised as winter tyres according to European, American and Canadian regulations.
“A winter tyre’s pattern is very specialized, enabling it to deal with the worst winter roads”
Tread Pattern of Winter Tyres
While special compounds ensure that winter tyres deliver grip in the worst conditions, the tread pattern is essential when it comes to making sure they can cope with those conditions in the first place. A winter tyre’s pattern is very specialised, enabling it to deal with snow, ice and the worst winter roads. The most noticeable aspect of a winter tyre’s tread pattern is the countless jagged little cuts that you’ll see all over the tyre and these are known as sipes. When you’ve got slippery conditions, you want maximum grip and sipes massively increase the number of edges that a tyre has with which to grip onto the road surface. Think of them as mouths that open up a fraction as the tyre rotates, physically grabbing onto the snow, biting into it, or latching onto ice. It’s almost as if every single sipe was an additional tread block edge and they are one of the key components to the winter tyre’s success. With so many sipes, you will naturally get more fl ex in the tread blocks as rather than being solid pieces of rubber they have been opened up by the sipes therefore, something has to be done in order to compensate for this lack of stiff ness in order to ensure that the tyre feels stable out on the road during cornering and braking.
Often looking at a winter tyre’s pattern it is clear that the sipes are jagged, increasing the number of gripping edges on each one, these edges continue down below the surface tread – the interlocking pattern is what helps all the blocks to remain rigid when needed. Winter tyres will also be designed to be exceptionally good at clearing water and slush away through the tread pattern design in order to help provide maximum surface contact at all times. Each tyre manufacturer will obviously have its own take on these elements and further technologies but these are the main components that make winter tyres special compared with summer tyres.
The Most Essential Driving Safety In Winter
There are some simple things that should be second nature when driving in winter, such as allowing extra time for journeys, ensuring your car is sufficiently de-iced and windows are clear from fogging, checking fuel levels (keeping enough in case of unexpected holdups is best practice), and planning your route to ensure you are travelling on major routes that are more likely to have been cleared and treated by gritters.
The best rule of thumb is to slow down and to maintain a safe gap to the car ahead. Wet or icy conditions will reduce your visibility, meaning that hazards will be more difficult to spot, your ability to react will be impaired if you approach an unexpected hazard carrying too much pace. Match your speed according to the conditions. Corners should be taken with special caution, as BMW drivers many of you will be driving rear-wheel drive vehicles, these can be prone to launching into oversteer in slippery conditions, just as front-wheel drive vehicles favour understeer. In wet conditions the gap to the car ahead should be at least four-seconds, judge this by picking a fixed roadside object (such as a lamp post, tree or overpass) and counting to four. In ice and snow leave an even greater gap – stopping distances can be 10 times greater.
Avoid harsh braking and acceleration, brake gently to avoid locking wheels and steer gently and steadily to avoid skidding. In snow and ice use the highest gear possible, avoiding wheel spin, use the gears to slow the car – get into a low gear earlier than normal. Be on the look out for the steering becoming unresponsive, if the vehicle skids never brake, ease off the accelerator and steer slightly in the direction of the slide until you regain control. If you get stuck in snow don’t allow the wheels to spin as the car will dig itself in far deeper. Try putting the vehicle into a high gear and slowly creep forwards or backwards, failing this put something underneath the wheels to aid traction – car floor mats at a push.
In rain and floods many of the same principles we’ve already covered remain true – keep your distance to the vehicle ahead, watch for exceptionally light steering which may indicate aquaplaning, again in these circumstances do not brake, ease off the power gently and keep the steering wheel in the straight-ahead position until the tyres regain traction. Test you brakes after driving through water but never drive through floodwater deeper than one foot.
Paint Protection & Care Your Cars
Winter is tough on car paint and bodywork; you have wet, loosened road grime to contend with, as well as a build-up of salt. The first thing to do is make sure your car is ultra clean. Wash your car as you would do normally, jet washing off any loose particles, then give it a thorough wash using a good shampoo, wash mitt and two buckets.
Make sure to dry off thoroughly, before applying a number of layers of a quality synthetic paint sealant. We advise a paint sealant, something like Meguiar’s Ceramic Wax is an excellent option for providing longevity through winter. Following sealing your car, it’s important to wash off everyday grime as often as possible, but do not wash as you would normally.
The sealant is doing its job, it’s protecting against grime penetrating the paint’s surface, all you realistically need to do is jet wash and / or snow foam the car as often as possible to lift road particles and impurities from the paintwork naturally.
Snow foams are more popular through the winter; they can get the majority of the dirt off without touching it and also loosen the contaminants so you don’t have to use any force to clean your car, creating swirl marks. Once the car is once again clean, you can add additional layers of sealant – the more the better
Check Your Car Battery
Your car’s battery takes a beating during the colder months as it has to work hard, ensure it’s in good nick. If your battery has a charge condition indicator window, check it to see what state it is in. If you’re using your car regularly, your battery is more likely to be in better shape but not if you’re doing lots of short journeys, especially running lots of accessories, and if you don’t use your car that often, then your battery will be in for an even tougher time. If your BMW has a cigarette lighter or power socket that’s always live (usually on older models), a solar charger is a good way of helping to keep your battery topped up, even in winter with less sun. It won’t save a dead battery and it won’t provide much of a charge but it will be enough to help it stay alive a little longer. If your car is garaged then hooking it up to a charger like a CTEK is a very good idea but even if it isn’t then and you’re not using it much, plugging it in to a charger periodically to check the state of the battery and give it a top up certainly won’t do any harm.
Protecting Your Car Glass In Winter
Make sure you have plenty of screen wash because you’re going to be using a lot more of it over the grimy winter months, ensure it has been mixed properly for lower temperatures and whatever you do, don’t use plain water – it’ll just freeze solid. Once temperature start dropping it’s better to mix your screen wash for colder weather than you’re initially expecting.
Unless you’re doing loads of miles it’s unlikely you’ll work your way through your whole screen wash reservoir in a short space of time and trying to be frugal when diluting could leave you with a tank full of screen wash that’s not up to the task when the weather gets properly cold. If your screen wash has been diluted too much it will refreeze on your screen in the morning after giving it a spray. Keep interior glass clean to avoid fogging, there are some amazing glass cleaning products on the market these days, Gtechniq’s G4 Glass Nano Polish for instance uses nano-sized abrasives and a citric acid cleaning agent to remove contaminants quickly and effectively.
Protecting Rubber Car
When the temperature drops, rubber becomes stiff and brittle so it’s a good idea to lubricate your doors, windows and sunroof with a silicone lubricant designed for rubber seals in order to prevent damage. It’ll keep rubber supple, will help prevent it from freezing and sticking and will generally keep everything working nice and smoothly. It’s especially worthwhile if you’ve got a coupé or anything with pillar-less doors as there’s going to be a lot more rubber to deal with and it will help to stop your windows from sticking and not being able to drop down when you open a door. Spraying it onto the car is messy so instead spray it onto a rag or kitchen towel and give all the seals a good rub.
“Lubricate your doors, windows and sunroof with a silicone lubricant for rubber seals”
With the amount of salt and grime out on the roads over winter your wheels are going to take a battering and will be looking pretty mucky in no time so, even if you’ve thrown a set of winter wheels on, it’s worth giving them a coat of something to stop dirt and salt from sticking. You could go down the wheel wax route and there are plenty of good ones out there, but there are also some very effective and quicker alternatives, which are perfect for when it’s freezing outside and you won’t want to be spending time applying and buffing off wax. Sprays like Armor All’s Seal for Wheels or Autoglym’s Wheel Protector are spray-and-go solutions that require almost zero effort (beyond waving an aerosol can around for a bit) but do a good job of keeping dirt at bay and will make it easier to clean your wheels next time around.
Protect Your Car By Covering
A car cover is an excellent option to keep the winter weather away from your BMW, ultimately it’s the best option if you don’t have a garage. There are loads of brands and self-proclaimed specialists out there but it’s best to invest through a trusted source in order to get a cover that fits your car well and does a proper job. You need a breathable cover, the best have soft linings so that they do not scratch your paintwork.
Hamilton Classic is a recognized expert, it has a range of breathable fleecelined outdoor car covers priced from well under £200.00. A mass of sizes and materials are available, some are tailored specifically for your BMW – they can even come with logos (see right). It also offers Convertible Top Covers for BMWs, these just cover the soft top section.
How To Remove Ice And Snow
Sounds obvious but we can’t be the only ones who’ve had to scrape a windscreen using a loyalty card because we had our scraper at home and not in the car where it should be. So get a scraper and stick it in your boot; you can even get ones with a built-in glove attachment so your fingers don’t get chilly. Same goes for de-icer; yes, have it at home so you can de-ice your windows in the morning but also have a bottle in the car so it’s easier to de-ice in the evening after work or wherever you may be. If you are going to pour warm water on your windscreen, make sure it’s lukewarm not boiling, a kettle full of hot water can crack your glass. Finally, you can always place an old sheet or towel over your screen the night before to help stop ice from forming on the glass, but you’ll still have ice on your other windows.
Keep On Air-Conditioning
If you have it, keep it on. Far too many people stick their air-conditioning during summer and don’t bother running it the rest of the year, it’s a great way to damage the entire system as the gas that runs through the pipes has a built-in lubricant that keeps all the rubber seals supple and prevents leaks. The other thing that air-con does is dry the in-cabin air out and that means no windows fogging up while you’re driving along; it might sound obvious but you’d be surprised how many people think air-conditioning just means cold air in summer.
Check your levels with an antifreeze tester, there are plenty available on the market. It will quickly and easily tell you the ratio of anti-freeze in your car’s system, which will be enough to let you know whether or not it needs topping up. Sometimes throughout the year you might need to top up your coolant level and you might not have some proper coolant to hand, so you might top it up with a little bit of water, which is fi ne, but you definitely don’t want to add too much nor too often, it’s a last resort if you know you’re low. The rest of the time, always top up with actual coolant and it’s definitely worth having a bottle in the garage or wherever just in case.
Watch this video for How To Protect And Maintenance Your Cars In Winter