Winter driving conditions present many challenges for a car. Extremes in temperatures, an increase in pot holes, along with salt or grit used on roads in many countries, all put additional pressures on suspension components.
The primary function of shock absorbers is to keep the vehicles tyres pushed firmly in contact with the road in order to be able to steer and brake safely. They work as a team alongside the tyres and the brakes and if any one of these team members is worn, it can have serious safety consequences. Rain, ice and snow already have an adverse effect on stopping distances, without the added danger of worn components, so it’s especially important for everything to be in full working order during the winter months.
KYB recommends some basic tips to help with winter driving:
Clear all snow and ice from your vehicle:
Ensure that all ice or snow is cleared from the windows and from the headlights. It’s also important to clear snow from the top of your vehicle, as this can slide onto your windscreen whilst driving and block your view.
Increase your stopping distance:
Slippery conditions mean you should increase the distance between you and the car in front of you to eight to ten seconds, giving you enough time to brake safely if necessary.
Accelerate, decelerate and manoeuvre gently:
Take your time and ensure that you accelerate, decelerate and manoeuvre with caution. If your vehicle should start to skid, steer into it and don’t brake.
Check your tyres:
Ensure that your tyres have adequate tread and that they are properly inflated. Check the spare / repair kit is in working order.
Set off in a higher gear:
This will allow your car to gain traction and prevent your wheels from spinning when trying to move your vehicle.
Checks your fluid levels more frequently:
As your engine works harder your fluids are likely to run out quicker, so keep them topped up before any long journey.
Driving on hills:
Leave plenty of room between cars to maintain a constant speed and avoid stopping or making gear changes. Use a low gear when driving downhill.
Pack the essentials:
In case of an emergency, pack de-icer, a blanket, some winter clothing and footwear plus a torch.
Most cars are fitted with modern Electronic Stability Control (ESC) to help the vehicle and driver avoid dangerous oversteer in winter conditions. The ESC can sense when the car is leaning too far or losing traction and can quickly apply individual wheel brakes to avoid any risk of skidding out of control. It’s important to remember that even though most modern vehicles are equipped with safety features such as ESC, these systems are based on all components being in full working order. The ESC was calibrated and designed when the car had new shock absorbers. Therefore when shock absorbers are not correctly maintained, this has an effect on every single calculation made by the vehicle’s ESC, as the vehicle won’t be reacting and performing in the manner expected of it. The ESC therefore may not apply enough preventative measures to keep the car under control. KYB recommends that shock absorbers, coil springs and mounting kits are replaced after 50,000 miles or 80,000 km.
Once the winter is over, the danger to suspension components remains – especially for coil springs. Impact from loose road surfaces can eventually cause the protective paint to chip, exposing the bare metal. The spring is then susceptible to break, even more so during and after the winter months where it will have been exposed to rain, ice and corrosive road salt. A coil spring that breaks whilst a vehicle is driving can be extremely dangerous if it dislodges from the spring seat, sometimes even damaging the tyre. KYB recommends that once the winter is over, technicians should check the springs on every vehicle which comes into the workshop, to check for this type of damage.