Monthly Archives

November 2017

Winter Driving

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We are now well through November and the days have gotten shorter, there has been a noticeable drop in temperature and it has become very wintery.  The winter brings a new set of challenges for all of us due to the more hazardous road conditions. Here are a few tips on how to prepare for and drive in the dark and wet winter weather condition.  Sometimes a little preparation can help save a lot of bother at a time when you don’t really need it.

Is your car winter proof?
If you haven’t checked whether your car is winter proof yet, now is the time to do it.  Is it in a suitable condition to tackle those cold frosty mornings and dark wet evenings of the winter months?  How long has it been since your last service?  Maybe now is a good time to get those brake pads checked and the oil changed?  All of the following checks should be included in a routine service at your local garage.

If your car is not due a service, here are a few checks that you yourself can carry out without spending too much time.  And you don’t have to be a mechanic either!

  • Do the back or front window wipers need new wiper blades? Are they both working properly?
  • Are the window washers working and is the washer container full with water?
  • Do your tyres have an adequate thread depth? The minimum thread depth requirement in Ireland is 1.6 mm on 75% of the tyre.  A little more may be required in the winter.
  • Does your cooling system contain the proper coolant? Do you need to treat it with anti-frost?
  • Do your indicators, brake lights, parking lights, dips and headlights work properly? You may need to get a friend to stand in front and behind the car as you check them.  All very important on those dark wet evenings.
  • If you are concerned about any of the above checks, call in and ask at your local garage. Most mechanics would be only too happy to help you out with some friendly advice.

Switch on those Lights
Shorter evenings mean less light and in the middle of winter the darkness starts to creep in at around 4 pm. If you are driving a dark coloured car in these conditions, it is difficult to be seen.  Therefore, it is advisable to have your lights on during the day, particularly in the early evening.  During the day the parking lights help to make you more visible.  As the day draws towards 4 pm, you may need your dipped headlights.  The recommended time to switch on your dipped headlights is a half hour before dusk and after dawn.  No harm in doing it earlier.

In normal conditions headlights are used to increase the motorist’s visibility at night time.  Visibility in fog or falling snow during the day is poor but at night it is a lot worse. Using the full headlights through fog or falling snow unfortunately does not help and in most cases, has the opposite effect of decreasing your visibility by causing a reflective glare off the fog or falling snow.

Dipping your headlights eliminates this problem to a certain extent and increases your visibility closer to the car.    

Leave early and plan you journey
In the winter months traffic is moving slower and the condition are more treacherous.  Plan to depart on your journey ten to fifteen minutes earlier giving yourself that little bit more time.  This can sometimes save you a lot of bother in the long run.  How many times have you been running late to open the front door and realise your car is frozen over?

Take a few minutes to think about and plan your journey.  The weather conditions, the type of road and the expected traffic should all be taken into consideration when choosing the best route to your destination.  In frosty and snowy weather, try to keep to the main roads that have been salted or gritted.  A little bit of planning can help you avoid that traffic jam at a busy junction or a dangerous stretch of icy road.

Make sure those windows and mirrors are clear and your visibility out of the car is good.  Consider your fellow motorist and keep the lights and indicators clean also.  A quick wipe with a damp cloth in the morning will do the trick.

Adjust your driving to suite the conditions
Making the following few small adjustments to you driving will make you a safer winter driver.
Slow Down. Icy roads mean reduced traction and a higher chance of skidding or losing control of the car.
Stop more Gradually. Start reducing you speed a little earlier coming into junctions.  Gentle use of the brake and gears is what you are looking for. Uses engine braking.
Increase your Stopping Distance.  It can take from three to ten times longer to stop on an icy road.  Give yourself a larger safety gap between you and the vehicle in front of you.
Avoid Unnecessary Overtaking. Overtaking usually involves increase in speed.  Ask yourself how much time are you really going to gain if you overtake this car?
What does the term ‘Engine Braking’ mean?
Engine braking is a technique involving the use of the accelerator and gears to reduce the speed of the car instead of the brakes.  Engine braking, if used correctly helps avoid skidding and should be used as much as possible in snow or icy conditions.

Early reaction to junctions and hazards on the road is importing when employing this braking technique.

Conclusion
Leave a little earlier and slow it down just a tad. The best way to avoid difficulty in the winter weather condition is to avoid driving if it is not necessary.

If you have any further questions or queries don’t hesitate to call into to the Swilly Group office on Business Park Road in Letterkenny, give us a call on 074-9151212 or email us on info@swillygroup.com.

Towing a Light Trailer – Are you legal?

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When towing a trailer of any description with a car or light van, it is important for the driver to ensure that he/she is legally compliant.  There are a number of checks that need to be carried out prior to going on the road.  We’ve outlined these checks in the following blog.  Always remember, the speed limit for a car or van towing a trailer of any size is 80km/hr.

Trailer Categories
Light trailers that can be towed by cars or light vans are categorised in two groups.  O1 trailers are those with a maximum allowable mass (MAM), also known as the design gross vehicle weight (DGVW),  of no greater than 750Kg.  O2 trailers have a MAM above 750kg and not greater than 3,500kg.

O1 Trailer Example with a MAM of 750kg and an Unladen weight of 210Kg

O2 Trailer Example with a MAM of 3,500kg and an Unladen weight of 1,295Kg

Licence Categories
Firstly, drivers should ensure they have the correct licence (category) to tow a trailer with a car/light van.  Drivers with a car/light van B driving licence only are permitted to tow an O1 trailer with a maximum allowable mass (MAM) of not greater than 750kg.  B driving licence holders are also permitted to tow small O2 trailers.  If the MAM of the trailer is more than 750kg (O2 trailers), a B driving licence holder is permitted to tow this trailer if the combined maximum mass of the towing vehicle and the trailer is not greater than 3,500kg. Furthermore, the unladen (empty) weight of the towing vehicle must be equal to or greater than the MAM of the O2 trailer.

A driver with a category BE driving licence is permitted to tow a trailer up to a maximum mass of 3,500kg (O1 or O2 trailers).  The weight of the trailer that can be towed is restricted by the manufacturer of the towing vehicle but cannot exceed 3,500kg for drivers and vehicles in the EB licence category.

Weight Plates
Drivers must ensure they don’t overload the trailer. The MAM of a trailer can be found on a small aluminium plate usually located on the hitch or front panel of the trailer.  The MAM printed on this plate is the maximum allowable weight that the trailer is designed to support (including the weight of the trailer).  To work out what (pay) load you can carry on the trailer you must subtract the empty weight (Unladen) of the trailer from the MAM.

Trailer Plate Example (MAM 3,500kg)

Drivers must also ensure they are compliant with the towing capacity of the vehicle, referred to as the Gross Train Weight (GTW).  The GTW is printed on the vehicle weight plate, commonly located inside the front passenger or driver’s door of most cars and vans.  The Gross Train Weight (GTW) is the manufacturer’s maximum weight specification that the combined weight of a loaded vehicle towing a Loaded Trailer must not exceed.  This is also known as Gross Combination Weight (GCW).  More detailed towing and safety information can be found in the Drivers Manual located in the vehicle glove compartment.

Vehicle Plate Example (GTW 3,280Kg)

Van drivers should be aware that vans generally don’t have a high Gross Train Weight.  The reason being that the GTW is directly related to the empty (unladen) weight of the towing vehicle. To maximise their carrying capacity, vans generally have a Light unladen vehicle weight which means a low towing capacity. Vans are designed primarily for carrying and not for towing.

Braking and Lights
Braking systems are required to be fitted to O1 Trailers with MAM greater than half the MAM of the towing vehicle.  All O2 Trailers require a braking system.  It is important for a trailer braking system to include a Service Brake, a Parking Brake and a device capable of automatically stopping trailer if it becomes detached while in motion (i.e. breakaway cable or secondary coupling). More stringent requirements are required for certain trailers. Please consult your manufacturer or refer to the RSA website for more details.

As a minimum all trailers should display the following lights as part of their lighting system:

  • 2 red rear reflectors
  • Left & right directional indicators
  • 2 Red rear tail lights
  • 2 Red rear stop lamps
  • Number plate & number plate lighting

RSA Resources
The Road Safety Authority (RSA) provide some excellent learning resources for drivers wishing to find out more about towing trailers with a car or a light van.  Click on the following link to go to this RSA website of trailers.  http://www.rsa.ie/en/RSA/Your-Vehicle/About-your-Vehicle/Example-of-non-Dup/Trailers-/Advice-and-Checks-for-Trailers-/.

The RSA has also provided a series of 6 short you tube videos covering all aspects of towing a trailer. Click on the following link to go to these you tube videos. https://youtu.be/HhHyUMSn31s.  There is some important information on the coupling and uncoupling as well as safe loading and unloading of trailers that all drivers should be aware of.

Swilly Group provide pre-test and advanced driving tuition for drivers of vehicles towing trailers.  If you have any further questions or queries don’t hesitate to call into to the Swilly Group office on Business Park Road in Letterkenny, give us a call on 074-9151212 or email us on info@swillygroup.com.