Right Driver

Safety tricks for driving your car, lorry, motorbike or bus in adverse road conditions

Your vehicle is going to be subjected to some punishment in its time. Rain, snow, baking sun, harsh surfaces, humidity and more will affect its performance. Let’s look at eight situations where your vehicle may suffer in performance, and what you can do about it.

Long downhill stretches: brake fade

When you are driving on a long downhill stretch, say down the side of a large hill or mountain, your brakes will be put under a lot of stress. The faster you are going, the more heat that has to be dissipated in the brakes.

Lorries have engine braking systems (sometimes called a Jake brake or Jacob’s brake in America) that use engine compression to help with braking.

Car drivers can also take advantage of this system by changing down one or two gears when going downhill. The extra revs will help retard the car.

Motorbike riders weigh much less, so the effects of ‘brake fade’ are less If you drive a manual or sequential manual vehicle, this is easy; if you drive an automatic you will need to choose either a low gear, or switch it to sequential mode and change down. Be careful not to over-rev the engine.

If you don’t do this you run a much higher risk of boiling the brake fluid. You will know when this is happening because the pedal will start to feel spongy, and braking performance will drop off rapidly. Eventually, the pedal will go to the floor and you will have no braking power. Gravity will take over and you’re likely to have an accident. If you boil the brake fluid, that fluid is never as good again, so you should look at replacing it. Old brake fluid also has a greater likelihood of boiling because brake fluid absorbs water over time. Water has a lower boiling point.

Remember that if you are towing a trailer or your vehicle is heavily laden you will experience brake fade sooner.

Brake fade is common if you try driving your road car like a race car.


A ford is a stream that passes across a road. You’ll know you’re coming up to one because you’ll see a sign (you can run through Highway Code sign questions here). It might be a few centimetres deep, which is no problem. If the level of the water comes up higher than the bottom of the brake disks, the water will reduce the friction of the brake pads on the brake discs and you’ll find yourself with much less braking power. Every time you drive through a ford you need to dry the brakes afterwards. This is done simply by braking a few times to spread and evaporate off the water.

Cattle grids

If you are driving in a rural area you may come across cattle grids in the road. On wet and freezing days, cattle grids are as slippery as ice. Be careful when braking on a cattle grid. If you come across stationary traffic just the other side of a cattle grid, bear in mind that braking on it from any speed may not stop you when it’s wet.


Mud thrown up by earthworks, moving livestock, and landslides can be very slippery when wet. If you have driven off-road, you can also get mud caked on your tyres. If the mud is in your tyre grooves, that means your tyres will not disperse water and you risk aquaplaning. Always take it easy in the rain if you have to drive through muddy areas, too.


Gravel roads are often found in rural areas. If you’ve driven on gravel, have a quick check of your tyres when you stop. If there are sharp stones trapped in the tread, these can cause punctures as they work their way through the rubber. Dig them out with another stone, or a screwdriver. Punctures tend to happen more frequently on wet days because the rain makes it easier for a nail to be driven in to the tyre – there’s less friction. Keeping your tyres at the right pressure, and ensuring that there’s enough tread on them can reduce your chances of a puncture. In the wet, you should also avoid driving close to the edge of the road as this is where the majority of items that will puncture your tyres. If you notice your steering feels different, or a pulsating quality to the road noise, you may have picked up a nail in your tyre and have a slow puncture.


Roadworks areas may have sharp items on the road, but also there is the risk of your car being splashed with substances that will dry on and be difficult to remove. Concreting of kerbing and other areas is one thing to be aware of. If you drive through an area where there is concreting happening, and it is wet, make sure you wash your car within a few hours otherwise you may end up with concrete caked on the underside of your car, and perhaps even up the sides. Roadworks are one of a number of road hazards, and you can check out free tests here.

Salt and sand

Salt is used on the roads in winter. It’s highly corrosive, so avoid leaving your car unwashed for too long after you’ve driven on salty roads. The same applies if you have been using foreshore areas such as beaches and boat ramps.

Heavy snow

Heavy snow can block air vents in extreme cases. If you notice your engine temperature rising, even though it’s freezing outside, check the radiator grille isn’t blocked with ice or snow. There have also been cases where radiator grilles have been blocked by plastic bags, and this reduces the effectiveness of the radiator because less air will flow over it. Take care on the roads!

Darren has owned several companies in the automotive, advertising and education industries. He has run driving theory educational websites since 2010.

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Posted in Advice, Car, Heavy Vehicle, Passenger Vehicle
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