Staying off the hard shoulder

Car broken down in the snow

“Christmas time is here, by golly, disapproval would be folly,”

as the American satirist and songwriter Tom Lehrer tells us. It is as well to remember that when the going gets tough in the driving seat over the festive season.

As we’re all only too well aware, this time of year is manically busy on the roads. Also in the car parks, as drivers queueing literally for hours this week to escape from the retail magnet of the massive Bluewater shopping centre in Kent will unhappily confirm. I so nearly went there that day, phew!

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It could be even worse after Christmas, when bargain hunters throng to the shops again for the post-festive sales. Monday 28th December is predicted to be one of the busiest days of the year for breakdown call-outs, with the roadside rescue services warning that battery trouble is likely to be the prime source of trouble for stranded drivers.

Time for Jump-leads

This hits home with me. Our trusty family workhorse, a normally totally reliable VW, has failed to start a couple of times recently, and has annoyingly needed power via jump-leads from another car to get it going. So I have succumbed to the inevitable and bought a new battery – an unwelcome but essential addition to the expense of Christmas.

Items to pack in preparation for driving in severe weather, photographed for the Winter Campaign 2010/11.
 

At one of the costliest times of year, it is easy to shrug off an ailing battery as something to be sorted after the holidays. But that’s probably why so many get caught out. So the comment of a breakdown service chief, Colin Watt at Allianz Global Assistance UK, is timely. He says:” Most calls we receive after Christmas are due to flat batteries because people don’t use their cars during the break, leaving them on a driveway.

“The problem is, that people tend to take short journeys over Christmas, with the windscreen wipers going, the heating and radio on full, which all puts pressure on the battery.”

Give it a run

A common cause of trouble is lights accidentally left on. Easy to do with so many other distractions. Many modern cars now have dusk-sensing auto-lights that switch themselves on when it gets dark and go off with the ignition. But most older cars, with lights that you have to switch on manually and remember to switch off, risk draining the battery when left on too long.

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It’s good advice from the hard-pressed breakdown responders that many cars would really benefit from having a good long run straight after Christmas to give the battery a boost, especially if they have had a surfeit of short trips ahead of the festivities.

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About

Sue Baker is a seasoned motoring journalist with a love of all things automotive.