Suzuki Grand Vitara: snow joke

Left out in the cold

It's a myth that a 4x4 will automatically help you to continue travelling when conditions turn wintry.

Yes, the improved traction of four-wheel drive can help a great deal with forward motion, but there are some general winter driving tips that also need to be kept in mind.

While it's important to be able to keep the car moving, that isn't quite as important as making sure it will stop.

Driving along a country lane in the very early hours of December 18, with an inch or two of snow on the road, I realised the bend I was approaching at almost 30mph was arriving too quickly, and instead of changing down through the gears to take off some speed, I instinctively went for the brake pedal. It did nothing.

The Grand Vitara ended up off the road and peering into a ditch. Even with the centre differential locked and in low range, the car wouldn't move. The front of the car was grounded and moving it was beyond the job of the two standard road tyres that had contact with the snowy grass verge.

I contacted Suzuki Assistance (operated by the AA), but because my mobile phone battery was low it ran out before I spoke to an operator. I went in search of a phonebox in a nearby village and called the police because my car was in a dangerous position.

When the police arrived they allowed me to contact Suzuki Assistance on their mobile phone, and I left the police mobile phone number as a contact number for updates on when a recovery agent might arrive.

The car wasn't damaged - just unable to return to the road under its own power. However I was surprised to learn there would be a charge for recovery as the car hadn't broken down.

While I appreciated it would be a busy night for recovery vehicles, two-and-a-half hours after my first call to Suzuki Assistance I still had no word on when an agent would reach me, so the police officers suggested using a local agent that they used regularly.

Just 32 minutes later, a flatbed truck armed with a winch arrived and pulled the Suzuki out, although as it was 5am the driver could not accept a card payment. It meant following the driver back to base to find a cash machine before the Suzuki would be officially 'released'.

Three important lessons were learned about winter driving. Firstly, ensure your mobile phone battery has plenty of charge left. Secondly, four-wheel drive is not a guarantee to save you in poor conditions. And finally, don't assume that three years' roadside assistance that comes when you buy a new car will be cost free.

Current mileage: 3318

Average mpg: 37.4