Claire Gardner: Preparing for driving snow comes at price

IT WAS only when our wine stocks ran dangerously low that we started to fret about the Arctic blast last winter.

Until then we took the extreme weather in our stride, laughing in the face of each fresh snowflake as we stoked up the fire and sledged and made snowmen and drank endless mugs of steaming hot chocolate (the kids) and red wine (me).

We didn’t even have the inconvenience of school as our Vauxhall Astra with its stupid sporty tyres was defeated by the long and windy farm drive.

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So there we were, the kids and me, housebound and having fun. At least we were for five laughter-packed days until the last dregs of the very last bottle in the wine rack had been slurped.

It was only then that the fun ran out and the panic set in as the reality of being stuck finally hit home.

And it was only then that I started to hate our car, our small, economical but rather nippy car that was ace at hurtling down the A1 when the sun shone but floundered around like a drunk at the first whiff of snow.

So, naturally the campaign to buy a snazzy 4x4 car started there and then.

And it seems we were not alone in our desire to own a car with a bit more, well, grip.

One in ten cars sold in Scotland this year has been a 4x4, compared to one in 12 three years ago, according to the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders.

There had been a dip in sales between 2008 and 2009, when the UK government introduced new vehicle excise duty bands pegged to carbon emissions.

However, it seems that rightly or wrongly, concerns over gas-guzzlers and their effect on the environment have, for many, been shelved as the threat of cold weather continues to bite.

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That news has been met with dismay by environmental organisations.Stan Blackley, chief executive of Friends of the Earth Scotland, described larger cars as “expensive, polluting and dangerous.”

There is also, according to many car magazines, a case for simply putting snow tyres on smaller vehicles.

But while these arguments rumble on, car dealers selling four-wheel-drives have been left rubbing their hands in glee.

For people like us who were too busy slagging off the lack of sun in Scotland over the summer to even think about the winter and the kind of car we wanted, there is a price to pay. Quite a big one.

According to British Car Auctions, the average value for all 4x4s was £10,381 in July this year, a price tag which leapt to £12,805 by September and by the time the first snowflake falls, is guaranteed to rise even higher.

It is not just car dealers who have had winter on their minds of late. With the anniversary of Scotland’s big freeze just round the corner, cold weather contingency plans are being hatched all over the county.

The Scottish Government has been issuing helpful hints in its campaign “Ready for Winter.” In conjunction with the British Red Cross, it has published information on coping with extreme weather after a survey showed that more than half the country is concerned about dealing with the cold and snow.

Speaking about the need to be organised, Norman McKinley, director of the British Red Cross in Scotland, said recently: “Despite the severe weather of the past two years, research shows just how unprepared many people in Scotland are for winter.”

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Well that is not going to be us this year. We have taken heed of the warnings and started stocking up on tins of food and booze to squirrel away in case of an emergency.

We all have fluffy new boots, waterproof jackets, hats, scarves and gloves, while shiny new yellow grit bins bursting with salt now line our drive.

And of course we have the car, a Skoda Scout, which we have been assured will tackle the steepest, snowiest slope in Scotland. It might even get us the two miles into North Berwick to buy emergency bottles of wine.

So, all we need to do now is wait for the snow, which typically, now we’re ready for it, will totally pass us by.