The UK doesn't experience heavy snowfall that often, but when it does, it tends to grind to a halt. As drivers aren't used to driving in snow and ice during winter, they don't know how to. That can make the roads even more dangerous.
Fortunately, it's quite easy to adapt your driving style for driving in snow and ice.
By the end of this article, you will know:
- How to drive safely in the snow
- What 6 simple checks you should do before winter to make sure your car survives the cold weather
- And what 7 easy-to-follow winter driving tips will give you a better chance of staying in control
How to Drive Safely in the Snow
You should only drive in the snow and ice if your journey is essential. You should work from home or rearrange your plans if possible.
However, if you do have to drive in the snow, here's how to do so safely.
- Always pull away in second gear, gently easing your foot off the clutch. This will help you avoid wheelspin. You won't get much grip in first gear if the road is icy.
- Be gentle while braking and accelerating.
- Drive in a high gear as this will provide more torque and traction. This increases your control over the car.
- Give other drivers plenty of space because your braking distance increases 10x in snow and ice vs the dry. The extra space will also give you help you avoid collisions with any driver that loses control.
- When driving uphill, wait until it is clear so you can drive up without having to stop. Keep your speed constant and avoid gear changes. If you can't wait for it to clear, make sure you give other drivers plenty of space.
- When driving downhill, make sure you slow right down before you crest the hill, use a low gear and avoid braking. Leave as much space between you and other cars as possible.
- If you get stuck in the snow, straighten the steering wheel and clear the wheels of snow before putting a sack or old rug in front of the drive wheels. This will give them some more grip and help you get free.
A driver's biggest obstacle during winter is icy roads - black ice in particular.
You can see ice on the road by the way it sparkles in the sunlight, but it may be more difficult to spot at night. If your car's thermometer reads 0°C or lower, you should assume that you will drive on ice at some point and change your driving style accordingly.
Make sure you take it slow, avoid any risky manoeuvres and stay in full control of your car at all times.
6 Easy Ways to Prepare Your Car For Winter Driving
Don't let the weather catch you off guard. Before you make your first trip this winter, make sure your car is ready for anything.
If you drive regularly, you should complete these checks every few weeks as well.
Check Your Fuel
You should have at least 1/4 of a tank at all times, to account for delays. Running out of fuel is dangerous at the best of times, but it's even worse in bad weather.
Never start a journey with the light in the red.
Make Sure Your Car is Visible
Switch on all your lights and walk around your car to check they all work. Test your brake lights by having someone else stand behind your car or reverse up to a wall and check the reflection in the rearview mirror. If any bulbs seem dim or broken, you should change them as soon as possible.
You should also make sure your wiper blades work and are in good condition. Clean them with a cloth and run your finger along the rubber, feeling for any cracks or tears.
If they are worn, you should change them as soon as possible.
Check Your Tyre Tread to Maximise Grip
By law, each tyre must have at least 1.6mm tread depth, but we recommend having significantly more during winter. You need as much grip as possible when the road gets slippery, so you want each tyre to have at least 3mm tread depth.
You can test this by placing a 20p piece into each groove. If the tread covers the inner ring, you have more than 1.6mm tread depth. The less of the coin you can see, the better.
If you need new tyres, book an appointment at a garage near you and get them changed before winter arrives.
Top Up Your Antifreeze
Without coolant and antifreeze, your car won't work in the cold. The engine would freeze and seize up, grinding your journey to an expensive halt. Make sure your car has enough good quality coolant to survive the winter. It should be transparent, brightly coloured and free from any bits or lumps.
If you notice a problem, book a coolant change as soon as possible.
Prepare and Carry an Emergency Kit
While these tips are here to help you avoid problems, you should be prepared for the worst. Regular car checks may help prevent a breakdown, but you can't account for changing weather or less-prepared drivers. If you get stuck in bad weather, you need a few essential items to hand.
Find out what you need to include in your car emergency kit here.
Set Your Automatic Up For Winter Driving
If you drive an automatic, it may have a 'winter mode' or a recommended setting for driving in winter. It's harder to drive an automatic in the snow because you have less control over the gear changes.
Consult your vehicle handbook to find out if you can change your car's settings to drive safer this winter.
Book a Winter Health Check to Set Your Car Up For Winter
While it is easy for you to do these checks yourself, nothing beats a professional opinion. When a qualified mechanic inspects your car and feels that it will survive the winter, it brings you the peace of mind you deserve.
That's why we recommend booking a Winter Health Check before the worst of the weather arrives.
This 17-point check covers everything mentioned above (except your fuel level) as well as checking your battery, engine oil, brake pads, steering and suspension, among other vital checks. In short, it gives your car the best chance of surviving the winter.
Most importantly, over 700 garages on our comparison site offer this check completely FREE of charge, and over 1,000 offer it for less than £25. At that price, it's a no-brainer.
Book a Winter Health Check at one of our independent, franchise or fast-fit garages today and get your car ready for whatever winter can throw at it.
Book online today!
7 Other Winter Driving Tips
Getting your car ready to hit the road is only half the battle. You need to be able to adapt your driving style if road conditions change.
Here are our top tips for driving safely in winter.
Allow Yourself More Time to Take It Slow and Steady
While it may seem self-explanatory, how many of us actually leave time to de-ice our cars? Make sure you get up and get going in enough time to get to your destination without having to rush.
Most importantly, you shouldn't leave your car to defrost while you finish your morning coffee.
Not only is it actually illegal to leave your car running while you're not present, you won't be able to make a claim on your insurance if someone steals it!
Plan Your Route to Use Main Roads as Much as Possible
Gritters don't often go down side roads, so they can be more treacherous in the snow. Not only that, but main roads are always busier, clearing the worst of the snow and ice naturally.
Adjust your route to make as much use of this as possible - even if it makes it slightly longer.
Handle a Skid Calmly
Losing control of your car is frightening, but the worst thing you can do is panic. If you feel the car start to skid, keep both hands on the steering wheel and steer into it. This should straighten the car up but, if it doesn't, gently steer against the skid.
Avoid braking and don't speed up again until you've regained control of the car.
Always Be Prepared for Rain, Fog, Snow and Ice
The weather can turn at any time. You should know what to do if you end up driving in rain or fog, and always be aware of the possibility of ice if it is cold. If you're extra alert while driving in winter, you're more likely to get where you want to go safely.
Avoid Driving at Night if Conditions Are Bad
Driving in the dark can be scary at the best of times, let alone in the middle of a snowstorm. If you're not confident about making it to your destination, it's safer just to stay at home.
Cosy up with a film and a hot drink instead.
Look as Far Down the Road as Possible
As it takes longer to stop in the rain or snow, you must know what's coming up in plenty of time. Don't just look at the edge of the bonnet or a few metres down the road - always scan the horizon as far ahead as you can see.
That way, you always know when you're going to need to slow down and can ease off the accelerator accordingly.
Keep Your Feet on the Pedals at All Times
You should never coast while driving in the snow. It's very easy to lose control, but very hard to regain it. If you're not braking you should be gently accelerating, and vice versa.
Avoid using Cruise Control because it can't react to slippery conditions and reduces your feel of the road.