Essential Tips for Driving in Snow

Andy Newbound

By: Andy Newbound

The snow is coming. Are you prepared?

According to the latest weather reports, snow is on its way. For even the most experienced drivers, this brings its own unique set of challenges. From navigating slippery surfaces and deep drifts, to coping with reduced visibility during a heavy fall, there can be lots to contend with.

So to help you prepare for whatever the ‘Arctic blast’ throws your way, we’ve put together an Essential Tips for Driving in Snow.

1.  WHY AND HOW TO PREPARE YOUR CAR

Our weather forecasts tend to be fairly sophisticated these days, and also quite accurate. So it’s unlikely that snow will strike without advanced warning, which gives you a distinct advantage over drivers of the past. At least you can make sure your car is ready to tackle the conditions.

So before you set off on a journey, make sure you check the following:

- TYRES. Make sure each tyre is inflated properly and that there is a minimum of 3mm tread depth. Check your spare too, in case you need it.

- BATTERY. There’s nothing like arctic conditions to put a strain on your battery. So make sure it’s as charged as it can be by taking your car on a long run before snow is expected.

- WINDSCREEN WIPERS. If you’re caught in a snow shower, you’re wipers will work overtime. Make sure they’re in good condition, and top up your screenwash for maximum visibility.

- FUEL. Crawling in traffic and keeping your car warm during heavy snow can have an impact on fuel economy. Make sure you top up your tank and maybe even carry spare fuel.

- WINDOWS. You’ll need maximum visibility if you’re caught in heavy snow, so before you set off make sure your windows are clean and clear.


2.  STEPS TO HELP PROTECT YOURSELF

Even if you’re a highly experienced driver, snowy conditions can still catch you out. To make sure you’re not left vulnerable and in danger, we recommend you pack a number of ‘safety essentials’ to keep you out of trouble.

- CLOTHING. Pack a warm waterproof coat, a thick jumper, hat, gloves, boots, even a blanket to keep you warm if you get stranded or need to step out of your car.

- FOOD. In really harsh conditions, it might take several hours for the emergency services to reach you. So pack high energy foods, such as granola bars, flapjacks, nuts, etc. Bring plenty of water too, and perhaps a thermos flask with soup or a hot drink.

- TOOLS. Put a snow shovel in your boot, plus a torch. Carry an ice scraper too, and a sack of sand or cat litter to put around your wheels if you get stuck.

- PHONE, etc. Make sure you carry a fully charged mobile phone. Plus, remember to bring a first aid kit and a set of jump leads.


3.  HOW TO ADAPT YOUR DRIVING

For many drivers, coping with snowy conditions is the most testing challenge. Unpredictable road surfaces, limited visibility and the struggles of other drivers mean there’s a potential hazard at every turn. To stay safe, check out our list of essential driving suggestions:

- SPEED. Judging speed is essential. Drive too fast and risk losing control. Drive too slow and risk losing momentum. Keep your driving as smooth and steady as possible, and avoid high revs. On downhill slopes, don’t build up too much speed – stopping could be difficult.

- BRAKING. Braking of any kind in snow can lead to problems. Where possible, reduce your speed and steer around problems. If you have to brake, do so gently and allow plenty of space.

- DISTANCE. In snow and ice, the normal stopping distances don’t apply. Drive as if your brakes won’t stop you in time, so at least double or triple your usual distances.

- GEARS. Where possible, drive in higher gears as this will give you less energetic engine control, and less chance of wheel-spinning or skidding. In really slippery conditions, setting off in a higher gear (second or third) can also help. You’ll produce fewer revs and potentially get better traction.

- LIGHTS. Falling snow can be as challenging as thick fog and many of the same rules apply. Dipped headlights will be more effective than full beam and your foglights will help with visibility. Try not to rely too much on the lights of other vehicles – using them to guide your own driving can lead to getting dangerously close.


4.  WHAT TO DO IF YOU’RE STRANDED

Getting stuck in the snowy conditions is a common anxiety. It can all too often be a reality too. The good news is, if you do find yourself stranded, there are a number of things you can do to stay safe.

-  First, stay warm! Wrap up in a warm coat, jumper or blanket. Also, run your engine for 10-15 minutes each hour and use your air conditioning to keep the interior warm. Make sure your exhaust pipe isn’t blocked with snow though, otherwise carbon monoxide might leak into your car.

-  If it’s safe, stay inside your car. Or at least close to it. It’s easy to lose your bearings in heavy snow and you could quickly become separated from your vehicle.

-  If you need to dig your car out of a drift, use a shovel. Clear the areas directly infront and behind your tyres – this will improve the chances of gaining traction. If you have sand or cat litter with you, spread this around the cleared areas for extra grip. Move away slowly, using second or third gear, avoiding high revs and wheel spinning.

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