By: Lisa Harper
Driving in snow can be nerve-wracking for everyone from experienced drivers to those who have just passed their test. To help you out we’ve put together our top tips for driving in the snow to give you extra confidence this year.
One of the best tips for driving in snow is to make sure you are prepared before you even get behind the wheel. We recommend carrying a few essentials, like a snow shovel and sturdy boots, in the car over winter in case you breakdown or end up getting stuck. You can find out more about what we recommend carrying by reading our winter driving checklist.
Plan the route you will be taking and be sure to listen to local radio or check reports before you set off to make sure there have not been any road closures. It is also best to stick to major roads which will have been gritted.
Keeping your car topped up with fuel is also a good idea as detours due to adverse weather will soon make a dent in your fuel. Plus on top of that lots of time idling in traffic will increase your fuel usage.
Ensure you give yourself extra time to get to your destination as you will be travelling considerably slower in snowy conditions.
It is also a good idea to make sure your car is ready for winter by organising a winter health check. Another tip is to fit winter tyres once the temperature is consistently below seven degrees Celsius. Winter tyres provide more traction for better handling and help to reduce stopping distances in snowy or icy conditions.
De-ice and demist the windscreen making sure you have full visibility before you set off. Also be sure to clear any snow from the roof of your car as it may fall off during transit and distract you or other drivers.
If you don’t fully clear your vehicle of snow and ice before you set off you may find yourself with a £60 fine and up to three points on your licence.
One of the most important things to remember when driving in snow or ice is to keep all transitions as smooth as possible. This means making smooth gear transitions and braking and accelerating gently.
When pulling away use second gear to help increase your traction and then as you move away you should use the highest gear practically possible to help maintain traction and allow you to take advantage of engine braking.
In an automatic car, you cannot select the gear you are in so it is important you take even greater care when driving and maintain a steady speed and safe stopping distance. Some automatic gearboxes come with an L, 2 or +/- setting which enables drivers to change up into a higher or lower gear in wintry conditions.
To help keep you alert and more in tune with the conditions outside the car it is advisable to turn down the radio when driving in wintry conditions. When travelling on snow, you will usually hear it crunching under the tyres whereas ice is usually silent. So if you can’t hear any crunching you are probably travelling on ice so will need to take even more care.
Another tip to help reduce distraction is to put your mobile phone on silent in the glovebox.
Stopping distances can be as much as ten times greater than normal in icy or snowy conditions. Therefore it is essential that you maintain a safe distance between you and the car in front.
It is also important to stay alert to the movements on the car in front too making sure you slow down as they do so to prevent you needing to slam on the brakes.
You should try to stay calm behind the wheel whenever driving, however, in wintry conditions it is especially important. Sudden movements or rash decisions can result in you losing control of the vehicle, so take a deep breath and take your time.
Keep to a speed you feel comfortable with and if you do feel someone is travelling too close behind you, simply pull over if it is safe to do so and let them pass.
If you start to skid try not to panic. Avoid applying the brake which may make the situation worse. Instead, ease off the accelerator pedal and keep the wheels pointing the way you wish to go. As previously mentioned it is really important to keep actions as smooth as possible.
If you are unlucky enough to end up stuck in snow then it is important to not just keep accelerating if the wheels are continually spinning as it may dig you in deeper. A good tip is to turn the wheel from side to side to move the tyres which should help to push the snow out of the way. You can then try accelerating away again.
If that doesn’t work, you may need to grab your snow shovel and start digging your tyres out. If you are carrying a bit of old carpet, some grit or cat litter then place it under the front wheels to give your tyres something to grip.
If the car is completely stuck, it is a good idea to keep the engine running to help keep you warm, while you wait for assistance. Although, you must check the exhaust is free from snow before doing so to prevent the car filling with harmful exhaust fumes.
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