Winter Driving Tips

winter road with snow falling

Preparing you and your vehicle

If you’re planning on driving in tough winter conditions, the first question you should ask is: is this journey necessary? Making a journey in your car that isn’t imperative or is one you could walk can sometimes be a risky action when the weather is adverse. If it is necessary and isn’t walk able, knowing what you might be facing is important. So check the weather reports for what’s incoming whilst you’re out and about, and if there are any road closures due to heavy snow.

Before setting off in earnest, check how much fuel is in the car and if it’s enough to not just get where you’re going and back, but also enough if you get stuck or have to go a longer route. Having your mobile phone fully charged is another factor that will need handling, as is having a map to hand if you have no sat nav or internet on your phone.

Planning for an emergency - a checklist

Breaking down in winter can be dangerous and you must take extra precaution, especially on long trips or if you are venturing away from urban areas and heading into the countryside where limited roadside recovery will be available. Always keeps the following items in your car if you are travelling on long journeys and you know from the weather forecast that the weather will be hazardous.

  • Warm clothes
  • Warm blankets
  • Fully-charged mobile phone (+ portable phone charger)
  • Working torch
  • Emergency food
  • First aid kit
  • De-icing equipment (de-icer/ice-scraper)
  • Wellington boots
  • Hazard warning triangle
  • Reflective clothing
  • Shovel
  • Tow rope
  • Jump-start cables

Driving in snow and ice

Winter driving can easily force you into a new driving style, so it’s important to be be prepared for the change. Driving in snow and ice is all about taking it easy; no hard acceleration or heavy braking. It’s also about being comfortable as a driver, keeping warm and not panicking at the wheel.

Get comfortable: it’s winter so it’s important that you’re warm when in the car. If you’re fortunate to have a modern car or one with climate control, it’s likely that the car can do the job for you. However, this in older or less-equipped cars might struggle to get the temperature up, so wrapping up in layers would be advisable in this situation. Keeping your feet dry will also be of help, so have a spare pair of shoes if possible.

Be patient: setting off in such conditions tends to be quite a bit trickier than normal and you’ll need to be steady with the pedals when getting off the mark. Be easy on the gas and don’t let the revs get too high; it might also be an idea to set off in second gear if your car can handle it.

Be prepared to stop: like driving in the rain, your stopping distances will increase when driving in snow or ice, especially the latter. As a result, you need to ensure a decent gap to the car in front to give yourself enough time to come to a halt.

Uphill struggle: getting up hills in some cars can be a task in itself, but when there is snow or ice on the road, this challenge is then compounded with enhanced difficulty. The best way to approach such a situation is by getting plenty of room in front of you, and then get to a speed that will enable you to get up the hill in one go. Having to stop or slow down is not advised unless you truly have to. When it comes to going downhill, get in a low gear and avoid braking, while again leaving plenty of space in front.

Steady as she goes: approaching a corner that requires less speed, ensure all your braking is out the way before you start turning. If the car starts to lose grip, gradually come off the gas and certainly don’t stamp on the brake; just make sure the front wheels are pointing where they need to be and don’t take your hands off the wheel.

Be visible: this comes back to making sure your car’s lights are fully-functional and clean. Using dipped headlights all the time in wintery conditions is no bad thing, but it is especially advised in heavy snow; turn your fog lights on if visibility drops below 100m.

Pay attention to changing conditions: conditions can change road-to-road; one could be well gritted and free of snow and ice, while another could be a few inches deep or have ice formed in trodden snow trails. As such, keep an eye on the road surface when joining a new one.

Winter tyres: You might asking yourself 'should i get winter tyres?' While they are more expense to your vehicle they do have their benefits in winter months when road surfaces are cold and icey. Winter tyres will improve driving safety, grip and reduce stopping distances in certain conditions. They are designed to give you the best grip and traction when winter weather hits and they work best in temperatures less than 7 degrees Celsius by helping disperse water and snow much more efficiently than regular rubber.