Driving in the snow doesn’t have to be dangerous if you plan your journey well, take all the precautions necessary, and take things slowly. Here we look at the best driving in the snow tips and advice to keep you safe on your journey.
How to drive in snow
Every year as winter approaches there seems to be a flurry of snow, but much of it can also fall well into spring causing havoc on the roads and making driving conditions unsafe. There’s lots of advice for driving in snow, but you also need to know how to safely get from A to B if there’s ice on the roads too. How to drive in snow
If you’ve got a journey planned, it’s important to check the forecast and see what the weather might do. This is particularly important if you’ve got a long trip ahead of you.
Allow extra time for your journey when necessary, and if possible avoid heading out onto the roads when you know that it’s going to be snowing.
If you have no choice and need to make a journey in the snow, make sure you follow these steps:
How to prepare before driving in snow
Plan to stick to major roads where possible as they’re more likely to be gritted
Make sure you’re aware of alternative routes in case of accidents
Make sure your windows, mirrors, lights and roof are all clear of snow
Demist your windscreen if necessary
Check your tyres to make sure they have enough tread to grip in the ice and snow
Use screen wash that protects to -35 degrees to stop it freezing
Make sure your mobile is fully charged and you have the number of your breakdown cover provider
Wear warm, appropriate and comfortable footwear
Driving in the snow tips
The best advice for driving in harsh weather conditions can be summed up in 2 words: slow down.
But if you’re in need of more driving in snow tips, here are a few:
Accelerate gently, and get to the highest gear as quickly as you can
Check if your car has winter mode and activate it if it does
If you don’t have winter mode, move off in second gear to reduce wheel slip
Leave as much as 10 times the recommended stopping distance between you and the car in front
Leave plenty of room before an uphill to maintain a constant speed without changing gear
Avoid braking downhill unless necessary and use a low gear
Brake before turning the wheel when approaching a bend
If you lose grip on a bend, take your foot off the accelerator and make sure your wheel is facing the direction you want to go
If you skid, steer into it gently. If you skid to the left, steer gently to the left. Don’t slam on the brakes
Use your dipped headlights in heavy snow to ensure lights on the back of the car are showing
If visibility drops, turn on your fog lights. Make sure you switch them off again if visibility improves so you don’t dazzle other drivers
Keep to a sensible speed, drive calmly, and make sure your braking, accelerating and gear changes are all as smooth as possible
Snow socks, winter tyres and even snow chains can also help, depending on how bad conditions are.
Is it safe to drive in snow?
Any hazardous weather condition can make driving more dangerous. Driving in snow or driving on ice increases the risk of something going wrong and you having an accident.
If a journey isn’t completely necessary, you should avoid doing it, and always check the weather forecast and local alerts before you even consider setting off. For long journeys in particular, if you can go another day when the weather is better it’s always safer to wait.
However, in some circumstances you may have to drive in snow and ice. The best way to approach these journeys is to be as prepared as possible and to take your time.
What are snow chains and should I use them?
If the weather is especially bad, snow chains help to increase a tyre’s grip on ice or snow. They’re fixed to the top of your tyre’s tread and the grip is created when the snow chains and tyre work together.
You might need to change your tyres before fitting snow chains, to those that are suitable for winter - or all weather tyres. Your car manufacturer, or local garage, should be able to give you advice on this.
All tyres need the snow chains fitted to them and you need to know the make, model, and size of your tyres before you buy the snow chains.
Driving on ice tips
Driving on ice can seem scary, but it’s manageable if you know what you’re doing. If you think there’s a risk of ice on the roads you should:
Not travel unless it’s necessary as things can go wrong rapidly
Avoid stamping on the brakes, harsh acceleration and aggressive steering as these could all make things worse
Accelerate slowly and use brakes gently when needed
Leave longer stopping distances between you and the car ahead
Stick to main roads as much as possible as they’re more likely to be salted and ice-free
Black ice is one of the biggest hazards of winter driving so you need to make sure you know when you’ve hit it and what to do.
Ironically, black ice isn’t really black. It’s a thin layer of transparent ice, which blends in with the colour of the road beneath it.
This means you’re less likely to notice it, and you could drive over it at speed, causing you to skid.
It’s most common in areas such as tunnels and roads under tree cover as they don’t get much sun.
If you do hit black ice, stay calm. Don’t brake, but take your foot off the accelerator and try to steer straight until you pass over the ice.
What should be in a breakdown kit in snowy conditions?
Having your car break down in winter could have much more serious implications than at other times of the year. It’s wise to keep a few essentials in your car in case of mechanical problems – or in case you get stranded in particularly wintry conditions.
Here’s a list of things you may want to keep in your breakdown kit in case of an emergency:
Warm clothes and blankets for you and any passengers
Snacks and a warm drink in a thermos
Mobile phone charger
Reflective warning sign
Snow grips for your shoes (or boots) in case you need to walk to safety
Make sure your breakdown information is saved in your phone and you’ve got enough charge for the journey.
For more information, check out our guide on what to do if you break down.
How to make sure your car is ready for the winter
A few simple checks could help you make sure your car is ready to deal with whatever the weather has to throw at it.
If you’re concerned about your brakes or your battery, it’s sensible to invest in a proper service before the bad weather hits.
Here are some of the main factors to consider:
Your car needs to retain its grip in wet or icy conditions, so check your tyres are in good working order.
The minimum legal limit for tyre tread is 1.6mm, but at least 3mm of tread is recommended for winter driving. It might also be worth considering winter tyres.
They have a higher silica content, which gives you better grip in the cold and wet.
Simon Hiorns, Retail Director at Protyre says:
"Winter tyres perform better in temperatures below 7°C, improving stopping distances by up to 11 metres in icy conditions.
"If you’re travelling to Europe be sure to check their laws, as some countries require you to drive on winter tyres during the colder months. “
It sounds obvious, but check you have more than enough for your journey and remember that your car typically uses up more fuel in colder weather.
Running out of fuel in winter could be potentially disastrous, particularly if you have to face the snow and ice to get refuelled. Keep an eye out for petrol stations and top up early before you have any issues.
Make sure all windows and windscreens are properly de-iced and condensation free before you set off.
All-round visibility is important, and it’s not enough to simply scrape a hole in your windscreen to peer out of. As well as increasing the risk of accidents, this could lead to you being stopped by the police.
Check your wiper blades are in good condition as well, and ensure you’ve got enough screen wash and that it works in colder weather. Lower quality washes could freeze, causing you even more problems.
It’s not always immediately obvious if one of your car’s lights has stopped working so make sure you’ve checked. You’re likely to need your fog and dipped headlights – so you need to check these too.
Get a friend or family member to assess your brake and reverse lights if necessary.
Consider breakdown cover
Adequate breakdown cover could be crucial at this time of year, and it should give you the peace of mind of knowing you won’t end up stranded in the cold.
Remember to take a contact phone number with you on all journeys, and check your policy so you know exactly what you’re covered for.
Heavy rain is also common during UK winters.
Does my insurance cover me in a red weather warning?
Yes, you should be covered by your insurance in the event of a red weather warning. If you’re concerned or just want peace of mind, then get in touch with your car insurance company or check your terms and conditions.
Comprehensive car insurance should cover you for accidents that happen during bad weather. Both comprehensive and third-party insurance should also cover you for damage to someone else's car.
However, if an accident happens as a result of irresponsible driving – regardless of the weather – then your insurer might not pay out.