The ultimate guide to driving in snow & ice

January 11, 2018
The ultimate guide to driving in snow & ice


It's that time of year where most places will see some level of snow and certainly some winery conditions, but how does this effect your car, the way you drive and the preparations required? In this blog post we will try to cover the common areas to help you prepare for winter. In this blog we will cover you as a person, how you should plan and prepare for both you and your car and provide some invaluable tips.

1. Before driving in the snow

Plan your journey

If you are in the fortunate position where you have time to plan your journey then it's strongly advised to do so, make sure you know your journeys route and if your unsure then use Google Maps or RAC Route Planner to ensure you have an idea where your going.

It's worth checking weather and then choosing an appropriate route, for example if snow or adverse conditions are forecast then it will be better to avoid minor roads and country routes and stick to main roads which are likely to have been treated and kept clear. It's also easier to be found, recovered and rescued if the worse was to happen when you stay on the main roads.

Lastly, always make sure someone knows what your intentions are, even if it's only a rough schedule, if the worse was to happen having someone knowing what times to expect you can really help with raising the alarm if need be.

Allow Extra Time

It's important to allow extra time than you normally would, if it has been snowing the first step would be to remove all loose snow from your vehicle, namely the roof, bonnet and windscreen. It's important to also ensure that your mirrors, lights, reflectors and number plates are also clear of snow.

Once done you need to de-ice the car outside using a suitable method such as de-icer (aerosol, spray, liquid) and de-misting inside the vehicle as well. It's a criminal offence for the glass you use for driving to obscured so make sure ALL of the windscreen and side windows are free and not just a peep hole. Remember the locks can get frozen, as will windows so a good de-icer can really save time.

Lastly, make sure your wipers aren't frozen of stuck to the windscreen, it's essential you do this before starting the vehicle (or checking that auto wipers are off before starting) as a stuck wiper can easily blow the wiper fuse, tear the wiper blade or even damage the wiper motor.

All of these checks take time to complete and can easily add 10-15 minutes to your journey time.

Checking Your Car

Whilst checking your car is important to do all year around, it becomes even more essential during adverse weather conditions, a quick check weekly will ensure that you won't get caught out and stay as safe as possible on the road.

Tyres: It is essential that your tyres are in good condition, especially during snow and ice, ensure your tread depth is good and their are no obviously visual defects such as bumps, bulges, cuts or slits. If you are in an area thats remote or sees considerable snow/ice each year then it's worth considering a set of winter tyres to swap onto your vehicle for the 3-4 months around winter.

Lights: During the winter months the day time normally remains cloudy, overcast and reduced visibility especially when it is snowing, raining or foggy. Making sure all your lights work and replacing the lamps as soon as possible is paramount. If you need to test your brake lights but you are on your own a good tip is to have the back of the car facing a shop window or similar reflective surface.

Screen wash: This is often overlooked and only done when the car indicates it's low but when driving with lots of salt on the road this flicks up on the screen and you find yourself using screen wash more and more during those winter months. It only takes a few seconds to check this, driving without screen wash in adverse conditions can really make the situation much harder.

Fluids: Lastly, make sure your car fluids are topped up and ok, including Oil, Anti-Freeze, Brake Fluid, Power Steering Fluid, Ad Blue etc, these are simple areas which are best kept under control so you can concentrate on the driving.

What To Keep In The Car

When going out for your jouney it's best to prepare for the worst, there are some key items which are worth carrying around in your vehicle to be able to help yourself if anything was to happen.

  • Mobile phone charger
  • Working torch
  • Blanket
  • Hi-vis Jacket
  • Warning Triangle
  • Wheel Traction Devices (e.g. snow chain, snow socks, traction strips or a carpet mat)
  • Some water
  • Screen wash
  • Jump leads or mini jump pack
  • Wheel change gear (tyre wrench, jack, locking wheel nut remover)

Obviously some items are more important than others but we highly recommend the phone charger as it at least means you have a method of calling for support, it's also important to be able to stay warm so a blanket or coat is helpful too.

2. Tips for driving in the snow

So we have covered preparations for both you and the car and what can be checked/planned prior to leaving for your journey, but what about the actual drive in the snow. The following are some words of advice and some top tips to help you keep control of your car and be safer in the snow.

  • Dress comfortable and appropriately.
    This includes dry, comfortable footwear, appropriate warm clothing and possibly gloves if required too, you don't need to keep the gloves or coat on whilst driving but they would be a life saver in the event of an engine failure or needing to get out of the vehicle.
  • Keep acceleration to the minimum and be gentle.
    Where possible pull away in second gear to stop too much torque entering the wheels and causing a spin, whilst driving keep in a nice high gear to keep the cars momentum moving. Too low a gear and you run the risk of too much power to the wheels causing them to spin and loose traction.
  • Low gears for combating a downwards hill.
    When going down a hill your best to leave the car in a low gear and let the engine hold the car back rather than operating the foot brake or coasting down the hill.
  • Taking on an upward hill climb
    The trick for going up a hill is to keep it steady (don't change gear or try to accelerate up the hill), where possible try not to enter the hill climb until the route up is clear, don't attempt to stop on the hill unless you absolutely have to as the chances are you won't get started again.
  • Handling a corner the right way
    The correct way to steer a corner is to reduce the speed before entering the corner, ideally by using engine braking and then gently steer the car in the direction you wish to go just letting the engine pull the car around, a nice steady non accelerating speed is all you need. Don't attempt to accelerate or touch the brakes whilst making the turn.
  • How to handle a skid
    If the car does for any reason try to skid, remain calm and simply put the wheels in the direction of the skid, let the engine pull whilst in gear (do not touch the brakes or accelerator) and the car should begin to pull itself out of the skid. For example if taking a right hand turn and the back of the car shoots out to the left, simply turn the wheel left until the back end stops skidding.
  • Heavy snow whilst driving
    If it is snowing whilst you are driving be prepared for the road conditions to change rapidly, keep consistent slow speeds using your gears, avoid harsh braking or acceleration and put your lights on! If visibility drops below 100m then use your fog lights too, but remember to turn them off if visibility improves or you have a car behind you as you don't want to blind them!
  • Avoid other cars tracks
    A natural instinct for many drivers is to follow the tracks of another car, especially during fresh or heavy snow. This is in fact a dangerous game to play as compressed snow will turn to ice and offer very little grip or traction. We advise to follow the tips above and if possible to drive slightly to the side of any existing tracks if possible.
  • Sudden changes of conditions
    Lastly, its important to remember that the environment during your drive will vary drastically, remember that ice can form of specific areas such as bridges or in shaded spots under trees. So whilst a road may seem fine and treated it can have hidden blocks of black ice or parts where the grit has washed away.