Advice for Driving in Winter
Driving in winter is no joke, and tricky conditions on the road can make even the simplest journeys take longer.
What’s more, breakdowns are more common in the colder weather, so it is more important than ever for motorists to take their time and ensure their vehicle is safe and ready to face potential hazards at this time of year.
At Snooper, we know all too well the threats that wintry conditions can pose to drivers, particularly those who rely on their car to get to and from work. Below we have shared our tips to help keep you safe on the roads.
Click on the topic below to be taken to the relevant advice:
Over winter, there is a sharp increase in breakdowns due to the cold weather, so it’s important you carry out checks on your vehicle to ensure that any underlying mechanical issues don’t escalate.
It is a good idea to have your vehicle fully serviced by a mechanic before winter starts, including testing the antifreeze. However, if you can’t have it serviced, there are checks that you can do yourself. They include:
Your lights are essential for driving in darker conditions with low visibility so you can see and be seen. Make sure all lights are working and clean from dirt, grime and snow. Battery terminals under the bonnet should also be checked to make sure they are clean and tight.
With your engine being colder at this time of the year, it can take its toll on older batteries. If you struggle to start it, you should get it checked by a mechanic. If your battery is more than four years old, it is likely coming to the end of its life and could let you down.
If you have your battery tested, ask the mechanic to check the charging system and drain on your battery to give you a better idea of your vehicle’s electrical health.
In the winter, you’re more likely to have dirt and debris on your windows, so it’s vital that you check your vehicle’s wiper blades and screenwash are working properly.
Your wiper blades are not built to last forever, so check them for splits and cracks regularly and replace them if necessary. During freezing conditions or snow, your blades can freeze to the windscreen and you can blow a fuse or damage your vehicle’s mechanics by trying to operate them while they are stuck.
Before setting off on a journey, make sure your windscreen is clear and the wiper blades can lift off the screen. If they are stuck, use de-icer (never hot water) to free them.
To keep your wipers and screen protected from snow and ice, cover your windscreen and wrap your wipers with a blanket or old sheet.
When it comes to checking your screenwash, you should make sure you use one that is effective down to at least -15℃ to prevent it from freezing in the tank. With the increased amount of dirt and salt hitting your windscreen, remember to keep checking and topping up the level as you use the screenwash up.
Always, always, always check the condition of your car’s tyres before heading out in winter:
- Tyre tread should be at least 3mm for the winter
- There should be no splits or bulges
- Tyre pressure should be consistent for maximum grip
- Snow chains should only be used if there’s enough snow to prevent damage to the road
To help you out in times of need, equip yourself with an emergency kit. If you think this is unnecessary, take a moment to imagine yourself stranded in your car due to extreme snow or floods.
We recommend that you include the following in your emergency kit:
- Tow rope
- A shovel
- Wellington boots
- Two hazard warning triangles
- De-icing equipment, including ice scraper and de-icer
- A fully-stocked first aid kit
- A working torch and spare batteries
- A car blanket
- Warm clothes
- A high-visibility jacket
- Food and drink
- A fully-charged mobile phone
- An in-car phone charger or portable power bank
- Jump-start cables
- An empty fuel can
- A road atlas
Rain reduces your ability to see while driving and increases your vehicle’s braking distance. To stay safe on the road when it’s raining, use your windscreen wipers and dipped headlights, extend your braking distance to twice the normal stopping time, drive smoothly and plan your manoeuvres ahead of time.
Be aware of aquaplaning when the road is wet. This is when the tyre tread cannot channel away enough water - through driving too fast into surface water - and loses contact with the road. To avoid aquaplaning, reduce your speed in wet conditions and ensure your tyres have the correct pressure and tyre tread depth to maximise their grip on the road. If your tyres lose contact with the road, ease off the accelerator and brakes until your speed drops, allowing your vehicle’s tyres to make contact with the road again.
In prolonged periods of heavy rain, flooding can occur. If you come across a flooded road, you should follow these steps:
- Avoid the deepest point of the flooding - this is usually near the kerb
- If the water seems too deep, do not attempt to cross it
- If you’re unsure of the water’s depth, don’t risk it and look for an alternative route
- If there is no alternative route, drive slowly in first gear but keep the engine speed up by slipping the clutch - this will stop you from stalling
- Give way to approaching vehicles to prevent a bow wave
- Once through the flooded part of the road, test your brakes to ensure they haven’t been affected
During the winter, it’s more likely that roads will be covered in frost, ice or snow. The responsibility of gritting falls on certain authorities; Highways England are responsible for motorways and major ‘A’ roads, while local road networks are taken care of by local authorities. In some cases, there may be a delay before roads are treated, so do not assume that roads have been gritted.
A road will often have isolated patches after thawing - this is most common under bridges. If you find yourself driving in snow or on icy or snow-covered roads, you need to adapt your driving to these conditions:
- Reduce your speed as the chances of skidding are higher and your stopping distance will greatly increase
- Only travel at a speed at which you can stop within the distance you see to be clear
- Avoid harsh braking and acceleration, and sharp steering
- Slow down in plenty of time before bends and corners - to slow down on ice and snow, ease off the accelerator so you can select a lower gear
- If you need to use your brakes, apply gentle pressure and ease off the clutch early to avoid stalling your vehicle
- Increase the distance between you and the vehicle in front
- Make sure your vehicle is well ventilated as having the heater on for long periods of time can make you drowsy
If you get stuck in the snow, the following advice can help:
- Straighten your steering and clear the snow from the wheels
- Use a sack or old rug placed in front of the driving wheels to give the tyres some grip
- Do not rev your engine to try to get your vehicle out of a rut, this will likely make the rut worse. Instead, move your vehicle backwards and forwards slowly on the highest gear you can
- If this doesn’t work, you may have to ask a passerby for a push, or get your shovel out
Should you be caught in a snow drift, follow this advice:
- Do not leave your vehicle
- Call your breakdown service or the emergency services
- Do not run the engine to keep warm
Foggy conditions should be avoided unless it is absolutely necessary to make a trip. Fog is one of the most dangerous weather conditions, and accidents involving one vehicle can quickly escalate to involve many others, especially if they are driving too close to one another.
If driving cannot be avoided:
- Follow weather forecasts and general advice to drivers in the local and national media
- Allow plenty of extra time for your journey
- Check everything is in good working order in your vehicle, especially the lights
- Reduce your speed
- If visibility is reduced, switch on headlights and fog lamps
- If you can see the vehicles behind you, they can see you, so switch off your rear fog lights to avoid dazzling them
- Switch off distracting noises and open the window slightly so you can listen for other vehicles. This is particularly important at crossroads and junctions
- When visibility improves slightly, be cautious of speeding up immediately as you could find yourself in fog again moments later
- If you break down, inform the police and get the vehicle off the road as soon as possible
- Avoid parking on the road in fog and never leave your vehicle without warning lights of some kind, especially if it is on the wrong side of the road
During any type of adverse weather, you need to question the necessity to travel. Strong wind conditions should be avoided unless travelling is not an option, but motorcyclists should avoid travelling in high winds as it can affect the handling of the motorcycle. If making a trip cannot be avoided, take into account the following advice:
- Research your route before setting off to find out if there is a way that you can take that avoids exposure to the weather
- Listen out for local news bulletins to keep up to date with road closures
- Reducing your speed will help you to anticipate strong gusts and allow for better handling and braking
- Take care when overtaking and do not attempt the manoeuvre unless it is absolutely safe to do so
- Maintain a firm grip on the steering wheel so you have as much control over the wheel as possible, as unexpected gusts can catch you off guard
- Allow more room than usual between vehicles. This is particularly important for cyclists, motorcyclists, lorries and buses as they can easily be blown around
- Keep an eye on what is happening with other vehicles, as spotting when and where other vehicles appear to be blown off course will give you an idea of the current conditions
In winter, the angle of the sun in the sky will frequently be lower than your visor and its glare can be dangerous. To reduce the difficulties caused by the sun’s glare, you should:
- Reduce your speed
- Ensure your windscreen is clean
- Wear sunglasses (with prescription lenses if necessary) in bright sunshine
You should always allow extra time for any journey you’re making in wintry conditions. You should also put aside 10 minutes to give you time to de-ice your vehicle, and check your vehicle’s car levels, keeping at least a quarter of a tank in case of unexpected delays.
Planning is key when it comes to making a trip in winter. Check which roads have been cleared and gritted and listen to local/national weather broadcasts and travel bulletins. Conditions can change rapidly, so it’s worth checking in regularly and have a plan in place should there be a problem with the route you’re taking. If conditions are really bad, and it is being recommended that people don’t travel, then you should avoid making your journey unless it is absolutely necessary.
If you decide you must really travel, let someone know where you are going and what time you hope to arrive, so they can raise the alarm if you get into difficulties. Make sure you have a fully charged mobile phone, so you can call for help or alert someone if you’re delayed.
When there has been heavy snowfall, clear your windows and mirror before you set off and make sure your heater is blowing warm air, as this will keep your windscreen clear. It is important to remember that you should not leave the engine running and your vehicle unattended while it’s de-misting. Also, clear any snow from the roof of your vehicle, as this can melt and slide down your windscreen, impairing your view.
If the worst does happen, and you get into an accident or are stranded, don’t panic. Stay with your vehicle and call the emergency services on your mobile phone.