Driving during winter can be a challenge even for experienced drivers, especially when snow and ice are involved. And if you’ve never experienced it before it can be even more daunting, so here are some answers to frequently asked questions, and then our 10 winter driving tips.
1. Keep your distance
Your stopping distance on snow and ice increases significantly from what it usually is. This means that driving too close to the person in front of you is a terrible idea because you simply won’t be able to stop in time. Make sure you keep plenty of distance between you and the car in front.
2. Drive in a high gear in snow and ice
Driving your car in a higher gear will help you to keep control. If it’s icy and you’re struggling to get started, try pulling away in second gear. This should make it easier to get you going, as pulling away in first gear on ice won’t give you much grip.
3. Check your lights
The winter doesn’t only see us hit with cold weather; we also see the days getting much shorter which means you’ll be using your lights much more. Before setting off on every journey, check all of your lights are working correctly.
4. Check your tyres
Your grip will be seriously reduced in the winter, so ensuring your tyres are in good condition is essential. Whilst law requires you to have your tread depth at a minimum of 1.6mm, grip starts to reduce on anything under 3mm, so make sure you keep an eye on your tyres and replace them if needed.
You can also get your hands on some winter tyres which, as the name suggests, will give you a better grip and traction during winter. If your budget allows this is something we would suggest you look into.
5. Take your time
The last thing any driver wants to be is in a rush. Add in wintery conditions, and a lack of experience on the road, and waiting until the last minute to leave will cause you so much unnecessary stress. When driving in winter, you have to take your time so give yourself as much time as possible by leaving even earlier than you usually would.
6. Black ice
The two words that will strike fear into the hearts of many motorists – Black Ice! It’s invisible on the roads, but potentially deadly. It makes driving a worrying event and it’s incredibly difficult to identify and therefore, avoid.
The most obvious advice here is that if you’re driving in freezing conditions, you need to take it slow and steady and avoid doing any risky manoeuvres.
7. Recovering from a skid
If you do end up hitting some black ice, there are things you can do to recover from it.
When you lose control of the car, keep both hands on the wheel and avoid braking. You should also try to steer into the skid – this should help get you straight and back on track.
We realise in the moment of losing control of your car, you may go into a panic and forget what you need to do. Try your best to keep calm, be aware of your surroundings and use the techniques above.
8. Prepare for rain, wind and fog
It’s not just snow and ice we have to deal with in the winter – heavy rain, wind and fog also make an appearance, and can make driving just as difficult. There are lots of little tips and tricks to keep in mind when driving in these conditions which you can see in our dedicated blog on driving in wind and rain. Our best tip would be to keep your speed down, keep calm and keep both of your hands on the wheel. Not only will the rain impact the road surface, but it will also affect vision. Pair this with fog and wind, and it’s a very difficult situation to manage.
9. Keep your fuel topped up
Any other time of year, you may be a bit careless when it comes to how much fuel you have in your tank but running out of fuel and breaking down in winter is much more hazardous than doing so in the summer. Keep your tank topped up to at least halfway so you’re not left out in the cold if you run out.
10. Carry a breakdown kit
Keeping the essentials in your car should it breakdown may not be a priority, but you’ll thank yourself for it if you do find yourself at the side of the road with a car that doesn’t work! Take a blanket (no car power means no heater), torch, fully charged phone, some food and any other essentials you think you may need if you find yourself waiting for to be recovered in winter.
In addition to our top 10 winter driving tips, we're also taking a look as some of the most common questions and concerns we see from young drivers. Take a look!
First time driving on Ice?
What would suggest you're driving on ice?
An important question - as it’s one that is used in the driving theory test! Most of the time ice on the road is visible, and you’ll know that it’s there, but It’s not always obvious that you’re driving on ice, and before you know what to do when you’re driving on ice, you need to know how to tell that you’re on an icy road.
If the road is fully frozen over, you should notice a sparkle as it reflects the sunlight, but if you’re driving at night or on black ice the visual cues might not be there.
It's worth pointing out that if you’re driving in winter and it’s 0°C or colder then you should assume that it’s likely you’ll be driving on ice at some point in your journey, and change your driving style accordingly.
You should then turn your music down, or off, and listen to the sound of your wheels. If your tyres are making no noise at all then it's very possible you'll be driving on ice.
What if you’re just too scared to leave the house when it’s icy?
Honestly, there's nothing wrong with that. Driving in ice is daunting, and lots of people, even those with years and years of driving experience under their belts still find it a little scary.
Our advice is to drive with a friend or parent who has more driving experience than you. Take it slow, follow the rest of the tips in this guide and you should be fine.
Also remember to always put your mental health first. If you’re just going to find it too stressful, then don't do it. Find an alternative travel arrangements (or stay in with a movie and some chocolate) and try again another day
At what temperature are icy roads most slippery?
Roads are at their most icy (and most dangerous) when the outside temperature is between 0oC to -3oC. So before setting off, check the temperature, and if it's just below freezing you’ll know to take extra care.
Should you drive in high or low gear when driving on ice?
Stay in a higher gear for better control, and if it is slippery, in a manual car move off in a higher gear, rather than just using first. If you are following another vehicle at night, using their lights to see ahead can cause you to drive dangerously close - keep well back from other traffic.
What is meant by ‘steer into the skid’?
The phrase is used a lot, but many people don't really understand what it means in practice.
If you're driving on ice and your car begins to skid, counter clockwise (to the left) you should steer to the left as well, so you’re straightening yourself. Don't just grab your steering wheel and freeze, then you’re leaving your fate to physics, and you want to try to gently take over some control.
Sometimes however steering into the skid doesn't work. In that case, straighten your wheels. This can sometimes help them gain traction and get you back in control.
How do you control a skid in an automatic car?
It's actually not too different from a manual.
Stay focussed and calm
Ease off the accelerator but do not break
Steer into the skid (see above)
A lot of modern cars (automatic and manual) come with a traction control feature which should kick in here should you start to skid.
First time driving in snow?
Are snow tyres worth it?
This depends on a couple of factors - how cold the winter is going to be, and how often/far you're going to be driving. If you’re commuting for an hour every morning right through winter, then they’re definitely worth it. If you pop to the shop one afternoon a week, then they may not be the best investment however, they will keep you safer even on the shorter journeys.
Winter tires improve your car's performance on ice and snow, but if its a particularly mild winter, or you only drive a couple of miles once or twice a week, they might not be worth the money.
Snow tyres (which aren’t just useful for snowy conditions) are most effective when temperatures drop below 7 degrees celsius, which happens regularly in the UK.
It is a bit of a misconception that because we don't have winters like Canada or Norway, cold weather types are pointless in the UK. They're not. They provide better grip in wet, dry, ice and snow and in turn offer better control of the car.
Is it more difficult driving an automatic car in snow?
In short. Yes. This is because you have less control over the gears. Fortunately many automatic cars come with L, 2 or +/- controls which allow you to manually change gear. In which case, much like in a manual, you should override your automatic gears and get into a higher gear. Sometimes, however, they don't have this feature. A lot of automatic cars have very intuitive traction control to try to compensate for this. But if you have neither then the key is to be super gentle. Ease on the accelerator, ease on the break, and accept your journey is going to take much longer than usual.
Is front wheel drive better in snow?
It depends what you're comparing against. Front wheel drive cars perform vastly better than rear wheel drive cars do in the snow. The weight of the engine is sitting right on top of the driver wheels (this is also why they perform well driving up hill). All wheel drives however do have an increased performance on front and rear wheel drives, but they’re far less common in the UK.