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Driving in snow and other winter driving tips

5 minutes

With treacherous conditions, traffic delays, and the increased risk of accidents, driving in snow is enough to give any motorist the shivers.

With our guide to winter tyres, tips for driving in snow, and even driving with chains, we’ll help make sure you’re prepared when the weather turns nasty.

Winter driving – what you need to know

More people fall victim to weather-related accidents each year than large-scale weather hazards, and winter driving throws up more than its fair share of risks. So drivers are right to be cautious about driving in the snow, ice and other wintery conditions. Whether you do these tasks yourself or get help, preparing your car for winter is the first step towards safer driving.

Winter car safety checks

These checks should be done whatever the weather, but particularly during colder months.

  • Fluids – This is important all year round, but especially when it’s colder. Engine oil, coolant/antifreeze, brake fluid, and screen wash should be topped up regularly.
  • Wipers – These should be checked every 12 months. If the blades have worn out, they should be replaced. Ask a repair company if you’re not sure which type to buy or how to fit them.
  • Lights – Test your headlights, rear lights, indicators, and fog lights and walk around your parked car to see if they’re working. To check your brake lights, either ask for help or park near a window so you can see the reflection.
  • Fuel – You should check your fuel level before any journey but cars use more fuel in heavy traffic – the conditions you might be in if it’s snowing – so make sure you have more than enough before you set off.
  • Tyres – The legal limit for tread depth is 1.6mm, but try and aim for 3mm through winter. This is crucial for driving in wintery conditions. 

How to prevent your car from freezing

The last thing you want on a cold and frosty morning is to contend with a frozen car or have to rush de-icing because you’re running late.

  • Windscreen cover – Avoid the stress of clearing a frozen windscreen by investing in a windscreen cover. Or if you want to save money, use a bathroom towel.
  • De-icer – Resist the temptation to throw hot water on a frozen windscreen or you could end up with cracked glass. Instead, switch on your heated windscreen or use de-icer and an ice scraper. Then, switch on your blowers and turn the temperature up to get things toasty.
  • Fogging – Try and keep your windows free of dirt - a microfibre brush should do the trick. Dirty windows attract moisture and can cause them to steam up. If they do get misty, turning on the air con can clear it in seconds.

Remember, It's a legal requirement to clear all windows, and to be able to see out of all glass panels in your vehicle,  so always take your time and make sure you can see clearly before setting off.

Driving in the snow – staying safe 

Once your car is properly de-iced, here are some tips for driving on ice and snow. The easiest way to avoid driving in snow is to only travel if necessary. If you need to go out, remember to stay calm and give yourself – and other drivers – plenty of time and space. 

Make sure your windows are clear

When driving in rain or blizzards, make sure your windscreen wipers are in good condition beforehand. Also, check your screenwash is topped up with the right formula for low temperatures. 

Use high gears

When the roads are icy, you can help maintain traction by pulling away in second gear. When you’re moving on flat ground, high gears and low engine revs can help stop tyres spinning. Drive slowly when on bends, and avoid sudden braking or steering.

Check your speed 

Driving in snowy conditions is much safer when you take it slow. The average stopping distance in snow can be up to ten times longer, so you should make sure you’re able to stop in the distance you can see ahead. In rain, sleet, and snow, keep well back so you can see and be seen easier. 

Braking

You’re more likely to skid if you brake while turning when conditions are slippery. Try to brake in a straight line and give yourself plenty of time to slow down before turning.

Black ice

This is one of the worst winter driving hazards because it’s hard to see and looks like a wet road. If you do skid, turn into it. So, if the back of the car oversteers to the left, turn the steering wheel in the same direction to counteract the effect.

Do I Need Winter Tyres or Snow Chains?

It’s not compulsory to fit winter tyres or snow chains to a car in the UK. This is because we’re not as prone to heavy snow as many European regions, including Germany and parts of France. However, on higher ground, in the north of England or Scotland, they may be very useful, particularly if the roads aren’t gritted well.

Winter tyres are a great idea for most regions of the UK. They are more effective in temperatures below 7C – even in dry conditions. This is due to better grip and higher levels of natural rubber. 

How to Fit Snow Chains

If you do decide to use snow chains, only do so when the road has a layer of snow or ice on top. Otherwise, you could damage your car and/or the road. If you haven’t attached snow chains before, you may want to get help from someone who has but you’re legally allowed to fit snow chains yourself. 

Here’s how: 

1. Put the handbrake on and place your car in gear.
2. Hold the snow chain over each of your tyres and lower it onto the parts you can reach.
3. Get in the car and drive forward so the uncovered section of the tyre is exposed.
4. Secure your car again and repeat the process.
5. Make sure you use a closer link to tighten everything.
6. Drive a short distance (20-30 metres) and then stop to check your chains. 
7. If they’ve become slack, tighten the chains.

With snow chains fitted, your speed should not exceed 30mph. To detach them, you should be able to easily disconnect and remove them.

Preparing a winter survival kit for your car

It’s impossible to predict whether you’ll need these items – and hopefully you won’t. But, if you’re in an accident or your car breaks down, they’re essential, so it’s a good idea to always have them in your car:

  • First aid kit
  • Tow rope
  • Shovel
  • Snacks and water
  • Blanket
  • Warm coat, gloves and hat
  • Boots
  • High-visibility vest
  • Torch
  • Scraper
  • De-icer
  • Windscreen washer fluid

Driving safely in winter weather 

Follow the above tips and guidance and you should find it easier to stay safe on the roads this winter, whatever the weather. It’s also important to make sure you have the right level of car insurance cover to make sure you’re not caught out. 

If it's flexible, year-round cover you need, take control with Flow Annual car insurance and customise your policy at the touch of a button, 24/7. If you’re looking for rolling monthly cover without interest charges, admin or cancellation fees, see what Flow Monthly car insurance can offer you.
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