Some of these winter driving tips will seem blindingly obvious but it’s easy to forget the basics when we’re in a rush or not thinking too far ahead. Winter driving in the UK can sometimes be quite an adventure, especially in icy conditions. The winter weather can change dramatically from one day to the next and it brings heavy rain, ice snow and fog. It’s the time of year when wet weather and cold climates make for slippery conditions and very slippery roads.
The worst time to break down is in the middle of winter, so here are some of the best winter driving tips we could find:
Keep a Safe Distance Behind Drivers in Front
People tend to drive too close to the person in front of them when roads are slippery. Remember that you need extra time and space on icy roads as your reaction time might be as sharp as ever, but your vehicle responsiveness likely isn’t. It’s all too easy to switch off when driving when following someone in front. It takes 3 times as long to stop on black ice as it does on dry roads, so leave at least 10 seconds between you and the vehicle in front of you.
Check Your Tyres
Legally in the UK, you need at least 3mm tread for the winter months. Any less and you risk a fine, points but also run the risk of an accident. A flatter tyre does not provide more grip, despite many claims. Also, remember that your tyre is also the only part of the vehicle that touches the road, so choose your tyres carefully and make sure there are no punctures.
You may also wish to switch to winter tyres so that you achieve more grip on the road too. Some go as far as fitting snow chains, but you should only use snow chains over your tyres if there is enough snow to prevent damage to the road surface.
Antifreeze costs very little, yet a frozen and cracked engine costs hundreds to repair. You need to use a 50-50 mix of antifreeze and water for the winter. This helps protect your engine down to -34C. Most modern cars use long-life antifreeze so make sure you use the right type.
Check Car Batteries and Electrics
Car batteries don’t last forever. Mainly no longer than 5 years. The modern car places an awful lot of demand on the battery, especially during the winter months when you consider wipers, heated seats, in-car systems and climate controls.
Here are a few tips to extend its life:
- Turn off electricals such as lights, heated rear window and wipers before starting the engine.
- If the engine doesn’t start initially, wait 30 seconds before attempting to start again.
- If you don’t travel often make sure you turn the car engine over to keep parts moving.
Ensure Your Vision and Vehicle Systems Are Clear
Whilst we focus mostly on cleaning the outside of the windscreen, make sure you also clean the inside. You’d be surprised how dirty the inside of the windscreen can get over time and how much more you will see with a cleaner windscreen. It’s mostly common sense but keep the windscreen and other windows clear of dirt, snow, and stickers, to avoid a fine and potentially points on your license. If it snows, make sure you clear all snow from your roof before setting off.
Make sure you replace any worn windscreen wipers and as mentioned before, make sure your screen wash includes anti-freeze. Before setting off make sure you have defrosted fully all the windows and that if the wiper blades are sticking you remove any dirt or substance which may be causing them to stick. There’s nothing worse than a smeared covered windscreen.
If you have parking sensors or use cruise control, make sure all sensors and components are clear of any dirt and snow. We would also recommend switching off any assisted driving support such as adaptive cruise control (no traction control or ABS) so that you remain in full control of the vehicle.
Check Your Lights and Heating Systems
Due to the long dark nights, you’ll be using your lights much more. Make sure all of them are working properly including your indicators and especially your brake lights. Before setting off on every journey, check all your lights to ensure they are functioning properly and that you know which lights to use when. Check your lights before and after each trip to make sure they’re not dirty or covered in snow. If visibility is bad, don’t forget to use your fog light and to switch it off again once the visibility improves so as not to dazzle other drivers. It’s easy to forget that your rear fog light is still on.
Also, make sure you know which heat controls to use to help de-ice the car before setting off and ensure you avoid mist building up. Don’t risk breaking down in cold weather; it is best to ensure your engine heat is operating effectively when driving in winter conditions!
Drive in a Higher Gear in Ice and Snow
If the road does become covered in snow or becomes icy, then make sure you drive in a higher gear. This can become tricky if you drive an automatic, but in this instance, put the vehicle into sport mode if it has one and sit the vehicle in gear 3 or higher.
Take your time when driving in ice or snow, there is no rush when the conditions are hazardous even if people are pushing you to go faster. The speed limit also no longer applies. It’s not worth the risk to you, your passengers or other road users.
Don’t Panic if You Skid
There’s nothing worse than feeling the car skid, even if it’s at slow speed. The loss of control can strike fear and panic in any driver. The worst thing you can do is just slam on the brake pedal. But don’t panic (as best you can). If you feel yourself skidding, then make sure you keep both of your hands on the steering wheel. Don’t brake but steer the car into the skid which should get you straightened and back on the road facing forwards.
It’s not easy to avoid panicking and if you’re worried about driving in the winter months we would recommend only travelling when you need to. To build up your confidence you could also take a winter driving course. This will help get you prepared for what to do in an emergency and may even save your life or the lives of others.
Prepare for Bad Weather
This one might seem an obvious winter driving tip, but our cars are so warm and comfortable nowadays with heated seats and climate control that we forget to think about what would happen if everything stopped working or got caught in cold snowy conditions or unexpected wet conditions. Heavy rain can lead to flooding and fog can make even the shortest journey turn into a slow crawl.
Make sure you keep some basics in the car such as:
- an extra jumper and or jacket
- a blanket (just in case)
- a charged-up torch (not just rely on your phone)
- jump leads
- water and some snacks
You could and should carry an emergency kit so that if you did have an accident, you have everything to hand to help you, passengers, or others. This is one of those winter driving tips that we often overlook, but really it’s a good tip for driving all year. You never know what’s around the corner.
When you’re on your journey, stay tuned to local traffic reports so that you can keep in touch with what’s happening on the road ahead.
Plan Your Journeys and Take Your Time
No matter what the satnav says, always plan extra time for your journeys during the winter months. At times you might have to set off 10 minutes earlier (even if you don’t go anyway initially) to de-ice the vehicle properly. If you’re doing a long journey, or you’re picking someone up for an important trip, always make sure there is enough fuel in the tank before you set off, or at least plan in time to get some fuel on the way.
If you use a satnav if the road conditions are more slippery or you are driving in icy conditions, then only travel on roads which have been properly gritted. You don’t want to find yourself in the middle of nowhere on an icy road with no one nearby. You should also make sure as standard you are fully insured and have breakdown cover.
Winter Driving Tips Summary
We hope this winter driving advice is helpful. Most of it is common sense but it’s sometimes good to have a memory jog and remind ourselves that driving in wintery months is very different to driving in the summer. We hope this article helps with safer winter driving and that if we do get caught out we all have adequate breakdown cover in place and are able to deal with any adverse driving conditions that the winter weather sends our way.
If you have any winter driving tips you’d like to add then we’d love to hear from you.