03 January 2017 by Gareth Evans & Chris Lloyd

  • Winter driving
  • Winter
  • Winter driving
  • Your guide to tackling wintry road conditions
  • Prepare yourself to avoid getting caught out
  • Our guide shows you how to stay safe on the road

The days may finally be getting longer, but cold weather is here to stay, with several months of frost, fog, rain, ice and snow to come.

Be prepared for these conditions and you shouldn’t have any issues, however, whether you have to tackle the length of the M6 to a conference or venture across the capital’s busy roads for a business meeting.

We’ve rounded up some top tips to make sure you’re safe on the roads this winter and are prepared for whatever the British weather has to offer, with everything you need to hand in the car.

Prepare your car for cold weather

Taking a few simple precautions should keep you safe regardless of the conditions you come across. Most importantly, leave extra time to give yourself a chance to defrost the windows and tackle slippery roads without then having to rush to your destination.

Tyres – ensure these have plenty of tread left and are in good overall condition with no cracks or bulges. Make sure the tyres are pumped up to the pressure recommended in the manual and check pressures weekly. If a tyre pressure monitoring system is fitted, reset this once you’ve topped up. 

Washer fluid – keep this topped up with a mix of water and antifreeze, to ensure that you can see clearly through the windscreen however mucky the conditions. The bottle should state the correct ratio to use.

Windscreen wipers – check these are in good condition and that they effectively clear the glass.

Lights – make sure that all lights work and are free from road grime – including foglamps and reversing lights.

Numberplate – it is illegal to have numberplates that are too dirty to be read. Make sure to keep your plates clean, even if you don’t bother to wash the rest of the car. 

Breakdown cover – ensure that you have cover – and the contact details are close to hand – to avoid being marooned in the middle of nowhere. 

Winter tyres – these don’t just offer much improved grip on snow and ice compared with standard tyres, but they perform better on cold tarmac too. As a result, winter tyres can be much more effective than four-wheel drive systems for driving on wintry roads.

Winter survival equipment

It’s sensible to keep several items in the car over winter that could prove invaluable in the event of an emergency.

Ice scraper or de-icer – being able to see the road around you clearly is crucial. Make sure you can see out of all of your windows before setting off.

Blanket and warm clothing – in the event you get stuck in winter, keeping warm is very important, so you’ll want to leave a blanket and winter clothing such as a hat, gloves and a cosy jacket in the boot just in case.

Water and food – fog, snow and floods can lead to hours of traffic jams in winter. Having high-energy food – such as chocolate or energy bars – and water close to hand could prove invaluable if you get stuck. You can also top up washer fluid with the water if you run out – though you’ll need to remember to add antifreeze later to avoid this freezing if temperatures fall.

Fluorescent jacket and torch – should the worst happen and you break down, these will keep you as visible as possible.

First aid kit – this helps you to deal with any minor injuries there and then.

Shovel and snow socks – a folding shovel could come in handy if you encounter deep snow or mud. Snow socks, which you wrap around the driven tyres could also be very useful, gripping much better than summer tyres on packed snow. Make sure to take them off as soon as you go back onto clear tarmac, however, as using these on gritted roads will destroy them in minutes. You can also use snow chains in deeper snow and ice.

Winter driving advice

Adapting your driving to the conditions is vitally important during winter. Take heed of the following tips and you should avoid incident:

Slow down and leave room – cars need much longer to stop on snow, ice and even wet roads, so drive more slowly and leave extra space when following other vehicles.

Beware of black ice – this is a real possibility as temperatures near zero, so drop your speed and drive smoothly in these conditions, trying to avoid any sudden steering, braking or acceleration inputs. Try to brake in a straight line and in a progressive manner to avoid unsettling the car and skidding. If you do lock the brakes, release the brake pedal to regain control.

Start in second – when driving on snow think about pulling off in second gear to limit wheelspin.

Take shades – the low winter sun can easily dazzle drivers, so it’s wise to keep a pair of sunglasses in the car.

Lights on – use dipped headlights in foggy, rainy and snowy conditions and whenever light levels drop.

Override automatic headlights – many cars switch the lights on when it gets dark, but they can’t always tell when it’s raining, snowy or foggy, so you need to take control here.

Use foglights wisely – foglights should only be used when visibility drops to less than 100m. Make sure you know how to switch these on and off and use them in dense fog but switch them off when it thins as they can dazzle other drivers.

Plan your route – if you have to drive in wintry weather consider the most suitable route, bearing in mind that sticking to larger roads could prove safer, as these are more likely to be well gritted. 

Negotiate hills carefully – avoid stopping on a hill in snow, if possible, as you may struggle to pull off again. When descending hills, use a low gear and try to avoid using the brakes if you can to avoid skidding.