Winter driving advice

  • Make sure you and your car are ready for winter
  • The Parkers guide to driving safely in the snow
  • Top hints and tips to keep you mobile

British winters are changeable beasts, with several months of frost, fog, rain, ice and snow – or low sun and blue skies, if you're lucky. Whatever the prevailing conditions, driving can be challenging, especially if you're unprepared.

And as they say, fail to prepare – prepare to fail. So, with that in mind, expect difficult driving conditions. If you are, you shouldn’t have any issues, whether you need to drive 200 miles to see your relatives, or are working through and need to keep mobile. Remember that you need to kit your wits about you, don't bank on a clear road, and expect the unexpected around the very next corner. 

Here are the best tips and advice to keep you safe on the roads in winter, and in particular for driving in snow, as picked by the Parkers car reviews team. 

Number one: equip yourself with the right kit

Make sure your car is ready for the worst. 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

Making the most of them
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 your owners' manual and check pressures weekly. If a tyre pressure monitoring system is fitted, reset this once you’ve topped up. 

Should you buy winter tyres?
If you have the money and space, they are well worth buying whether it snows or not. 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.

Wipers and lights

Washer fluid
Keep this topped up with a mix of water and screenwash, to ensure that you can see clearly through the windscreen however mucky the conditions. The bottle should state the correct ratio to use. We recommend the Volkswagen Group own brand (Part No G052164M2) - it's suitable for all makes, not just Audi, SEAT, Skoda and VW, and is very cheap and effective. You can find this on Amazon.

Windscreen wipers
Check these are in good condition and that they effectively clear the glass. When it's really cold, lift your wipers off the screen when parking overnight – and don't forget to turn your wipers off before you switch off the ignition...

Lights
Make sure that all lights work and are free from road grime – including foglamps and reversing lights. A quick wipe with some kitchen roll before each journey will buy you lots of extra vision if there's salt on the roads.

Anything else?

Number plates
Easily forgotten as they get dirty over time. But remember that it is illegal to have numberplates that are too dirty to be read - the police take this very seriously indeed. 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. 

Driving in rain: give yourself room

BMW 3 Series driving in the rain

The main thing to remember is that in wet weather, stopping distances can be twice as long, if not more. So, remember to hang back from the car in front. If you're on a motorway and another car fills your own braking zone, then back off as it's absolutely essential to keep clear space around you.

Headlights
Leave them on dipped beam so other drivers can see you clearly on the road. Don't use your rear foglights unless visibility is seriously restricted (to less than 100m).

Speed
Drop your speed on wet roads to give yourself time to slow down if needed. Expect the unexpected and be on your guard – if you are driving slower, it buys you more time.

Puddles and standing water
Watch out for floodwater on bends, and the colder it is the riskier driving through standing water is. If it looks deep, hang back as it might not be worth the risk of driving into it. Maintain a slow steady speed as you drive through any water once you're sure it's not too deep, and then test your brakes as soon as you're out of the water.

Driving in the snow: best survival equipment

Driving in the snow

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. And do all of them. Also, if there's snow on the roof, wipe off before you set off – a 'snow hat' can cause all manner of visibility issues for other drivers behind you if it falls off at speed.

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. We'd also recommend leaving a sturdy pair of boots in the luggage compartment in case you need to abandon your car and trudge off somewhere else. It happens.

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.

Keep these in your glovebox, too

High-visibility jacket and torch
Should the worst happen and you break down, these will keep you as visible as possible. Many cars these days come with these items as standard, but it helps if you can lay your hands on them in a hurry. In the dark.

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

And so to aid traction when it gets slippery

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

Driving in snow tips

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. Remember, your stopping distance can be 10 times longer.

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 gear
When driving on snow think about pulling off in second gear to limit wheelspin.

Take sunglasses
The low winter sun can easily dazzle drivers, so it’s wise to keep a pair of shades in the car. In these conditions, put your lights on, too.

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.

What to read next:

Audi A4 Avant on winter tyres

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