Whether you’re an expert driver or new to the road, we all know how tricky it can be to drive on the winter roads. Ice, snow, pouring rain, any one of these troublesome spells of weather can add that extra challenge to getting safely to your destination.
According to figures collected by Admiral Insurance, car accident claims due to bad weather increase by 25% as early as November; and that’s if you even make it off the driveway. Figures suggest that your car is 18% less likely to start during winter.
But winter driving doesn’t have to be hazardous, and with a little preparation, you’ll have no trouble minimising the chances of your car packing it in the moment the weather turns.
Our winter driving tips cover how to drive safely in snow and ice, as well as how to get your car started in the morning, and includes an extensive checklist of everything you’ll need to prepare your car for any wintery journey.
How to prepare for winter driving
It might feel like winter creeps up on us every year, but the only predictable thing about the British weather is its unpredictability - so it makes sense to properly prepare your car for colder conditions.
Winter means you’re likely going to be driving in snow and ice, and that means making sure you’re suitably-prepared well before the cold weather truly sets in. Below are our top winter car checks for driving in snow:
1. Check your tyres – Making sure your tyres are winter ready is essential for driving in snow and ice. They need to be in good condition to tackle the ever-changing winter weather, so that means checking their treads have a depth of at least 1.6mm for maximum grip. And if you’re at all concerned your tyres aren’t up to scratch, then it may be a good idea to invest in winter tyres.
2. Check your car’s fluids – Coolant and washer fluid can both freeze as temperatures drop, so you’ll need to top up both with anti-freeze before the weather gets truly cold. Engine coolant should also be a 50/50 mix of water and antifreeze to minimise the chances of your engine overheating or seizing up.
3. Check your battery – Car batteries usually have a shelf-life of about five years, and if yours is on the way out, a drop in temperature could very well cause it to fail. This is because cold temperatures reduce the output of the battery, meaning it has to work harder to keep your lights, heaters, and wipers running. Get your local garage to do a battery test to see how yours is holding up and replace it if necessary.
4. Check your windscreen – Windscreen chips often get worse in winter. If your screen has any, it’s best to get them fixed or the windscreen replaced before they impair visibility. You’ll also want to keep your windscreen clean both inside and out. Any dust and grease on the inside can increase the glare from the winter sun and reduce visibility.
5. Get a winter service – Although nothing can guarantee your car won’t break down in winter, getting a winter service and maintenance check can help prevent problems associated with cold weather by catching them before they become an issue.
6. Stock up on de-icer – Icy door locks and windows can be a nightmare in the morning, but spraying de-icer on windows, car handles, and locks can quickly solve the problem. And whatever you do, do not pour a kettle of boiling water over your windscreen. The clash of temperatures between the boiling water and freezing cold glass may cause the windscreen to crack.
7. Buy an ice scraper – Scraping ice from your windscreen can be a tedious task, especially without the right tools. So, if you haven’t got any de-icer or you’ve run out, make sure you’ve got a proper ice scraper to hand to make clearing your screen quick and simple.
8. Spread salt - Spreading salt at the end of the day and first thing in the morning can dramatically reduce the build-up of ice overnight and will help to melt the ice in the morning. This one is mainly for anyone who parks on a driveway but can still be useful if you park on the road.
9. Buy a small shovel - If the weather has been particularly adverse overnight, you may need a shovel to clear the snow from around your vehicle, enabling a smooth getaway in the morning, as well as making it easier to park on your return home.
10. Dig out your jump leads – Ideally, you should already have a set of jump leads packed in your car in case of a breakdown. And as cold weather can mess around with your battery, it’s even more important to pack a pair for winter.
How to drive in bad weather
So, now that your car is hopefully ready for winter, you should brush up on those bad-weather driving skills. This means reminding yourself how to drive safely in snow and the dangers posed by ice and rain.
The number one rule to keep in mind when travelling in bad weather is to pay attention to how you’re driving. Driving smoothly and steadily is the key to safe winter driving. When the roads are icy or wet, don’t set off at speed and try not to stop too quickly; both could see you unintentionally spinning out of control.
And when you need to slow down, it can be best to use your gears as an engine brake. Move down through the gears until you reach your desired speed as if you’re driving down a steep hill. Again, if you slam on your brakes, the wheels will likely lock and send you spinning.
Clutch control is also going to be vital for good winter driving. It’s easier to pull away in a manual car if you let the clutch up gently, and you can prevent wheel spin by keeping engine revs low through early gear changes up and late gear changes down. Automatics and 4x4s, on the other hand, usually have a special mode for driving in the snow, so be sure to use it.
Lastly, if you are unlucky enough to get stuck in the snow, don’t rev your engine. This will spin your wheels and dig you deeper into the snow. Instead, try gently rocking your car back and forth to ease your car out of the dip and into a place where your tyres can grip.
How to drive in heavy rain
Rain is something we’re used to in the UK, especially during winter, so here are our top tips on how to stay safe when the roads are wet:
· Pay attention to speed and distance – Your braking distance will be twice as long in wet weather, so it’s always best to keep an eye on maintaining good speed and distance with the cars in front of you, giving yourself plenty of room to stop.
· Be careful of the spray on the road – Road spray can increase substantially in wet weather, making it harder to see. Be sure to double-check your wipers are in good condition before you set off, to handle any excessive water.
· Use dipped headlights – You’ll want to make sure your car is visible in the rain to any other road vehicles and pedestrians. The best way to do this is by using your dipped headlights, even during the daytime.
· Don’t use your fog lights – Although it can be tempting on those dark winter mornings and evenings, you should only ever activate your fog lamps when visibility is below 100 meters. Fog lights in clear conditions can dazzle other drivers, which can be especially dangerous when there’s water on the road, so if you’re unsure about needing your fog lights, use this simple check: can you see the rear lights of the car in front of you? If you can see them, you probably don’t need your fog lights on.
· Watch out for surface water – You should always take care when driving through deep water. Deep water can hide hazards that may cause damage to your car, and speeding through even a thin layer of water can cause your car to lose grip on the road. This loss of control is known as aquaplaning. If this happens, don’t brake; just ease off the accelerator and keep your hands on the steering wheel until your speed naturally decreases or your car clears the water.
How to drive in snow and ice
We all know that UK public transport networks can crack under the pressure of even the lightest snowfall, and driving conditions can be even more dangerous if there’s ice on the road. Traditional winter weather makes it far more difficult to spot road hazards, so here’s how to drive safely in snow and ice:
· Accelerate gently – As with driving in rain, one of our top tips for driving in snow is to accelerate gently when pulling away from a stationary start. Quick acceleration can result in wheel spin, so you may want to put your car in second gear and rev gently to get going.
· Watch your speed and distance – Again, similar to driving in rain, stopping distances are significantly longer in snowy and icy conditions. In some cases, these distances can be up to ten times greater, so take this into consideration when breaking and avoid driving at high speeds.
· Watch out for road glare – Low winter sun and snow have the potential to reduce visibility to almost zero, so it’s always a good idea to keep your windscreen clean and a pair of sunglasses handy to offset glare from the road.
· Beware of skidding – Even the most cautious drivers can lose grip on the road. When you feel your car start to skid, the most important thing to do is avoid hitting the brakes. Instead, take your foot off the accelerator and allow the car to slow until you’re back in control. If the car does start to spin, steer into it to straighten up while gently pumping the brakes.
· Listen for sound changes – Finally, one of our final tips for navigating snowy roads is to listen out for how your driving sounds. Snow is crunchy as you drive over it while ice is almost silent. So, if you’re driving along and suddenly hit a quiet spot, you’ve probably reached a patch of the slippery stuff.
How to pack a winter car kit
At this point, your car should be all set for winter, and you should have familiarised yourself with how to drive in bad weather, but what if you get stuck? Gather the following items and you’ll be able to comfortably survive until you can free yourself or help comes:
· Pack a torch – This first tip is vital if you break down in the dark and need to see the issue. We recommend packing a wind-up torch, as even rechargeable batteries can lose power over time.
· Buy a high visibility vest and warning triangle – You should ideally have these in your car at all times anyway, but if you don’t, now’s the time to make sure you get them. If you break down or get stuck on a dark wintery road, and it’s snowing, then these items will be essential for helping others spot you.
· Bring your mobile and a battery pack – There’s nothing worse than being stranded somewhere without a phone, so make sure you keep it handy. And if you’re wondering why we’re not suggesting a USB charger for your phone, then it’s worth remembering that a cable won’t be much use if your car battery dies.
· Note your breakdown company’s details – If you have breakdown cover, make sure you have all the details with you so you can easily contact your provider. If your breakdown recovery firm has a mobile app, it’s definitely worth downloading this as they can use it to track where you’re stranded.
· Stock up on spare screen wash – As with those wintery mornings, you don’t want to get caught without anything to wash your windscreen with, as it could make driving tricky once you get going again.
· Buy a first aid kit – A basic first aid kit is a must for car journeys at any time of the year, but it’s even more essential in the winter in case you slip in the cold weather and hurt yourself.
· Put a blanket in the boot – Keeping yourself warm if you get trapped in your car overnight, or even for just a couple of hours if it’s below freezing, is essential. A good, warm blanket should help you keep nice and toasty until morning or help arrives.
· Bring a snack, water, and a warm flask – If you get stuck for any length of time, you’ll be glad of these. A tasty snack can give you an energy boost and a warm flask of tea or coffee will help keep you warm and alert.
· Pack toilet roll and plastic bags – This probably isn’t something you’ve ever thought about when prepping for a drive, but these could become vitally important if you’re stuck for longer than a few hours and find yourself needing to answer the call of nature.
· Bring your jump cables – Obviously, if your battery dies, you’ll need a way to get it started again, so having jump cables on you is essential.
What is the best car for winter driving?
When it comes to winter driving, there is no one car that is best suited for tackling ice and snow. With that being said, if you’re looking for a capable vehicle for adverse weather conditions, then the added power and grip of a 4x4 will likely be your best option.
If you’re looking to upgrade your current vehicle and need some help and advice on what to do, why not talk to one of the Zuto team? Not only can we help you efficiently budget for a new vehicle with our car finance options, but we can even help those seeking bad credit car finance.
Reach out to our team today to find out more or head over to our car finance calculator to see what you can afford. And don’t forget to visit the Zuto blog for more informative articles like this one.