How to Drive in Snow - The Camping and Caravanning Club
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How to Drive in Snow

Snow and ice cause chaos on Britain’s roads during winter. According to the figures, drivers are more likely to require a breakdown call-out in the last week of December than at any other time in the year, cueing the beginning of the recovery industry’s busiest period.

We’re no strangers to snow and ice here in the UK; however, when something goes wrong — whether it’s a prang, a mechanical fault, or finding yourself stranded — the root cause isn’t so much the snow. Oftentimes, it’s simply because we were caught by surprise.

In these conditions, it’s vital that you adequately prepare for your journey, that you adjust your driving to suit the conditions, and that you protect yourself — both through the right precautions and the right cover.

With this in mind, we’ve put together a comprehensive guide to keeping yourself safe and incident free on those snowy roads. You can never be too careful.

7 top tips for driving in snow and ice

1. Check your battery

It’s not just the likelihood of snow and ice that makes the end of December and the start of the new year especially busy for recovery drivers. Many drivers are often getting into their cars for the first time since the extended Christmas break, so the charge level on the starter battery is likely to be low.

The first-day-back demands on your battery are likely to be unusually high - from getting the engine going, through to turning the cab heating up to full blast. The end result can be a flat battery — either immediately or at some inconvenient point into the journey. Simply by running the engine or by taking the vehicle out for a drive every few days, you can ensure that charge levels remain topped up.

2. Check your visibility

Visibility can be challenging in snowy conditions, so check all lights, including the fog lights, and replace any spent bulbs. Keep a healthy amount of winter screen wash, too: post-snow slushy roads can mess up your windscreen. Make sure you make up the correct concentration of screen wash to water to reduce the risk of the washers freezing up.

3. Check tyres and antifreeze

Extreme cold will reduce tyre pressure and increase the risk of tyre-walls cracking just when you need as much grip and control as possible, so monitor the condition and pressure of your tyres before each journey. If the tread is below 1.6 mm (the legal limit), change your tyres. Better still, change them before they reach the limit (3mm is recommended).

Winter tyres are designed to increase grip in snow and ice and could help you to avoid an accident. Be sure to contact your insurer if you are considering fitting winter tyres, in case your policy has any restrictions on tyre size (i.e. if you’re using separate wheels, check whether the size has to be the same as your usual wheels).

Check your vehicle manual to see how often to replace or top up your antifreeze. All will help reduce expensive and unnecessary damage to the engine and other components. 

4. Avoid a cracked windscreen

Remember, a chipped screen can increase glare in low winter sun, increasing the chances of an accident. Protect your windscreen from cracking by covering it overnight, or use a car cover to protect the entire vehicle for maximum protection.

5. Prepare for emergencies

As well as a fully-charged mobile phone, keep a ‘winter kit’ in your car. Include a first-aid kit, warm clothes, blanket, torch, boots, shovel, and tow rope. For longer journeys, it’s worth carrying some food and a hot drink in a flask. Packing these items ensures you’re better able to dig yourself out of snow and, in the event of a breakdown, to stay safe and warm until help arrives. This is ultimately where having the right kind of cover becomes absolutely essential.

6. Drive safely

If your journey can’t be avoided, adopting a measured and consistent driving style will see you through. Set off smoothly and slowly, and maintain a low speed throughout the trip. Braking is difficult in snow and ice because your grip is far less dependable, and can result in a spin if you lose it. So aim to bring your speed down smoothly and apply the brakes gently, using the lowest possible gear to remain in control.

Stopping distances are up to ten times greater in snow and ice, so increase the gap between your car and the vehicle in front to compensate. Don’t be tempted to lower your guard on gritted roads or when the thaw starts. Isolated patches of snow and black ice are still possible.

7. Know what to do if you get stuck

Don’t try and drive out of it: the rut you are in is only likely to get worse by spinning the wheels. Try moving the car backwards and forward several times to see if you can break free of the build-up. If this isn’t working, use your shovel to dig yourself clear.

If you simply cannot move, don’t panic. Inform the police and your breakdown service, do what you can to move the vehicle clear of the road and stay with your car. If you can’t clear the car off the road, keep your hazard lights on and stay close to your vehicle. Above all else, it’s important you remain safe — anything else can be replaced.