Your guide to driving through the snow in winter

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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.

Pre-trip preparation

There are arguably two reasons why recovery vehicles always expect to be busy at the end of December and the start of the new year. The first is the high likelihood of snow and ice on the roads; the second is that many drivers are often getting into their cars for the first time since the extended Christmas break.

The charge level on a starter battery sitting unused for a prolonged period is likely to be low. Unfortunately, from getting the engine going, through to turning the cab heating up to full blast, the first-day-back demands on your battery are likely to be unusually high. 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.

Additionally, it’s crucial you check all lights, including the fog lights, and replace any spent bulbs — visibility can be challenging in snowy conditions and you’ll want every tool at your disposal. Similarly, make sure you keep a healthy amount of winter screen wash: if snow showers have stopped, slushy roads can create heavy demands on your windscreen. Ensure you follow the guidelines on the correct concentration, as doing so will reduce the risk of the washers freezing up.

Remember, a chipped screen can increase glare in low winter sun, increasing the chances of an accident. Fortunately, Club Care motor insurance includes a 24-hour windscreen helpline, so you can have that windscreen problem dealt with easily and quickly — regardless of the weather.

Extreme cold will reduce tyre pressure and increase the risk of tyre-walls cracking. This is precisely the time when you need as much grip and control as possible, so check the condition and pressure of your tyres before each journey. It’s also the ideal time to check your vehicle manual for guidelines on how often to replace or top up your antifreeze. Following this advice should help stave off any expensive and unnecessary damage to the engine and other components.

As well as a fully-charged mobile phone, it’s highly recommended to have a ‘winter kit’ in your car. This should consist of: 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.

Get insured

Despite all the best preparations, sometimes things can happen that are outside of your control. Inattentive drivers, surprise weather changes, and unexplained engine failures are all realities of a long car journey; knowing that whatever happens, you and your property are covered takes a lot of the anxiety out of these unpleasant circumstances.

This is especially true if you’re also towing a trailer or caravan, which will require more effort to dislodge. It’s worth bearing in mind that if you’re a Club Care policyholder, your car insurance package also covers any accidental damage to a towed vehicle up to a value of £1000; always handy. 

Driving and manoeuvring in snow

If severe weather is forecast, heed the official advice by asking if your journey is really necessary. If the drive can’t be avoided, however, adopting a measured and consistent driving style will see you through.

Set off smoothly and slowly, with the intent of maintaining a low speed throughout the trip. Braking is problematic in snow and ice because your grip is far less dependable, possibly resulting in a spin if you lose it. As such, aim to bring your speed down smoothly and apply the brakes gently — using the lowest possible gear to remain in control.

On the road, bear in mind that 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; remember that isolated patches of snow and black ice are still possible.

What to do if you get stuck

Avoid the temptation to put pedal to the metal: the rut you are in is only likely to get worse by spinning the wheels. Slowly does it — 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.

In the eventuality that you simply cannot move, there’s no need to 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. 

To find out more about the insurance discounts and benefits you could be entitled to, take a look at Club Care's insurance policies