Even for the most capable and confident drivers, driving in the snow can be quite tricky.
Snow can lead to slippy and unpredictable road surfaces, while visibility will be greatly reduced as it falls.
It’s easy to see why it can be treacherous, though. If you’re wondering how to drive in snow more safely and to minimise risk though, these 10 tips should help.
1. Avoid driving if possible
OK, so opening a driving tips feature by telling you to leave a car parked up seems counterproductive, but it’s often best to just leave the car at home unless your journey is essential.
Fewer cars on the road mean it’s safer for everyone out there. This works both ways too — if your journey is essential and there are fewer unnecessary drivers on the road, you’ve got a little more breathing space.
2. Check your route before setting off
The last thing you’ll want to come across on a snowy drive is a closed road on your route.
It’s always worth checking ahead to see if any of the roads you regularly drive are closed as a result of the weather. Free services such as Google Maps can show you closed roads as well as suggest alternative routes.
If you don’t have access to an online maps tool, it’s worth having a listen to traffic announcements over the radio.
3. Give yourself more time for your journey
What may be a short journey on a nice, sunny day could end up taking quite a bit longer if the weather is bad.
With that in mind, it’s always worth giving yourself more time for your journey when driving in the snow.
That way you’ve got a little more time to anticipate while you’re driving, plus to deal with potential road closures and detours.
4. Check your tyres
It’s essential to regularly check your tyres, but even more so if you’re driving in the snow.
Lower temperatures will mean less grip in your tyres, so the last thing you want to be relying on is some worn-out rubber.
Though the legal limit is 1.6mm of tread on your tyres, it’ll be better to have comfortably more than that in the snow.
A tyre depth gauge costs a few quid and is a handy little thing to keep in your car. If you don’t have one to hand, a very rough way to measure the tread depth is with a 20p coin.
Sit it flat in the central groove of your tyre and see how far up the coin the rubber comes. If it’s below the solid outer rim of your 20p, it’s most likely time for a new set.
If you’re regularly driving in tricky conditions, it’s worth considering investing in a set of winter tyres. These are better are generating grip in colder conditions, though you’ll need to switch them again for a seasonal set in the summer.
5. Make sure your wipers and screenwash are in check
Give your windscreen wiper blades a quick visual inspection before setting off. If the rubber is beginning to crack or peel away from the wiper arm, you should get yourself a new set.
It’s worth giving them a test as well. If they’re leaving milky streaks across the windscreen, it could be time for a new set.
You should try your screenwash in case the fluid has frozen. It might be worth buying a bottle designed to cope with sub-zero temperatures — it’ll be useful all-year-round too.
6. Pack an emergency kit
It’s worth keeping an emergency kit in your car in case the weather catches you out.
Some key items to keep in there could include: a high-vis jacket, de-icer, a blanket, a first-aid kit, a warning triangle, jump leads and a battery pack to charge your phone from.
It’s worth making a flask of your choice of hot drink and tucking a few snacks away too.
7. Wear appropriate footwear
If it’s particularly bad in the snow, you might be in big boots to get your car. While they’re good for safely walking, they might not be the best for driving in.
It could be a good idea to bring a more comfortable set of shoes to drive in. Regardless of how you do it, make sure you’ve dried your shoes off if you’re walking in the snow as well. You could find your feet slipping on the pedals otherwise.
8. Focus on anticipation
Anticipation is key when driving in the snow. Your car’s stopping distances will be increased greatly as a result of the slippier surfaces, increasing the risk of an accident.
Begin braking earlier than you normally would in order to account for any slip, as well as allowing yourself time to brake more progressively.
Anti-lock brake systems work less effectively in slippery conditions, so there’s an increased risk of locking your brakes if you’re having to slow down suddenly.
9. Be gentle with the throttle
Slippery surfaces make it easier for your car’s engine to spin the wheels when you press the accelerator. It’s essential to be extra careful with the throttle in snowy conditions.
A more gentle application will minimise the risk of wheelspin, keeping you firmly in control. You can shift up to a higher gear to help prevent this too.
10. Know your car’s limits
Above all, make sure you’re not pushing your car beyond its limits of capabilities. It’s not worth plunging through thick snow if you’re not wholly confident your car can handle it.
This is especially worth considering if you drive an SUV. Though there’s a huge range of them available now, not all are dedicated 4×4 vehicles and may struggle in slippery conditions.
What should you avoid when driving in snow?
- Don’t drive fast
Driving hard and fast in the snow is a recipe for disaster. Though you may feel confident doing so in the dry, you’ll have much less grip and margin for error in the snow. It’s not worth the risk.
- Don’t leave your route to chance
Always check your route before driving in the snow. There’s a chance adverse weather could cause closures up ahead, and it’s not worth assuming all will be clear.
- Don’t take a risk just because someone else has
You may have seen a driver up ahead plunging through some deep snow or taking a corner quickly.
Just because they’ve managed it safely doesn’t mean you will. Don’t push yourself beyond your or your car’s limits, it’s not worth the risk.
FAQs: Driving in snow
What gear is best to drive in snow?
It’s best to drive in as high a gear as possible in the snow as this will reduce wheelspin.
Try pulling away from a junction in second gear rather than first if you’re getting wheelspin, and shift up sooner than you normally would.
Is front-wheel-drive good in snow?
Front-wheel-drive cars tend to have decent grip in the snow as more weight sits over the front axle of the car.
This doesn’t mean you’ll be completely immune to a loss of traction but it can mean you’ll have more grip.
How do I drive uphill in snow?
When driving uphill in the snow, be gentle on the throttle and use as high a gear as you’re comfortable with. Patience is key.
Am I insured to drive in snow?
Your car will be insured to be driven in snow. Take it easy though, if you’re purposely driving erratically and have an accident, your insurer could question your claim.