Essential winter driving tips

Winter can be a challenging time to drive, even if you don’t live somewhere prone to heavy snowfall. Long nights, icy roads and flooded country lanes can all conspire to make winter driving more hazardous wherever you live. Thankfully, there are a few simple things you can do to help make sure you get home safely during chilly winter months,

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Prepare your car

If possible, you should make sure your car gets a good service before winter sets in. If that’s not possible, there are a few simple things you can check yourself. Take a look at the car’s fluid levels – including oil, screenwash, brake fluid and anything else suggested by the owner’s manual – and make sure they’re well within the set limits. Topping up the coolant with antifreeze will help prevent any pipes from cracking or corroding in cold weather, too.

Cold weather can also take its toll on your car’s battery – if your car is reluctant to start on cold mornings it could be a sign your battery needs replacing. You’ll also find yourself using lots more screenwash during the winter so it’s worth regularly checking the fluid level and replacing your windscreen wipers if they start to produce nasty smear marks on the glass.

Emergency winter kit

It’s well worth carrying a few spare coats, a tow rope and even a shovel (if you have space) in your car just in case you find yourself stranded while a torch, a first-aid kit and some emergency food may also come in handy should the worst happen.

A can of de-icer will help make clearing your windscreen on frosty mornings the work of a few seconds rather than a freezing ten-minute trial, too.

Winter tyres

Winter tyres will help make sure you can stop your car safely in icy and snowy conditions. They often cost no more than a comparable summer tyre, too. Read our detailed guide to winter tyres for more information.

Driving in rain and mud

Heavy rain can seriously reduce your visibility – especially at night. If the heavens open, make sure you leave a large gap to cars in front so you’ll be able to stop safely if an accident occurs ahead.

Slow down when driving through muddy patches and large puddles, too – this’ll help reduce the risk of aquaplaning (when your tyres start to float across the surface of the water rather than gripping the road below). In extreme cases, this can cause your car to spin uncontrollably.

 Watch out for flood warnings and be prepared to follow diversions around known flooding hotspots, too. If you find yourself having to drive down a submerged road, approach the water slowly, one car at a time and stay in a low gear at high revs to prevent the engine from stalling.

Keep away from the edges of the road where the water is likely to be at its deepest and remember to lightly press the brake pedal once you’re clear of the floodwater to dry out the brakes.

Driving in fog

Fog is one of the most dangerous weather conditions to drive in because it dramatically reduces visibility. If you have to drive in fog, make sure to take it really slow – an accident involving two cars can quickly turn into a huge pileup, blocked roads and expensive insurance claims. Drive with dipped headlights and fog lights when visibility is below 100 metres.

Driving in low sunlight

The sun is often quite low in winter, which can be dazzling and cause accidents. Make sure your windscreen is clean inside and out for better visibility, carry a pair of sunglasses for when you’re driving into the sun and, although it sounds a bit silly, put your dipped headlights on. They can help other drivers see you, and remember that if you’re being blinded then so are the cars ahead and behind you. Also remember to top up your washer fluid – chances are you’ll be cleaning your windscreen regularly when the sun’s low.

Driving in snow and ice

The most important bit of advice for driving in ice and snow is to take it slow – and not drive at all if you can help it. It can take up to ten times longer to stop on ice and your tyres won’t be able to grip if you’re going too fast. When going down hills, slow down gradually by going down the gears and only use the brakes very lightly. Heavy braking can lock up the tyres, meaning you’ll lose control and you’ll be no more than a passenger. Be aware that even if you have a 4×4 you won’t be able to stop any quicker than a normal car, so just take it easy.

Keep lights, windows, number plates and wheel arches clear of snow, and remember that there could be icy patches even when the snow has melted and the road looks clearer. If you get stuck in snow, don’t rev the engine very high – you’ll just get more and more stuck. Instead, put the car in a higher gear (second could be best) and gently rock it forwards and backwards.

If you get caught in a snow drift, don’t leave your vehicle – stay put and call your breakdown cover or, if you’re in a dangerous position, the emergency services.

Need a car to tackle winter?

Check out our guides to the best cars for winter and the best 4x4s you can buy. If you’re not sure what to buy, visit our car chooser to find the perfect car for your lifestyle.

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