Driving in Snow

Driving in the Snow Advice

During the winter months, conditions for even the most experienced of drivers can prove challenging – whether that’s wintery showers with a skid risk or heavy rain with a potential for aquaplaning.

For most of the UK driving in snow and ice is a rarer occurrence that requires more care and attention. There are many steps you can take in order to make journeys in these conditions safer and a far less stressful experience when the weather turns colder. 

How to Drive in Snow 

During harsh winter conditions, it is essential to prepare in advance of seasonal changes in the weather if you live in an area that is remote, sees snowfall or icy conditions. This will allow you to continue to travel safely in most eventualities. There are a few key steps you can take to prepare prior to getting on the road:

  • Purchase winter tyres or all season tyres – whilst winter tyres are not a legal requirement in the UK, when the temperature falls below 7°c they will provide optimum performance in terms of traction and grip, making it safer to drive in snow. To avoid changing tyres seasonally, drivers can benefit from using all season tyres to provide reassurance come rain, shine or snow
  • It is strongly advised to use a full set of winter or all season tyres rather than mixing seasonal tyres across axels (e.g. summer on rear and winter on front axel) as the tyres will perform differently to each other depending on weather conditions
  • Check your tyres are in the best possible condition using our guide to checking your tyres
  • Ensure tyre pressure is correct for the vehicle – details of how to check this can be found on our guide to checking tyre pressure
  • Check lights are working correctly
  • Top up fluids such as screen wash/antifreeze and oil
  • Clear your car of any settled snow or ice – this includes windscreen, rear screen, windows, roof or mirrors. By law in the UK you need to have maximum visibility out of all windows and your lights/indicators visible to other road users

Once your car is ready to face the elements, it is crucial as the driver to understand how to drive safely on snow and ice:

  • Drive smoothly to ensure no sudden movements in braking or steering, this will help the tyre tread to maintain maximum contact with the road surface
  • Know how fast to drive in snow - match speed to driving conditions and maintain plenty of distance between the vehicle in front to ensure plenty of time to react to any sudden braking
  • If your car should get stuck on snow or ice, use low revs and a higher gear to smoothly navigate the vehicle away from the area
  • Keep the cabin at a comfortable temperature to help keep windows free of snow and ice
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Tips for Driving in the Snow

Driving in snow and wintery showers can often be a challenging time for many drivers – whether it’s a bright day of fresh snow or driving in snow at night. Aside from checking your vehicle and tyres are in the best condition for winter, the following advice for driving in snow can make the journey safer and less daunting:

  • Plan your journey carefully – check the local weather forecast prior to setting off and consider avoiding any areas of additional risk that are open to the elements or regularly flood
  • Leave plenty of time – additional time will be required before setting off to remove snow/ice from your car, carry out checks and drive more cautiously than normal which can all add time to your journey
  • Use dipped headlights in heavy snow and fog lights if visibility drops below 100m to ensure you can see and be seen by other road users
  • Pack a small winter driving kit in case of an emergency:
  • Snow shovel
  • Warm winter coat
  • Waterproof shoes with plenty of grip
  • Snow shovel
  • Ice scraper or de-icer
  • First aid kit
  • Blanket
  • Torch and batteries
  • Fully charged phone
  • Sunglasses
  • Keep your acceleration and braking smooth, whilst focusing on ensuring plenty of space between the car in front for a safe stopping distance
  • Maintain a steady speed and change down a gear as you approach any hills
  • When going downhill use a low gear at a steady speed to avoid the need to brake, whilst leaving appropriate distance between any vehicles in front
  • Should your vehicle skid, keep your hands on the steering wheel and steer gently into the way the car is sliding – do not brake harshly
  • Be cautious of driving in wheel tracks of other vehicles on ungritted roads – the compressed snow can be icier than driving on fresh snow

Manual vs Automatic Driving in the Snow 

General advice on preparation and driving style in snow and ice applies to both manual and automatic vehicles. When driving an automatic in snow, although the gears may not be applicable is it is still advised to drive cautiously.

A manual car can be easier to drive in wintery conditions as gears are controlled by the driver – making it easier to pull off in second gear to minimise wheel spin and gain momentum on the snow. Knowing how to drive a manual in snow using the gears to the driver’s advantage can make a difference in gaining momentum safely.

Front or Rear Wheel Drive Better in the Snow? 

It is widely recommended to drive either an all-wheel (AWD) or front wheel drive (FWD) vehicle in the snow to provide maximum traction. It is possible to drive a rear wheel drive (RWD) car with little trouble in the snow but it is recommended to be more cautious.

FWD cars have the benefit of the weight of the engine being over the drive wheels which helps to keep the wheels firmly on the ground and push through the snow with little wheel spin. RWD vehicles tend to have an empty boot space over the drive wheels – which means the wheels struggle for traction in snow without the additional weight of an engine. Due to the weight distribution in a RWD car, wheels can often spin in opportunities where FWD cars would not have an issue. There is also the additional risk of fishtailing in a RWD vehicle, this occurs when a the driver turns the wheel whilst accelerating, causing the rear wheels to push the car into a difficult spin.

Although there are additional risks driving a RWD over a FWD car in the snow, it is possible to drive safely as long as the driver takes additional precautions and is aware of the risk. 

UltraGrip Performance+ Winter Tyre Driving on Snowy Roads

What About 4 Wheel Drive in Snow?

Although it is commonly believed that all wheel or 4 wheel drive vehicles are better in snow, it is more to do with the contact between the tyres gaining traction on the snow. 4 wheel drive can help a vehicle to move in the snow because there is a higher chance of traction with all four wheels moving.

The traction then helps the efficacy of the all wheel drive train. A 4 wheel drive will not provide any additional safety when it comes to braking or steering – this is all dependent on driver behaviour.

The best advice for gaining traction in snow and ice is to use winter or all season tyres that are designed to provide additional traction and grip in temperatures below 7°c.

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