Before driving in the snow
Plan your journey
Before you set off, plan your journey carefully. Use the RAC Route Planner to get updates on traffic news to help make your journey as smooth as possible.
Consider areas that are going to be exposed to the elements, and perhaps prone to flooding. Keep up-to-date with local weather to ensure you aren’t caught out.
Leave more time
Allow for more time than you normally would before you leave to clear car windows, mirrors, lights and the top of your roof of snow before setting off, driving with snow on you car could result in you breaking the law.
You will also need to de-ice your windscreen – which can be found on our seven top tips to keep your windscreen clear in winter page.
And you will need to take time to clear the inside of your windscreen too as it is illegal to drive without full visibility through all of your windows – you can read more on our how to demist your windscreen in double-quick time page.
It’s also a good idea to carry a lock de-icer with you to clear your lock. If your locks do get frozen, try warming the key or spraying de-icer or an oil-based lubricant into the lock.
The following checks will also be time consuming so it is worth factoring them in too before you set off.
Check your wipers
Make sure any auto wiper control is switched off before turning the ignition on as this could blow the wiper control fuse if they are frozen to the screen. Your wipers need to be in good working order so you’re able to clean your windscreen effectively.
Check your tyres
Check tyres for adequate tread. Poor tyres will not grip when driving on snow and ice.
If you live in an area where snow is common it might be worth changing to winter tyres with deeper tread.
If conditions are really bad you might want to consider the use of snow socks or even snow chains.
Check you screen wash
Use a good quality screenwash that protects down to at least -35 to prevent the water from freezing. If you don’t, your windscreen wipers could be rendered useless in extreme conditions – if you are unsure, you can find out how to check and top up your screenwash here
Pack for the worst
Be prepared for every eventuality by ensuring that your car is equipped with the following: demisting pad, torch (wind-up so you don’t run out of battery), a hi-vis vest to make you visible if you break down, a blanket to keep you warm, some food, a drink, spare screenwash, de-icer, ice scraper, blanket, shovel, phone charger, map, a first aid kit, a warning triangle, some jump leads, a spade and a square of carpet that you can use to put under your drive wheels should you get stuck in the snow. Alternatively, you can buy RAC Recovery Track which will get you out of the snow as well as mud and sand.
The most important thing to take with you before driving in snow is a charged mobile phone with the phone number of your breakdown provider stored in it so you can always call for help.
How to tackle driving in the snow
- Wear comfortable and dry footwear
- Accelerate gently, use low revs and change up to a higher gear as quickly as possible
- Move off in second gear as this will help reduce wheel slip – some cars have a winter mode, which does the same job – so to check whether your car has this function in the vehicle’s handbook
- Get your speed right and maintain safe stopping distances between you and the car in front, leaving as much as 10 times the normal recommended gap
- Prepare for an uphill by leaving plenty of room in front so you can maintain a constant speed without the need for changing gear
- Use a low gear for going downhill and try to avoid braking unless necessary, make sure you leave plenty of space between you and the car in front
- When approaching a bend, brake before you actually start to turn the steering wheel. If your car does lose grip try not to panic; the key thing is to take your foot off the accelerator and make sure that your wheels are pointing in the direction you want to go in
- If you do encounter a skid, steer gently into it – for example, if the rear of the car is sliding to the right, steer to the right. Do not take your hands off the steering wheel or stamp your foot on the brakes
- When driving in heavy snow, make sure that you use your dipped headlights. Relying on daytime running lights is not enough, because they don’t always put lights on the back of your car.
- If visibility drops below a 100m, put your fog lights on. But remember to turn them off when the visibility improves.
- If the road has not been gritted, be wary of driving in the wheeltracks or other vehicles as compressed snow is likely to be more icy than fresh snow
- Controls such as the brakes, as well as the steering, accelerator and even gear changing should be operated smoothly and slowly
- Sunglasses can help to reduce the glare of low winter sun on the snow
- Keep your speed down and allow more time to stop and steer
- Finally, it’s important to think about the environment that you’re driving in, especially microclimates that might appear on the road. These are areas that perhaps the sun hasn’t got to, which could stay icy when the rest of the road has thawed. Bridges are a good example. They’re normally the first to freeze and the last to thaw. So be aware of that when you’re driving in open spaces.