Winter driving can be a pain in the ice, especially when poor weather turns the roads into a skating rink. And one of the many “perks” of climate change is more and more frequent extreme weather events. As snow and ice become part and parcel of driving in the UK, it’s key that you’re prepared for bad weather when you’re out on the road.
Now, we know you’re thinking, “Um, how hard can it be?” but you’re best off not underestimating how bad weather can affect your driving. Snow and ice can be a real game-changer behind the wheel, and not in a good way.
And if you’re borrowing someone else’s car for the day, or need to drive your new set of wheels home, then don’t forget to grab some short term car insurance. The last thing you want is drive an unfamiliar car in awful weather conditions without the right level of cover in place.
Even with comprehensive short term car insurance in place, it’s essential to know how to navigate the slippery roads and avoid accidents. We’re here to equip you with all the info you need to confidently take on the frosty terrain.
Our guide offers some pretty helpful info when it comes to navigating snowy and icy conditions, but we’ll forgive you if you want to jump to a particular section to save time. Feel free to use the table of contents below to do so.
How to drive safely in snow and ice
- Make sure your car’s in top shape
- Should you use winter tyres in the UK?
- Checklist: How to prepare for a long car journey in winter
- How to drive in snow and ice
- Staying safe on the road: Driving in snow and ice
Make sure your car’s in top shape
Winter driving can be dangerous if your car’s maintenance isn’t up to scratch. And let’s be real, who wants to be hammering their dashboard in frustration because their car broke down in the middle of a blizzard? Not us, that’s for sure.
So before winter sets in, make sure you are aware of these essential car checks and maintenance you need to carry out.
Check your battery
Did you know that cold weather can affect your battery? Yup, it causes it to lose its charge much faster than normal. And nobody wants to be stranded at work on a freezing cold evening because their battery died.
To preserve your battery, try and park your car in a garage or underground car park when the temperatures drop. Also, turn off your lights before you turn off the ignition. And, if you have features like heated seats, try to use them only when necessary.
Make sure your brakes are in top shape
Snow and ice make for slippery roads, so your brakes better be in top shape, because you may well have to test them to their limit. You don’t want to end up skidding on the ice because your brakes were worn down.
There are lots of different brake checks you can carry out yourself to make sure your brakes are in good working order. For instance, if you have to stomp down on your brakes hard to get the car to stop, that might be a possible cause for concern. Also, if your cars make a high-pitched or grinding noise when you use the brakes, your brake pads might be worn out.
Check your tyres
When the temperature drops, tyres become less flexible, which means they struggle to grip the road properly. And if your tread depth is low, well, you might as well be skating on ice!
So, what can you do to avoid a slip and slide situation? First and foremost, check your tyres to make sure they’re in good working order. This means looking for signs of damage or wear, and ensuring that your air pressure is at the recommended level for your vehicle.
Another key check you can carry out is the 20p check for tyre tread depth. Find a 20p coin and insert it into the tread grooves of your tyre. If the outer band of the coin is visible, then your tyres may be below the legal limit of 1.6mm and should be replaced as soon as possible.
Check your oil
Did you know that snow and ice can also wreak havoc on your car’s engine? Freezing temperatures can cause your oil to thicken, making it harder for it to properly lubricate your engine’s moving parts. And that’s where checking your oil levels comes in.
Now, we know what you’re thinking. “Ugh, checking my oil levels? Sounds like a bore.” But trust us, it’s worth the few minutes it takes to do.
To check your oil, make sure your car is parked on level ground and that the engine is cold. Pop the bonnet and locate your oil dipstick
Pull it out, wipe it clean, then reinsert it all the way, and pull it out again. Now, look for the oil level marker on the dipstick. If your oil is below the “low” or “add” line, it’s time to top up. Not sure what kind of oil to use? Check your car owner’s manual, or better yet, talk to a professional mechanic.
So why is checking your oil level so important? Aside from preventing engine damage, it can also help keep you safe on the snowy and icy roads- by preventing breakdowns . And let’s be real, no one wants to be stranded in the snow.
Check your coolant levels
During the cold winter months, your engine is working overtime to keep you warm, turning on the heat and making sure your defrosters are doing their job. All that extra effort generates a lot of heat, which can cause your engine to overheat if your coolant levels are running low.
If that happens, you could find yourself stranded on the side of the road, freezing your tush off while you wait for roadside assistance to arrive. Not exactly the winter wonderland you had in mind, huh?
To prevent this scenario, it’s best to do a simple coolant check before you head off on a winter road trip. Here’s what you do: pop the bonnet, locate the coolant reservoir, and check the level. If it’s running low, top it up by following the instructions on the bottle.
Basically, a well maintained car is safer and more reliable. The bare minimum doesn’t cut it in bad weather. So do your bit to ensure smooth journeys and take care of your ride so it can take care of you.
Should you use winter tyres in the UK?
Unlike many other European countries, winter tyres aren’t a legal requirement in the UK. Historically, the country has had relatively mild winters meaning winter tyres were more of a nice-to-have in some circumstances rather than a necessity.
That’s good news for you: it means you don’t need to swap out your “summer tyres” with “winter tyres” every time temperatures drop unless you want to. But with adverse weather conditions becoming more frequent, you might be wondering whether it’s a good idea to fit winter tyres anyway.
So why do some people opt for winter tyres in the UK? Well, they are designed with a special rubber compound and tread pattern to perform better in cold, wet, and icy conditions. They provide better grip, handling, and braking than regular tyres, which can make all the difference in tricky weather conditions.
That being said, winter tyres do come with a higher price tag, so it’s important to weigh up the benefits versus the cost. Also, winter tyres are designed for temperatures below 7°C, which means they may not be ideal for all-year-round use in the UK. So, unless you want to be swapping your tires twice a year, you may need to consider the inconvenience factor, too.
They can be a real game-changer for those who live in areas with heavy snowfall or for those who frequently drive in cold and wet conditions, but they might not be the most cost-efficient choice unless you live somewhere really remote and particularly prone to bad weather.
Checklist: How to prepare for a long car journey in winter
Sometimes a long car journey in dire weather is the only way to get home in time for your mum’s delicious Christmas roast. And although we’re sure you’ll be blasting “driving home for Christmas” to distract you from the anxiety-inducing icy weather outside, there are more practical arrangements you can make for a safe journey.
Preparation is key when it comes to long car journeys in the winter. It’s a good idea to have a “winter survival pack” in your car at all times. So here’s a list of things you may want to pack to prepare for a long car journey in the winter:
- Ice scraper
- Snow shovel
- Power bank
- A fully charged phone
- A thermos with your favourite brew
- A spare jumper
- First-aid kit
- Warning triangle
- A high-vis jacket
Your winter survival pack is a lot like your car insurance policy; you hope you’ll never actually need to use it, but you know it has your back if you ever need help.
How to drive in snow and ice
If you’re a generally careful driver, then driving in snow and ice shouldn’t pose too much of a challenge. Being aware of your surroundings and driving carefully is a great start. But there are a few other things you can do to ensure you’re driving safely in snowy and icy conditions.
Slow and steady always wins
Taking things slow and steady can make all the difference, especially when the roads are slick with ice or snow. This means leaving plenty of space between your car and the vehicle in front, braking and accelerating gradually, and reducing your speed, especially when turning.
This is a good time to remember that the speed limit is just that; the legal limit you’re allowed to drive at when conditions are optimal. Slowing right down in poor weather is likely to prevent accidents and skidding.
Stay alert and focused
You know you need to be aware of your surroundings when you’re driving in general. But slippery roads mean you need to be able to spot hazards even quicker than usual and take action faster than normal. So make sure you stay alert and focused – don’t fiddle with the radio, don’t eat, don’t drink, and keep your eyes on the road.
Consider using a higher gear in icy weather
To improve your tyre’s grip on the ice in slippery road conditions, consider driving in a higher gear than you usually would. This will give your tyres the opportunity to grip the ice making for a safer journey. You could even try pulling away from your driveway in second gear, if you can.
Switching to a higher gear as quickly as you can is likely to make for a safer journey without skidding in icy conditions.
Use your lights wisely
When it’s snowing, visibility is low, and the roads can be treacherous. Using your lights wisely can make a big difference in your safety and visibility. Turn your headlights on, so you can see the road and be seen by other drivers. Remember to use your fog lights when necessary, but switch them off when the fog clears, as they can dazzle other drivers on the road.
Be prepared if the car starts to skid
It’s normal to freak out a little if your car starts skidding. Perhaps you misjudged just how icy it was and accelerated too much or took a corner too harshly. Regardless, it’s essential to act quickly.
Take your foot off the accelerator to slow the car down. Avoid using the brakes as this can increase skidding. Instead, allow the car to find its grip. Then, steer the car in the direction of the skid to steady it. This should reduce the skidding and allow you to regain control of the car without causing an accident.
Staying safe on the road: Driving in snow and ice
Driving in wintry weather conditions can feel like the ultimate test of our driving skills. But there are steps we can take to prepare for what can be a slippery journey.
Maintaining your car and ensuring everything from your brakes to your tyres is in top condition is one way to ensure your journey is as safe as possible. But preparation is key too: make sure to pack a “winter survival pack” including things like a first aid kit, torch, and blankets. Driving carefully and in a higher gear than usual when possible will also help with getting you to your destination quickly and safely.
Once you’ve done all you can possibly do to prepare, just put on some great festive tunes, jump in your car, and enjoy the beautiful winter scenery.