Driving in the winter can be challenging. Snow can block roads and make our usual routes inaccessible, whilst ice greatly reduces the grip our tyres have on the road making braking, steering and acceleration much harder.

If you do decide to drive in these conditions, there are some things you should consider and prepare for before setting off on your journey. We’ll explore these below.

Before driving in snow and on ice
How to drive in the snow
How to drive on ice
Winter driving checklist
What to do if you skid when driving in snow and on ice
Additional tips for driving in snow and on ice
Frequently Asked Questions

Before driving in snow and on ice

Plan your journey

Planning your journey ahead of time will help you to factor in additional time to reach your destination to avoid routes which will likely be affected by adverse weather. It is also worth keeping up to date with local weather warnings which can provide more accurate information about the weather conditions in your area.

Check your tyres

Most tyres have wear indicators which show the minimum legal level of tread needed. If your tyres have little tread left, you may want to replace them sooner rather than later to ensure maximum grip which is vital in cold conditions.

If you live in an area which often experiences snow, it may be worthwhile considering investing in winter tyres which are specifically designed to provide more grip on snow and ice.

It’s also a good idea to check your tyre pressures at least every few weeks. This is best done when the tyres are cold. Tyres that are low or high in pressure won’t grip the road as well as they should. Most petrol stations should have an air machine where you can check how much air is in the tyres.

Check your lights

If the weather is particularly bad, you might find you need to use your headlights, even during the day. Before setting off you should check that your headlights and brake lights are in working order. If any of them are faulty, you not only risk endangering yourself but you could also face a fine and points on your licence.

Defrost windows and windscreens fully before driving off

Your car may take several minutes to demist in the morning, but taking the time to properly clear all the windows is crucial for ensuring you have a good view of the road ahead. Spending a few minutes properly clearing these will also prevent you from having to crawl along peering through a small clear patch of the windscreen as the car demists.

Check your windscreen wipers

In freezing conditions, wipers commonly freeze on the glass. Before switching the car on, make sure your wipers aren’t on as it can damage the wiper motor or rubber if they are frozen to the glass.

Worn wipers may fail to clear the windscreen effectively, dramatically reducing your visibility of the road ahead. Wipers are normally inexpensive and quite easy to change. If you’re not confident changing them yourself, many retailers such as Halfords will fit them for you.

Pack the essentials

It is always a good idea to pack some essentials in case of a breakdown. You can find lots of the essential items in ready-made winter car kits which can be purchased from many retailers. You could also create your own and include things like an ice scraper, de-icer, a torch, a hi-vis jacket, a warning triangle, a spare mobile phone or portable charger, warm clothes and a blanket.

How to drive in the snow

Moving off in the snow

When moving off initially, you want to accelerate gently and try to change up a gear as quickly as possible. Often it is best to move off in second gear to reduce the chances of the wheels slipping.

Some automatic cars come with a “snow” mode or an L, 2 or +/- control. This feature allows drivers to manually increase and decrease gear when snow is present on the roads.

Control your speed

In snowy conditions, you will need to drive slower than usual, maintaining plenty of space between you and the car in front. Use a high gear and avoid harsh acceleration as this can cause the wheels to spin as you lose traction on the road.

Braking in the snow

When approaching a junction or roundabout, slow down gradually and avoid slamming on your brakes. Slamming on your breaks can cause your car to skid.

How to drive on ice

Ice is not always easy to spot and all precautions should be taken when the temperature drops below freezing.

Steering, braking and acceleration become a lot harder when ice is present on the roads and the likelihood of skidding greatly increases. There are some additional considerations when driving in icy conditions.

Moving off in icy conditions

Try to move off gently in a higher gear than normal as this can reduce the chances of your wheels spinning. If you find your wheels spin, do not continue to rev the engine.

If you are in a safe location and you experience your wheels spinning, you should stop the car and put on your handbrake.

Watch your speed

When the car is in motion, continue to drive in a higher gear. Steer smoothly and avoid any sudden turns as this can cause you to skid and lose control of the vehicle. Leave extra space between you and the vehicle in front to avoid the likelihood of a collision if any traction issues arise.

Braking in icy conditions

Sudden or hard braking on ice can cause your vehicle to skid. Instead, you should approach junctions and roundabouts with caution, braking slowly and smoothly.

Leave enough space between you and other cars

Braking distances increase dramatically when ice is present on the road. You should leave up to ten times the normal gap recommended between you and the car in front. If the car in front experiences issues, you will be at a safe distance to avoid any potential accidents.

What to do if you skid when driving in snow and on ice

If you find yourself skidding on ice, you should avoid using your brakes and accelerator as this can make the skid worse. Instead, steer into the skid and the vehicle should straighten up.

Skids are more common on corners and turns so be extra vigilant when approaching a corner or junction.

Additional tips for driving in snow and on ice

Stick to gritted roads

You should always stick to roads that have been gritted and avoid roads that are not regularly driven on. However, gritted roads do not guarantee that hazards won’t arise so you should continue to drive with caution.

Utilise winter driving mode if available

If your car has a winter or snow mode, it is advisable to use it. These modes usually disable the first gear so your car will automatically move off in a higher gear to reduce the torque and chance of your wheels spinning.

Use fog lights if visibility reduces

If visibility reduces to below 100 metres, then it can be wise to turn on your fog lights. However, if visibility improves, you should switch these off to avoid dazzling other road users.

Consider using winter tyres and snow socks

If you live in an area which regularly experiences snow and ice, it can be a good idea to invest in winter tyres or snow socks.

Whilst winter tyres are not a legal requirement in the UK, they are far more effective at gripping the road surface when snow, ice and water are present.

Don’t drive unless absolutely necessary

Ultimately the best piece of advice for winter driving is considering if it is necessary to drive. If the conditions are particularly bad, you should always avoid driving unless necessary.