Winter driving guide

A car covered in snow

Tips for winter driving and on how to make sure you and your vehicle are prepared for anything from a cold snap to extreme weather.

Before you head out onto the road, get your vehicle in top condition

Driving in winter can be both scary and dangerous. The busiest driving hours are in darkness, and weather conditions can turn extreme.

Snow, ice and floods get between you and the road, so how can you make sure both you and your vehicle are ready?

Prepare your vehicle for winter

Before you head out onto the road, get your vehicle in top condition.

Make sure your car is fully serviced before winter begins, and have a look at your breakdown policy. Is it still valid and up-to-date?

Being able to get your car off the driveway is always a good start, so if you're not too confident in its reliability consider whether you need home start cover on your policy.Jump leads

Even if your breakdown policy is valid, ensure that your car is roadworthy - check that your tyre tread, brake fluid and oil are all in good condition or topped up.

According to a 2015 study by road safety charity Brake, more than a quarter of people are not confident that they know how to carry out essential maintenance like checking tyres and brakes.

Your electrics, too, must be in good working order if you want to get through winter months. Your heating is essential in demisting windows, not just keeping you warm.

You'll need your lights more than at any other time of the year, so make sure they're all in good working order. If not, you're risking the safety of you and other drivers and could get pulled over by the police and fined.

Taking a vehicle on the road without being sure it is roadworthy is asking for trouble, exposing yourself and others to unnecessary danger
Julie Townsend, Brake

All of that electric use can put a heavy strain on car batteries, and they rarely last longer than about five years.

If yours is approaching the end of its life, you may want to consider replacing it before it lets you down.

The low winter sun and salt on the road don't help drivers, and reduce visibility in daylight hours.

Make sure you keep your washer fluid topped up and store a large plastic bottle in the car for quickly accessible water. Ensure that all your windows are clear and you have proper visibility.

In your coolant system you need a 50-50 mix of antifreeze and water - check your handbook to make sure you have the right antifreeze.

Remember that sunglasses aren't just for the summer. Keep them handy as they can be invaluable for driving, especially when the sun is low and, perhaps, reflecting off snow.

Even more important for visibility is, of course, keeping the windscreen and other windows clean and clear, both inside and out.

If you find that your windscreen wipers are smearing your screen when they're used it's a good sign that the blades need to be changes, or at least readjusted.Van insurance

Make sure you clean dirt and snow off your lights and number plate, and be sure to get rid of any snow from your roof, bonnet and boot.

Don't turn everything on at once - you don't want to put pressure on your battery by turning on lights, heater, radio, screen heater, and wipers all at the same time.

“Safe driving starts before you get behind the wheel - the driver has to be fit to drive, and so does the vehicle," said Brake's Julie Townsend.

"Taking a vehicle on the road without being sure it's roadworthy is asking for trouble, exposing yourself and others to unnecessary danger and potentially costing you more in the long-run.

"It's shocking to see so many drivers both ignorant and wilfully negligent when it comes to basic and essential vehicle maintenance checks.

"It’s especially worrying [in winter] when drivers need to make sure they and their vehicle are prepared in case bad weather hits. You don’t need to be an expert to carry out basic vehicle checks, and it needn’t take long."


Your tyres are one of the most important pieces of kit you have when it comes to driving during a cold snap.

If you're experiencing large amounts of snow and driving in secluded areas you may consider investing in snow tyres to get your car going.Advanced driving courses

Snow tyres may be considered a modification by car insurance companies, so get in touch with your provider if you're thinking of using them.

Make sure your tyres have at least the legal tread limit and that they're inflated to the level stipulated in your car handbook.

According to Brake, 27% of people aren't confident they know how to check tyres are in a safe condition, while one in three don't check their tyres have at least 3mm tread, which is recommended in wet weather.

Learn more about all these areas in our tyre guide.

Emergency kit

Your car's footwell may be full of bits and bobs but they won't help in an emergency. According to Brake, only a minority of people carry important emergency items like food and water (20%) or warm clothes (38%) in winter.

If you experience a large volume of snow, a shovel and rope could get you out of a bind

Blankets, a warm coat, reflective jacket and wellington boots will all come in handy if you find yourself stranded.

If you're forgetful, always keep a torch and first aid kit in your boot throughout the year - a spare set of batteries will help, too.

If you are stuck or held up in traffic due to snow, keep a supply of high-energy foods like chocolate, crisps and sugary drinks. So long as you can resist eating them, that is.

If you experience a large volume of snow, a shovel and rope could get you out of a bind, plus some old carpet or thick cardboard to give traction under wheels. But don't take any risks - if you need assistance contact your breakdown provider or ring the emergency services.

Prepare your journey

Know your route before you leave and check any travel updates before you set off. If possible, stick to major roads which are more likely to have been cleared and gritted.

Turning on radio alerts can help you keep updated while on the move and remove the need to pull over and check your mobile phone.

Finally, is your journey essential? If weather warnings have been issued and the emergency services are advising people to stay at home, perhaps you should avoid travelling. Car

Maybe your journey can be postponed or delayed? If you're travelling to work, perhaps you can work from home instead?

Driving tips: Respect the winter roads

It's amazing how many people continue to drive normally during extreme weather.

Reducing your speed is the most important thing you can do. This will allow for a larger stopping distance between you and other vehicles - you may need up to 10 times the normal distance for braking.

Always reduce your speed slowly, avoiding harsh braking or sharp steering. If braking is essential, keep it smooth and gentle - being aware and anticipating the road ahead is the key.

If you start to skid, release the brakes and turn smoothly into the slide (ie if the rear is skidding right, gently steer right).

Can't pull away easily in ice and snow? Try starting in second gear instead of first.

Should you get stuck, straighten the wheel, clear snow and ice from the tyres, then put some sort of fabric - perhaps a piece of old carpet - in front of the drive wheels for traction.

When you get moving, don't stop until you're on a firmer surface.

If at all possible, try to avoid having to stop on a hill - wait for traffic in front to clear, then proceed at a steady pace in a sensible gear that will see you to the top without having to change down.

When approaching a downhill, leave as much space as possible between yourself and the vehicle in front, reduce speed, choose a low gear and try to avoid using the brakes - if that's not possible, apply the brakes gently.

Most importantly, stay calm and collected - often driving in extreme weather conditions can be nerve-wracking, but stress will only hinder your concentration.

By Emily Bater