Menu

Winter driving tips

How to make sure you and your vehicle are prepared for anything, from a cold snap to extreme weather.

amy smith
Amy Smith
Updated 03 December 2021  | 6 min read

Driving in winter can be stressful. The busiest driving hours are in darkness, and the weather can change quickly.

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 car for winter

Make sure your car's serviced and in a good state of repair before winter begins, and check 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 worried about breaking down before you even leave home, consider adding home start cover to your breakdown policy.

As well as checking you've got the right breakdown cover in place, you'll need to make sure your car's roadworthy - check your tyre tread, brake fluid, electrics, oil and bulbs.

Battery

Extra usage of the lights and heating can strain car batteries, and they rarely last longer than about five years. If yours is approaching the end of its life, you might want to consider replacing it before it lets you down.

Windows

The low winter sun reduces visibility – sunglasses can be handy, especially when the sun is low and, perhaps, reflecting off snow.

Salt on the road can dirty your car quickly. Keep your washer fluid topped up and store some in the car for quickly accessible water. Extra de-icer and antifreeze is a good idea too.

If you find that your windscreen wipers are smearing your screen when they're used, the blades need to be changed, or at least readjusted.

Lights

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

Forgotten where your fog lights are? Remind yourself before you set off.

Tyres

If you're experiencing large amounts of snow and driving on smaller roads, consider investing in snow tyres to give your car some extra grip.

Snow tyres may be considered a modification by car insurers, 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 - 1.6mm for cars, but at least 3mm is recommended in wet weather - and that they're inflated to the level specified in your car's handbook.

Emergency kit

Keep an emergency kit in your car, just in case.

Blankets, a warm coat, reflective jacket and wellington boots will be useful if you find yourself stranded.

Store a torch and first aid kit in your boot throughout the year - a spare set of batteries will help, too.

Keep a supply of high-energy foods like chocolate, crisps and sugary drinks in the car in case you get stuck or held up in traffic due to snow.

If you get caught out in particularly heavy 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.

Before you set off

1. Think: is your travel essential?

If the emergency services are advising people to stay at home due to bad weather, you shouldn’t travel. If you're travelling to work, can you work from home instead?

2. Know your route

If possible, stick to major roads which are more likely to have been cleared and gritted. Make sure family and friends know where you’re going.

3. Make sure your car is clean

Driving with snow on your car is illegal so sweep it off and make sure your windows are clear. Clean dirt and snow off your lights and number plate too. 

Don’t leave your car unlocked and unattended while it’s defrosting – your insurance will be invalid if it’s stolen.

4. Switch on radio traffic alerts

Turning on radio alerts can keep you updated while you’re on the move so you won’t need to pull over and check your mobile phone.

Winter driving tips

You'll need to drive more carefully than normal over the winter, especially during extreme weather. 

Most importantly, stay calm and collected - often driving in wintry conditions can be nerve-wracking, but stress won't help your concentration.

Here are some more top tips to keep you safe:

  • Drive slower to allow for a larger stopping distance between you and other vehicles
  • Reduce your speed slowly, avoiding harsh braking or sharp steering
  • If you start to skid, release the brakes and turn smoothly into the slide (so 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
  • If you do get stuck, straighten the wheel, clear snow and ice from the tyres, then put some sort of fabric - like a piece of old carpet - in front of the drive wheels for traction
  • When you get moving again, don't stop until you're on a firmer surface
  • If possible, try to avoid having to stop on a hill - wait for traffic in front to clear, then steadily proceed in a sensible gear so you won’t have to change down
  • When going downhill, leave plenty of space between yourself and the vehicle in front. Reduce your speed, choose a low gear and try to avoid using the brakes - if that's not possible, apply the brakes gently
  • Don’t try to get through flood water – it’s dangerous and might not be covered by your insurer. Powering through big puddles to splash pedestrians is also a Road Traffic Offence