How to Drive Safely in Snow

Ellie Dyer-Brown, 6 months ago

3 min read

  • How to
  • Car ownership
iStock-snow

FixMyCar offers some advice on how to drive safely when snow starts to fall.

Poor driving conditions and low visibility can make the most straightforward car journey a nightmare. But even when the roads are covered with snow, there's no need to panic. Find out how to stay safe in this guide.

Contents:

Before Your Journey

During Your Journey

Driving an automatic in snow

Should you buy winter tyres?

FAQs


Before your journey

Before you hit the road, ask yourself if the journey you’re about to make is necessary. If there’s any way you can avoid driving when conditions are at their worst, then you should.

However, if your journey is unavoidable, there are a few things you can do to minimise the risk.

Winter car journey

Plan ahead

Bad weather has an unfortunate tendency to cause road disruption, so check your route for any accidents or closures before you set off. It’s also a good idea to stick to main roads, which are more likely to have been cleared and gritted.

Preparing for the worst might seem pessimistic, but it will prove helpful if you get stuck. This ultimate winter driving guide offers advice about what to include in an emergency car kit.

An emergency car kit.

Clear your windscreen and do some basic checks

Before you set off, you should check the tread depth and condition of your tyres, make sure your screenwash is topped up, and test your headlights and windscreen wipers.

By law, you must have a clear view of the road before you set off, so you'll need to spend some time defrosting your windscreen. Here's how to do it:

  • Make sure your windscreen wipers are switched off and that they aren't frozen to the glass before turning the engine on.

  • Start the engine and turn on the front and rear window heaters and the aircon if your car has it. Stay with your vehicle while the engine is running.

  • Remove any excess snow from the front of the car and the grill.

  • Wait for the glass to clear before driving.

Man scraping Windscreen

You can speed up the process of defrosting your windscreen by purchasing de-icer and a scraper, both of which are usually available from fuel stations.

You may find these guides helpful:


During your journey

Use low revs

Set off in second gear, slowly pulling your foot off the clutch to avoid any wheel spin. Change gear as soon as you can.

Keep a safe distance

At 30 miles per hour, the average stopping distance is 12 metres (40 feet). However, this number should be multiplied by two in wet conditions and ten in snowy conditions. The same applies to all stopping distances; the faster you drive and the worse the conditions, the greater the distance it takes to stop.

This guide covers everything you need to know about stopping distances.

Slow down with engine braking

Move down through the gears to slow your car rather than hitting the brake pedal - though you should still touch it lightly, just enough for your brake lights to come on to warn other motorists that you’re changing speed.

Learn more about engine braking.

Slow down before you reach a bend

As you approach a bend in the road, try to slow down before you start turning your wheel to avoid skidding. 

If you start skidding, steer into it

It might sound counterintuitive, but steering into a skid is the best thing you can do. Avoid slamming your foot down on the brakes.

Use your headlights

Day lights won’t be enough if it’s snowing, so it’s best to opt for dipped headlights. However, turn your fog lights on if visibility drops below 100 metres.

Stick to the beaten path

If you’re on a road that hasn’t been gritted, try to drive in the tracks that other cars have left as there will be less chance of skidding. 

Beware of black ice

Black ice earned its name because it’s almost impossible to tell that it’s there until you’re skidding on it. It is created when rain falls on frozen surfaces, resulting in a thin sheet of ice that looks wet.

Winter road sign freezing conditions

If there’s a chance you could encounter black ice - this usually happens in areas that don’t get much sun - then make sure you drive slowly, steering and braking gently. If you skid, keep calm and steer straight until you’re over the ice.


Driving an automatic in snow

Many automatic vehicles are equipped with a 'snow mode' or 'winter driving' setting, a feature designed to enhance safety by reducing wheel spinning. If your automatic car has a gearstick with two positions, engage the 'snow mode' by selecting the second position. This ensures that only two speeds are used, improving your safety on snowy roads.

While there is no magic bullet to make driving in snow easier, the most important advice is to do everything gently, including cornering and braking.

For extra peace of mind this winter, book a winter car check through FixMyCar.


Should you buy winter tyres?

Winter tyres make it considerably easier to drive in snow. They are designed to cope with cold temperatures and slippery road conditions.

Four tyres, two on grass and two on ice.

This guide discusses whether winter tyres are worth it, including pros and cons. And for buying advice, check out our guide to the best winter tyres for your car.


Frequently asked questions


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Written by Ellie

Ellie Author Pic

Ellie is FixMyCar’s Content Writer. She has a BA in English literature from Durham University, a master’s degree in creative writing, and three years of experience writing in the automotive industry. She currently drives a Suzuki Swift.

Find Ellie on LinkedIn.