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The ultimate guide to driving in the snow

Carlton Boyce / 02 November 2015 ( 27 September 2018 )

Stay safe in snow, ice and cold weather conditions with our ultimate guide to preparing your car and driving in winter.

Car driving through snow and ice in the winter
Snow gives surprisingly high levels of grip; the problems start when you try and drive on a well-used piece of road on which the snow has been turned into highly polished ice

The key to enjoying, and not just surviving, snowy weather is to prepare for it. 

It’s no good waiting until the first flurries strike because that’ll just mean a dreary trudge to the local petrol station or supermarket to buy over-priced and under-engineered scrapers and snow shovels.

So why not invest an hour or so now to get equipped for the worst the winter can throw at you and your family?

A quick DIY service

There is plenty you can do for yourself to make sure your car isn’t the weak link in your winter survival plan:

• Top up your windscreen washer reservoir with a 50:50 or stronger mix of washer fluid. The last thing you need on a frosty morning is to wash your windscreen free of road grime only to find it freezing instantly as it hits the glass. Mix some and keep a bottle in the car too, as you’ll be using a lot more now than you did during the better weather.

• Make sure you’ve got a bottle of concentrated deicer and a good scraper to hand. It’s worth keeping some deicer in the house, just in case the locks are frozen.

• Throw an old blanket, a torch and a shovel in the boot. The shovel can be used to dig yourself out of snow, and the blanket will keep you warm if you break down or get stuck.

• Some recommend taking a hot flask with you on a long journey, just in case. That’s good advice, but are you really going to follow it? I think you’re better off popping a couple of Mars bars and a litre of water in the boot for emergencies. That way you know you’ve got something that’ll give you an instant energy boost in an emergency.

Read our tips for preparing your car for winter

Everyday preparation

If you can, keep your car in the garage when the weather is bad, even if it means clearing it of a summer’s worth of junk. If you can’t do that, at least try and cover the windscreen with a proper cover (available from Halfords or similar places for £5 upwards) or a few sheets of newspaper.

Lift the wiper arms up too, so they don’t get frozen to the windscreen and if you don’t have any deicer to hand, use lukewarm water to deice the windows as hot water will probably crack frozen glass.

Mist and fog can also be a problem - read our driving tips

The four-wheel-drive fallacy

A four-wheel-drive vehicle only gives you extra traction, it doesn’t help at all in cornering or braking on low-friction surfaces; just because you can accelerate from a standstill on snow and ice easily doesn’t mean you can get round the corner or stop in an emergency any quicker than your neighbour in his two-wheel-drive car.

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Winter tyres

If you need more grip on snow and ice or at lower temperatures when your car’s summer tyres start to lose their effectiveness (typically below 7°C) you need dedicated winter or all-season tyres, which will give you huge reserves of grip.

In countries that face deep snow and sub-zero temperatures on a regular basis, the locals will always choose a two-wheel-drive car with winter tyres on it over a four-wheel-drive car without; a properly shod standard car will go places an off-roader will struggle. So, if you don’t mind buying a dedicated set of tyres – and a lot of dealers will supply and store the ‘spare’ set for you – a set of winter or snow tyres is the best solution.

Read our guide to winter tyres

However, I accept that having two sets of wheels and tyres that need swapping twice a year is a bit of a faff so why not do what I do, and fit all-season tyres that can stay on all year round? 

I recommend Vredestein Quatrac 3 tyres as a good all-rounder, having used them on my Subaru Forester for the last three winters. They are a good compromise between summer and winter tyres, and are a cheap and convenient way to keep mobile all year round.

Driving in snow

Snow itself gives surprisingly high levels of grip; the problems start when you try to drive on a well-used piece of road on which the snow has been turned into highly polished ice. So, if you can, try not to follow in other people’s tracks.

In any case, you’ll need to use a higher gear than usual to minimise wheelspin and keep all your inputs – steering, throttle, and brakes – as gentle as possible. Steady momentum will keep you mobile in situations where grip is at a premium.

On a downhill, get your speed low and keep it low; trying to brake from higher speeds will be almost impossible on ice and snow, even with anti-lock braking (ABS).

19 winter driving tips

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If you do get stuck

If, despite all your best efforts, you do get stuck, try not to panic. First of all, call for help, or at least let someone know where you are. That way, if you can’t extract yourself, someone else can raise the alarm. 

Most car breakdown services will try and get to you to help, but if you are struggling, you can bet everyone else is too, so be prepared to wait your turn.

If you want to try self-recovery, here’s what to do:

• Dig out any snow that’s blocking your way forward.

• Stuff branches, fallen leaves, the floor mats from your car, or anything else you can find to hand under the driven wheels of your car to try and give some extra grip. Don’t use your coat or the emergency rug though. You need to keep them dry, just in case.

• Try and rock the car to and fro. Try moving it an inch or so at a time first. The momentum will hopefully build until you can eventually drive out.

• When you do get moving, don’t stop. Get to a place where you can stop safely and where the grip is better before coming to a halt to retrieve your passengers, floor mats, etc.

• If you are stuck, keep warm by running the engine. However, only do so once you’ve checked the exhaust pipe is clear of snow.

What should you do if your car breaks down?

The very best way to survive snowy weather

Of course, the best advice I can give you is to stay at home when it’s snowy. After all, do you really have to go out? 

The best way to survive snowy weather is to do so from the comfort of your sitting room, with the heating turned up and something warming within easy reach!

Have you been on an amazing road trip that you would like to share with us? We're looking for fantastic journeys our readers have been on for a new feature in the magazine. Do email with details of where you went and when, and any great pictures, along with your recommendations for places that other road users can check out on the route.


The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated. The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.