Winter driving advice 2022

heycar editorial team

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heycar editorial team

Winter driving

Whether you want to know how to drive in snow or want to make sure your car can cope with cold weather, our winter driving tips guide has you covered.

Winter driving isn’t just a challenge for drivers, it can be arduous for cars too. Starting engines from cold requires a lot of effort from a battery. And driving on slippery surfaces needs a great deal of care, attention and skill from drivers. Here are all the things you should know about driving in winter.

Antifreeze

Anti-freeze is vital for your engine. Some cars are filled with anti-freeze that will last for years; others need the solution changed every couple of years. If you’re not sure, it’s best to be cautious: repairing a frozen engine can cost hundreds of pounds.

You need a mixture of antifreeze and water for the winter, the exact mix will be on the back of the bottle which you can buy at a car workshop or at your local petrol station. The split is often 50/50. Once you’ve got your mixture ready, pop open the bonnet of your car and pour it into the windscreen washer cap which will usually have a picture of a windscreen on it to help you out. If you can't spot it, check your car's user manual.

Visibility - inside and out

Good visibility is vital in winter weather so make sure you’ve got plenty of screen wash and renew your wiper blades at least every two years to ensure they clear water and dirt as efficiently as possible. 

Clean your windscreen of dirt, debris and ice - inside and out. If it gets steamy, make sure you use cold air on the windscreen before warm air - this de-mists the screen faster and reduces condensation.

Clear snow from the roof so it doesn’t fall onto the windscreen and block your view and replace worn or damaged wiper blades. 

Make sure all the lights are working and, if you have a reversing camera, also make sure this is dirt-free so you can see clearly. Keep your reg plates clean to avoid fines and make sure the light above the rear licence plate is working, too. 

Winter tyres

Tyres are one of the most important parts of your car and truthfully, we tend to take them for granted. Make sure your tyres are fully inflated to the correct pressure (the details will be on the driver’s door pillar and/or in the car’s handbook). 

It's worth considering using winter or all-season tyres on your car to give you the best driving experience all year round. 

Winter tyres have a compound designed to stay soft when temperatures drop below 7 degrees C. Combined with a special tread pattern, this helps tyres bite into slippery surfaces, finding grip even on ice and snow.

In tests, a two-wheel drive car on winter tyres is often better at finding grip on snow than a four-wheel drive car on regular tyres, while the stopping distance for a car on winter tyres is a lot better than a car on regular tyres. 

Some winter essentials

The darker, colder months bring with them increased chances of traffic delays, road accidents and breakdowns - but being prepared makes a world of difference if you end up stuck on the roads!

A torch is very useful if you suffer a breakdown at night, while blankets and warm clothes could be a life-saver if you end up stranded. A battery jump pack, drinkable water, ice scraper, first aid kit, tyre inflator, screenwash and phone battery charger pack are also advisable to carry in your car just in case. You’ll thank yourself if you do!

Jump starting a car

Check your car's battery

The battery is the first thing that tends to go wrong when it gets colder, so let’s start there. Car batteries rarely last longer than five years, but if yours is older - you should think about changing it. Even if it seems relatively healthy, a bad battery can cause other electrical parts to overcompensate - which could result in a bigger bill in the long run.

The cold affects batteries anyway, but thanks to lights, heating and wipers - car batteries tend to be worked much harder in winter. If you don’t drive your car much, the battery is even more likely to fail when it gets cold due to low charge from not being used.

We advise using your car at least once a week. If you don't use your car often, give it a regular overnight trickle charge. If the car doesn’t start right away, make sure the electricals are off (radio, lights, heating etc). If the car takes a few attempts to start, drive it without using the radio or heating until the car has been driven for 20 minutes. Otherwise, the potentially drained battery will be used to heat up the car at the expense of keeping the car going.

Starting your car in cold weather

To give your battery as much of a chance as possible, turn off everything you don’t need before trying to start the car. That’s wipers, lights, heater and sound system.

Try the starter motor in five second bursts. If the car doesn’t start, wait for 30 seconds after each go and try again.

Once you’ve got the engine going, you can turn the ventilation on. If you have air conditioning, use it. Make sure it’s set to demist and turn it on to recirculate the air. It’s the quickest way to get rid of condensation inside the car. Don’t leave a car unattended, unlocked and with the engine on when you’re doing this.

While it’s demisting, you can scrape the ice or snow off outside the car. Remember to clear all the windows; you can be fined if you can’t see out properly. The quickest way is by using a purpose-made ice scraper. Don’t use boiling water. The rapid temperature change can crack windscreens.

If you leave snow on your roof, it may slide down over your windscreen during heavy braking or even fly off when you accelerate, dangerously blinding drivers behind.

Don’t use the windscreen wipers to clear a frozen screen either. Turning them on if they’re frozen to the screen can tear the blades. Using them on ice can damage them too.

Audi on road

It’s always best to plan ahead

Even though you might not be travelling many places at the moment, make sure you’ve checked the weather before you’re heading out on a trip. As important as it feels to check if it’ll rain at your BBQ in summer, it’s even more important to know if you should expect snow, ice or heavy rain when you’re going on a car journey.

It's also important to pick the right roads and avoid areas that will be particularly weather-beaten. Use navigation apps or a sat-nav to check where traffic is heaviest so you can avoid any accident spots.

When driving, look well ahead for potential hazards to give yourself time to act. It’s also worth fitting winter or all-season tyres to your car if you live somewhere regularly affected by snow or ice, or if you live down a hill or steep driveway that’ll be hard to traverse in icy conditions. If you do decide to change your tyres, it’s best to change all four at the same time.

Driving in heavy rain or on wet roads

The best advice is to slow down and leave enough space between you and the car in front; stopping distances are at least doubled in wet weather conditions. Use dipped headlights so that other drivers can see you more easily (and you don’t blind them) and it’s best to keep your air-con on as this will stop your windows from misting up.

Driving too fast through water could lead to tyres losing contact with the road, which is called ‘aquaplaning’. How can you tell this is happening? Your steering will suddenly feel light. To regain grip, straighten the steering wheel and ease off the gas pedal (but don’t brake). If you have to brake, don’t brake harshly otherwise the car might lose control. Allow your speed to reduce until you gain back full control of the steering again.

Driving in the dark

The RAC advises that drivers turn dipped headlights on about an hour before sunset and keep them on an hour after sunrise to ensure that you’re always clearly visible to other road users. You should only use your full beam on unlit country roads. If you see another car coming towards you on the other side of the road, switch back to dipped beam lights straight away or you’ll dazzle the other driver.

Take extra care when driving around schools and in residential areas so you have time to react if someone does happen to step out or cycles in front of you suddenly. You should also watch out for animals, particularly on country roads.

If you’re very nervous about night-time driving, it’s always a good idea to brush up your skills with something like a Pass Plus course, which will give you extra skills and techniques for driving in certain situations.

Driving in snow and ice

The most important advice when driving in snow and icy conditions is to take it slow. Stopping distances are 10 times longer than in dry conditions, so you’ll want to drive cautiously. A higher gear may be more appropriate to aid grip on ice or packed snow as well.

If you’re on a hill, leave plenty of room between yourself and other cars in case you or the car in front slides backwards. Keep a constant speed and try to avoid having to change gear on the hill, too. If you have to use your brakes, apply them gently.

Black ice is a thin layer of ice on the road surface. It’s particularly treacherous as it’s transparent, meaning most drivers don’t see it ahead of time. If the temperature is low and the road surface looks wet, be careful and drive with caution.

If you do hit a patch of black ice, don’t panic. Keep the steering wheel straight and maintain your speed. Don’t hit the brakes. Use the gears to slow down if necessary, but avoid any sudden movements that could destabilise the car. The key is staying steady so the car manages to slow itself down.

If you slide or skid in snow or on ice, stay calm and steer gently into it. For example, if the rear of the car is sliding to the right, steer to the right. Don’t brake or accelerate hard as that will encourage the car to steer off course.

If you get stuck in snow, clear the snow from the wheels and the wheel arches. If you’ve got anything like salt, dry dirt or a sandbag in your car, place it in front of the wheels to try to gain traction under your wheels. Essentially, you just need something that will help the wheels gain traction with the road to get it moving.

Your tyres should be inflated to the correct pressure for peak performance in poor conditions. Safety experts from tyre company Continental say drivers should change their tyres when the tread depth has got down to 3mm rather than waiting until they are down to the 1.6mm legal limit. This is because stopping performance drops off the more worn tyres become

No, winter tyres aren't the same as snow tyres. Snow tyres feature metal studs that stick out of the tyre tread to grip to the snow. Winter tyres have a different tread design to regular, summer tyres, providing more grip. The compound of winter tyres is different from standard tyres, with their operating window in it's prime when temperatures drop below 7° Celsius.

Not really. Because of the low operating temperature, if they are used regularly when temperatures start to rise when Spring arrives, they’ll wear out much quicker than summer tyres. It's an extra expense, but if you can afford it, having a spare set of winter tyres you can fit when the temperatures start to dip before swapping back to summer tyres once the worst of the cold weather has gone is ideal. 

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