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Winter driving guide

  • 3, Aug 2020
  • Read time: 5 mins
If you have no choice but to drive in dangerous conditions, we've got some hints and tips to make sure that you stay as safe and comfortable as possible.
Man clearing snow from the car.

Winter car kit

One of the most important things you can do before you set out on a journey this winter is to thoroughly check your vehicle and inventory before you set off. Some items such as a first-aid kit, road map and reflective warning sign you should carry at all times in your car, but in winter make sure to have the following:

  • Ice scraper and de-icer
  • Torch with spare batteries/wind-up torch
  • Jump-start cables
  • Food and a warm drink in a flask
  • Sunglasses for the glare from the snow
  • Mobile phone charger
  • Shovel
  • Warm clothes and blankets.

Charging your car battery in winter

One of the most common reasons the RAC gets called out in winter is for flat batteries, because they run down quicker in colder temperatures.

As far as vehicle maintenance goes, checking your battery is one of the most straightforward tasks to undertake by using a car battery tester. You will need to purchase a battery tester – some just show a green or red light for a charged or uncharged battery, whilst others offer a voltage read-out. A reading of less than 12.4 volts is generally a sign that the battery needs to be charged, but always refer to the manual. It is recommended that you check your car battery at least once a week during winter and charge it if required.

Engine coolant and antifreeze

Ensuring that the level of coolant is between the minimum and maximum markers should be part your routine car maintenance. However in winter it’s also important to make sure that there’s sufficient antifreeze in the coolant. Have a look at your handbook, browse tutorials online or get a local garage to check the strength. Anti-freeze is cheap while damage from a frozen engine can be very expensive to put right.

Car screenwash and wiper blades

Make sure you have enough screenwash in the tank. The screenwash concentration must be suitable for cold conditions in the winter. Not all variants and brands are the same so look for the temperature it protects down to. The minimum protection you want is down to -35°C at a dilution of one part screenwash to one part water. Wiper blades can become frozen to the glass in winter, so take care when freeing them up.

Winter tyres

Check the condition of your tyres to make sure that the tyre tread is deep enough. Use this handy RAC tyre tread guide if necessary.

Check the tyre pressure often, and make sure to look out for any splits or bulges.

If you live in an area at high risk of snow consider buying winter tyres or snow socks which give your vehicle greater traction and control.

Winter driving tips

If there is a storm approaching, snow on the road or icy conditions outside, first consider if your journey is really necessary. If you’re unsure, a good place to start is the Met Office Cold Weather Alert website which runs from 1 November to 31 March every year. If the warning level is yellow, amber or red, or police have closed roads near you, think twice before heading out. Another useful resource is the Highways Agency Traffic Information site, which checks for congestion on major roads.

However some journeys are vital, so here are some hints and tips for driving in wintry conditions.

Driving in snow and ice

  • Give yourself plenty of extra time:
    If you have to take a diversion because of a closed road or snow drift you’ll thank yourself for preparing.
  • Be prepared:
    Make sure you have the full inventory listed above, as well as a broom and pieces of carpet to gain tyre traction if you have them.
  • Clear your car of snow:
    It’s a legal requirement to clear all windows of snow and ice before driving. Also make sure to remove snow from the car body so it doesn’t fly into the path of other vehicles or pedestrians.
  • Slow down:
    Taking the time to spot patches of ice or snow whilst driving can make all the difference, especially if you don’t have winter tyres equipped. Travelling at lower speeds in higher gears will give you more traction and better handling. Try to brake as gently as possible to avoid skidding. 
  • Keep your distance:
    Stopping distances can be up to ten times longer in winter conditions than in dry conditions. Don’t rely on traction control and ABS alone.

Driving in heavy rain or a storm

  • What is aquaplaning?
    Increased surface water can increase the risk of aquaplaning, which is when a vehicle continues to move after the brake has been applied. Reduce your speed and keep an eye out for excess surface water on the road.
  • Wind whilst driving:
    If the wind is particularly strong, reduce your speed as sudden gusts could impact both your driving and braking ability. Obviously the more exposed the road is the more likely your car will be affected by the wind.
  • Allow for other road users:
    Being hit by the wind can mean your car is pushed off course. Pay extra attention to other road users, especially pedestrians, cyclists and motorcyclists. If you drive a motorcycle yourself, try to avoid driving in high winds as you are more likely to be blown off course.
  • Keep your distance:
    Just as with icy conditions, it’s important to keep your distance. Storms and wind can affect handling and your vehicle may not respond or behave as you expect it to.

Breakdown cover, insurance and claims

Having breakdown cover is invaluable if you break down in bad winter weather. With MORE THAN car insurance you can opt to add breakdown services provided by the RAC.

Remember to take your breakdown telephone help-line number with you on all journeys. If you’re affected by snow, storms or high winds and need help with making a claim, MORE THAN claims helplines are available 24 hours a day.

Find out more about insuring your car with MORE THAN.

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