How to drive in snow and ice

It doesn't matter which way you cut it; when the temperatures plummet you really need to have your wits about you if you're going to get behind the wheel.

Not only will the roads be much more slippery than usual, but it's not always obvious where the ice begins and ends - just using your eyes isn't enough. The obvious advice would be to stay in where it's warm and dry, but if you do have to drive in sub-zero temperatures, here's how to minimise the chances of getting into a scrape: 

It’s not always obvious where the ice begins and ends – just using your eyes isn’t enough
  • Keep your vehicle well-ventilated; to stop the windows misting up use air-con if you have it. A heater turned up full can quickly make you drowsy.

  • In snow, stop occasionally to clean the windows and lights. Visibility will almost certainly be reduced, so use dipped headlights.

  • Stopping distances are 10 times longer than usual; gentle manoeuvres are essential.

  • Keep to the main roads as they’re more likely to be gritted. Also bear in mind that after the frost has gone, ice can remain in areas which are shaded by trees and buildings.

  • Wear comfortable, dry shoes: cumbersome, snow-covered boots will slip on the pedals.

  • Select second gear when pulling away, easing your foot off the clutch gently to avoid wheelspin.

  • When climbing a hill avoid having to stop – wait until it’s clear by leaving plenty of room ahead.

  • Maintain a constant speed, choosing the most suitable gear well in advance.

  • When driving downhill, reduce your speed before the hill, use a low gear and avoid using the brakes. Leave loads of room between you and the car in front.

  • Always apply brakes gently. Release them and de-clutch if the car skids.

  • If you have an automatic, under normal driving conditions select 'Drive' and let the gearbox do the work throughout the full gear range. In slippery, snowy conditions select '2', which limits the gear changes and makes you less reliant on the brakes. Many modern autos have a 'Winter' mode which locks out first gear to reduce the risk of wheelspin. Check the handbook if you're not sure.

  • If you do get stuck, straighten the steering and clear the snow from the wheels. Put a sack or old rug in front of the driving wheels to give the tyres some grip. Once on the move again, try not to stop until you reach firmer ground.

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Top tip

Download a handy winter driving booklet from the Guild of Experienced Motorists.