14 tips for winter driving
The Great British weather presents different challenges in different seasons.
In the winter, high winds, strong sunlight, fog, snow and ice can present challenges for those navigating through the difficult conditions.
1. How do I prepare my car for winter?
Seemingly minor faults can cause major safety issues during winter conditions. Putting your car through a service will help to ensure that any issues are identified and fixed.
Alternatively, you should at least make sure your lights, brakes, tyres, windscreen wipers and car battery are all in tip-top condition ahead of any change in weather.
Also, check and top-up all your car's fluids. A properly concentrated mix of water and anti-freeze provides the best protection from severe engine damage. This would cost significantly more to repair than properly preparing your car.
We offer a free winter safety check if you are not sure how to do this yourself.
2. Do I need winter Tyres?
The legal minimum tyre tread depth is 1.6mm, but we would advise changing your tyres before they fall below 3mm, especially in winter. You could consider investing in some winter or all-season tyres. These retain their softness at lower temperatures and therefore provide a stronger grip on slippery surfaces.
Remember, your tyres are the only part of the vehicle that actually touch the road, so in ice and snow, having good tyres is vital.
We’re happy to suggest and fit the right tyre for your needs.
3. How do I look after my car’s battery in winter?
Car batteries rarely last longer than 5 years. There are extra demands on them in the winter thanks to lights, heating and wipers. Here are some tips to prevent a flat battery in winter:
Turn off electrical loads like lights, heated rear window and wipers before trying to start the engine.
Use the starter in short 5-second bursts.
If the engine doesn't start quickly, wait 30 seconds between attempts.
If you don't use your car often, give it a regular overnight trickle charge.
If you think you have a problem with your battery
4. Check the weather forecast
Make sure you don’t get caught out in the cold by checking the weather forecast in advance. Even if the driving conditions are okay from your starting point, throughout the journey to your destination, hazardous weather conditions may develop. Check the weather forecast and plan ahead before you set off by visiting https://www.metoffice.gov.uk
5. Allow extra time for any journey
As we all know, even short journeys in winter can become long ones, but we often forget to leave enough time.
A lot of people don’t allow enough time before a journey to properly de-ice and de-mist their car windows. Driving with limited vision of the road ahead and what’s around you can easily lead to an accident. In accordance with The Highway Code, you must be able to see clearly out of all windows before setting off on your journey.
A good ice-scraper and de-icer whilst running the engine is usually enough to clear the screen. Never use hot or boiling water! Ensure that all windows are clear of ice, snow and mist before you set off.
A lot of people don’t know you can use your air conditioning system to de-mist your windscreen faster in winter months - here’s how:
Switch your air conditioning on
Use the air conditioning in conjunction with the heater - the hot air will help dry the glass through evaporation, but the air will then cool down and condense on the glass, so leave the air conditioning on to keep the atmosphere inside dry
If your windscreen is iced over, then the heat is obviously more necessary - but in this circumstance you may want to scrape the outside of your windscreen clear first
Don’t leave your car unattended while you wait for it to defrost as you run the risk of having your vehicle stolen!
6. How to prevent condensation in cars?
Condensation in cars is common in freezing conditions as there is a greater difference in temperature and moisture levels inside and outside of the car. This
can build up during a journey which can be dangerous if visibility decreases. Fully turned up heaters can also lead to drowsiness – increasing the need for fresh air.
Avoid using air recirculation settings during winter as this closes off the vents that allow outside air into the car. Opening the windows slightly will also help create more of a balance.
7. Winter essentials to keep in the car
However long the journey, don’t just rely on your car’s heating to warm you up. Wear sufficiently warm clothing and on a long journey take a hot flask out with as well as a snack. You’ll be glad of it if you break down or hit heavy traffic. A fully charged phone also essential in the event of a breakdown.
Here’s a list of other essentials that can be left in your car throughout the winter:
A warm blanket
Extra clothing, gloves, hat etc
Flask & Snacks
Torch (make sure the batteries are charged)
Shovel if snow is forecast
Emergency warning triangle
8. How to drive in ice and snow?
The Highway Code stipulates you must be able to see out of every glass panel in your vehicle.
Remember to clear any snow off the roof of the vehicle before you drive away.
Accelerate gently, using low revs. You may need to take off in second gear to avoid skidding
You may need 10 times the normal gap between your car and the car in front
Try not to brake suddenly - it may lock up your wheels and you could skid further
Be extra cautious at road junctions where road markings may not be visible
Icy roads and snow can make driving a challenge in winter. Driving to the conditions, considering your speed and keeping a larger gap between you and the car in front helps prepare you for increased stopping distances.
Avoid sharp braking and steering, especially around bends. Instead, go into a lower gear earlier and allow your speed to smoothly reduce before gently braking to avoid skidding. If you do find yourself skidding, don’t panic - gently steer into the skid to straighten the vehicle up and regain control.
9. How does ABS work?
Most cars have anti-lock braking systems (ABS). However, this should not be overly relied on, especially in dangerous conditions. ABS uses sensors to prevent wheels from locking during heavy braking in order to prevent skidding. This allows the driver to maintain steering control while braking, but ultimately ABS works less efficiently on slippery surfaces.
Therefore, while it’s a useful safety device, it’s no substitute for cautious driving.
10. Keep an eye out for cyclists, motorcyclists and pedestrians
Remember to give vulnerable road users including cyclists, motorcyclists and pedestrians more room than usual. They are more likely to be blown around by side winds – always keep a safe distance.
11. Driving in the dark and low light?
Less sunlight means that roads will be busy often in complete darkness or during sunrise and sunset. The result is plenty of glare from low sunlight and headlights, so ensure your windscreen is clean inside and out to reduce the dazzling effects.
Think about replacing old windscreen wipers with new ones to avoid smearing – particularly when incoming light is amplified by rain or snow.
12. When should I use my fog lights?
Make sure you are familiar with how to operate your front and rear fog lights.
You must use headlights when visibility is seriously reduced - generally when you cannot see for more than 100 metres.
Cold and wet conditions lead to fog and ultimately impaired vision when driving. Driving through fog calls for a much more cautious approach although, according to the Highway Code, you must not use your fog lights unless visibility is seriously impaired.
Remember to turn them off when visibility improves so that they don't dazzle other drivers and overpower your brake lights.
13. Can I drive through a flooded road safely?
In Britain we’re used to regular rainfall all year round, but we tend to receive substantially more during the winter months. Avoid driving in the event of severe floods. If you have to venture out, check weather reports and if there’s a chance of flooding, plan your route accordingly and try to stick to main roads.
If you do encounter a flooded road and you are unsure of how deep the water goes, turn back and find an alternative route. If you’re certain the water is shallow enough to drive through, drive slowly in first gear to avoid stalling, as attempting to restart the engine while stranded in water can cause large repair bills.
Stick to the middle of the road where it is at its most shallow and always press your brakes when you reach the other side to test them and dry them off.
If the road is flooded, turn around and find another route. The number one cause of death during flooding is driving through flood water, so the safest advice is turn around and don't risk it.
The public are advised to stay away from swollen rivers and not to walk or drive through flood water. Although the water may seem shallow, just 12 inches (30cm) of moving water can float your car, potentially taking it to deeper water from which you may need rescuing.
Flood water also contains hidden hazards which can damage your car, and just an egg-cupful of water sucked into your car's engine will lead to severe damage.
Never drive through flood water. Turn around.
You can sign up for free flood warnings for your area here.
14. More common problems with cars in winter
A continuous squealing noise when you start up probably means the water pump’s frozen - it's the fan belt slipping on the pulley. Stop the engine straight away and let it thaw out. This could take days.
If your car overheats a few miles from home, it's likely that the radiator has frozen. Stop straight away so you don’t cause more serious damage.