Will you be driving in wet, icy and dark conditions? Here’s our practical guide on how to stay safe.
Safety Checks before your journey
Before setting off, find out if there are any severe weather warnings. You can keep up-to-date with the weather by checking the news.
- BBC Weather is a place to go for reliable weather forecasts.
- You could also use the MET Office. This is where a lot of media outlets get their information, meaning you can go directly to the source.
Depending on the weather conditions, you will then be able to plan appropriately. There’s no shame in postponing your journey to stay safe if the weather calls for it.
You must ensure that the tread depth of your tyres exceeds the legal minimum of 1.6mm. We replace the tyres on our vehicles with a tread depth of less than 3mm, to be safe. Switching to winter tyres is another option but it can be costly and difficult on some commercial vehicles. There are other alternatives as well – there’s a helpful review on the alternatives by Auto Express.
Check that each light on your vehicle is working and that their plastic coverings are clean. Here’s a list that you can check off as you go:
- Number plate bulbs
- Reverse lights
- Fog lights
Winter can take its toll on a vehicle’s battery, particularly in older vehicles. Make sure it is fully charged. There’s a helpful guide on this by RAC.
Windscreen Washer Reservoir
Stop your windscreen washer reservoir freezing by choosing a non-freezing screen-wash. Check over your windscreen wipers as well. If your windscreen wipers are causing streaks, they will most likely need replacing.
Regular servicing and maintenance
If you’ve been putting off getting your vehicle serviced, consider booking it in. The winter can be a challenging time for your vehicle. We recommend regular maintenance, as we do with our own fleet.
Keeping your fuel topped up is good preparation for unexpected delays.
Having a fully charged mobile phone is a useful backup should you need to call for help. There are power banks (portable battery chargers) and torches that can provide emergency wind-up power for recharging. Remember to use your mobile phone safely and responsibly.
Vehicle or Car Winter Kit - The Essentials
Having an ‘emergency car winter kit’ can be a lifeline if you become stranded or stuck. You can put together your own kit or buy one that has been pre-prepared. You can often put them in your boot and forget about them – making them quite convenient. Here are some of the essentials to consider:
- Ice scraper
- De-icer spray
- High-vis jacket
- Torch with extra batteries
- First aid kit
- Non-perishable Food & Water (e.g. biscuits, energy bars, raisins)
- Warm Clothes & Blankets (Emergency blankets can work well – the ‘foil kind’)
- Jumpstart cables
Defrosting your windscreen and vehicle quickly
Many modern vehicles have heated windows and mirrors to help you defrost or demist easily. This will be the fastest and most convenient way to defrost your vehicle.
The second quickest and most effective way to defrost your vehicle is by using a de-icer and an ice scraper.
Turning up the heat in your vehicle will assist you in defrosting it. After heating your vehicle, the ice will eventually melt, and you can opt to skip using the de-icer spray (requires patience).
We would advise against the use of hot water to defrost your vehicle’s windows since there’s a risk that this will crack your glass. Lukewarm water can reduce the risk of the glass cracking, but it is still risky and not recommended. In fact, depending on how cold it is, the water could freeze and make things worse. Check out the research on this by the AA.
Parking your vehicle in your garage or a sheltered area can prevent it from icing over. If this is not possible, you could use a vehicle windshield for snow and ice.
The UK law on defrosting your vehicle
It is illegal to:
- Drive with your windscreen obscured by snow or ice.
- Leave your vehicle unoccupied with the engine running on a public highway. Side note: leaving your vehicle unattended makes it an easy target for thieves – find crime prevention advice on this from the Warwickshire Police.
Driving in the snow or over ice
Can I drive on icy roads or in snow?
Driving over ice or in snow takes patience. Occasionally, road conditions will be so severe that it’s not possible. If you do have to drive, you can use the tips below to help you on your way – some of them you might find surprising:
- Start in second gear and keep your revs low by applying light touches to the accelerator. This can help to avoid wheel spin.
- Turn the steering wheel gently and progressively when you need to change direction. Sharp or sudden turns can cause you to skid.
- Use your gears to slow down and try to avoid braking suddenly. Your brake lights will give other drivers plenty of warning you’re coming to a stop.
- Leave plenty of space between you and the car in front, since your braking distance will be increased greatly. Around 10 car lengths are advisable.
- Keep moving, even at a crawl. It can be difficult for your wheels to gain traction from a stationary start.
- If you start to spin, take your foot off the accelerator and steer into the skid. Once you regain control, quickly return your steering wheel to its default position.
- Try to stick to busier roads that are more likely to be gritted.
- Be aware of black ice, as it will almost definitely cause your vehicle to slide. It is often difficult to see, but it will glint in the sunlight and moonlight.
Help! I’m stuck in the snow…
If you do end up stuck in snow, try to stay calm and avoid spinning the wheels – rather than gaining traction, this will force the vehicle deeper into the snow.
- If possible, exit the vehicle and clear snow away from the wheels, then place sand, gravel or grit in the path of the wheels to gain extra support.
- Turn your wheels from side to side several times to help push the snow out of the way.
- Gently push the accelerator; the slower, the better, as this will enable the tyres to take more grip
- Shift from reverse to forwards, and back again, accelerating gently each time, to gain enough traction to escape.
Bonus Tip: If the above did not work, as a last resort, wheelspin can help you get unstuck. You might need to turn off traction control, as it will prevent wheelspin. Check your vehicle’s manual to see if this applies. Before trying the wheelspin technique, consider your environment and surroundings and ensure that it would be safe to do so.
If heavy snow is forecast and you absolutely must drive, pack a shovel in the boot and some extra warm clothes, and keep regular tabs on the weather forecast and traffic updates.
The best way to deal with driving in bad weather is to avoid doing it altogether, but if your journey is essential then always remember that careful preparation and planning can help to keep you and your vehicle safe.