Winter driving throws plenty of challenges at the motorist, from the dazzle of low sun to the perils of black ice. Because ice and snow are rare in the UK, we may not be as used to driving in these conditions compared to drivers from countries that regularly experience harsh winters. If you’re lucky, you might never need to drive in the worst kind of winter weather, but it’s still wise to be prepared in case you need to.
The first consideration for icy days is whether you need to travel. If your journey can be put off until another time it’s usually best to stay at home rather than risk the potential danger, inconvenience and heightened insurance prices an accident could cause.
Realistically many of us will need to drive in poor weather. Check the forecast before you set out since temperatures can drop or snow could start to fall suddenly. If you can, travel during the warmest part of the day while it’s still light.
Spend a little time getting ready for your journey. Top up on fuel and fluids and check the tyre tread depth to ensure your car is equipped for icy roads and freezing temperatures. Early dusk, low sun, snow and fog mean visibility may be poor, so make sure your windscreen and headlights are free of snow and smears. It’s also a good idea to carry emergency supplies including food, water and warm clothes in case you do get stranded.
It’s easy to be caught out by worsening conditions so keep an eye on the road ahead for icy spots. Black ice is notoriously difficult to see but may be visible as a wet or shiny patch on the road. You can also make guesses about the road condition based on what’s around you. For instance, an area shaded by trees may still be icy, even when the sun has melted the ice elsewhere.
You may also be alerted to the presence of ice by the sound it makes under your wheels or by a change to the feel of the steering.
Driving on a slippery surface can feel frightening especially if it’s a new experience. It’s best to keep your speed low so you have plenty of time to react if things go wrong. Look well ahead and plan your movements. This will help you to drive smoothly without harsh steering, braking or acceleration all of which could cause you to lose control of the vehicle. If you need to reduce your speed, try to use engine braking, easing off the accelerator and changing down through the gears. If you start to lose control of the vehicle, steer in the direction the vehicle is sliding to correct it.
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Leaving enough space between your car and other vehicles will help ensure you have enough room to stop if you need to. Stopping distances on ice are multiplied by ten times compared to a dry road surface. Keeping your distance can also keep you out of trouble if another driver makes a sudden mistake.
Some new and used cars perform better in snow and ice than others. Some 4×4 should be capable of handling deep snow and slippery conditions. If you live in a remote area, seek advice from your local motor dealers or motor trade magazines and websites on which vehicles are best for wintery conditions. It may not be possible to test drive a vehicle on trade plates in truly testing conditions, but you can draw on other people’s experiences.
Owning a capable car doesn’t mean you should test its limits or you might find you get caught out. Careful, sensible driving will help you reach your destination safely, whatever the vehicle may be.