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Hastings Direct.

Winter driving guide and tips

A motorist scrapes the snow from the windscreen.

Driving in winter can be a nerve-wracking experience. The mornings are darker and the unpredictable weather makes the roads more dangerous – that's why it's important to know how to drive safely in winter conditions.

Rainfall can quickly turn to snow. In these cases, it's better to avoid driving altogether, but we understand it's sometimes a necessity.

Follow these winter driving tips for driving in the snow, fog, rain and more and stay safe on the roads.

Prep in advance

The coldest season of the year is tough on cars, so make sure you read our guide on winter car preparation. From checking your tyres to replacing your wipers, there's a lot to consider.

Winter driving safety doesn't start on the road. Before you go anywhere, make sure you're fully prepared, with reliable breakdown cover and an easily accessible winter driving kit.

Your kit should contain warm clothes and blankets, a first aid kit, a snow shovel, a high-vis vest, a torch, a warning triangle, and food and plenty of water.

Also take the following safety precautions:

  • Look at the latest weather forecast. If extreme weather is predicted, avoid driving.
  • Plan your route in advance, ideally taking main roads as they're more likely to be gritted and kept clear. Have a backup route in case your first choice is blocked.
  • Make sure you have a full tank of fuel.
  • Leave with enough time for delays and detours.
  • Ensure you have a fully charged phone and portable charger with you.
  • Check your car is equipped with an ice-scraper and de-icer.

Four golden rules for winter driving safety

  1. Slow down
    Bad weather will likely affect your reaction time, so speeding is a no-no – drive slowly, and always within the speed limit. Adjust your speed according to the conditions.
  2. Keep a safe distance
    Wet, icy conditions increase your stopping distances, so leave a bigger gap between you and the vehicle in front than you normally would.
  3. Maintain control
    Avoid any sudden braking or acceleration as you could skid on icy roads.
  4. Be aware of poor visibility
    If the weather calls for it, use your lights to improve visibility, and always look out for potential hazards, such as pedestrians or cyclists.

How do you drive in the snow and ice?

Many of us worry about driving in the snow, as there’s a greater chance of getting stuck. But you should follow the same winter driving tips when driving in either snow or ice:

  • Brake gently, dropping into a low gear sooner than usual and letting your speed decrease gradually.
  • When driving uphill, wait until the road is clear or leave plenty of space – you want to maintain a constant speed on the way up and avoid stops or gear changes.
  • When driving downhill, slow down before your descent, using a low gear. Again, try to avoid stops and leave plenty of room.
  • When turning corners, drive extra slowly, steering steadily so you don't skid.
  • Resist the urge to brake if your car skids. Instead, lighten pressure on the accelerator and steer gently into the direction you're skidding, until you regain control.

When driving in snow what gear should I use?

In snow or ice, drive in the highest gear manageable, pulling away in second gear – this helps avoid wheelspin. Automatic vehicles may have a winter mode or equivalent.

How fast should you drive in snow?

Driving in snowy or icy conditions means poor visibility and less grip on the road. Wet weather can double your stopping distance, while ice and snow can increase it ten-fold.

Drive slowly and cautiously, keeping well below the speed limit and looking out for temporary speed signs. Bear in mind, black ice is practically undetectable, so even if the road appears safe, it may not be.

What if I get stuck in the snow?

Don't rev your engine or spin your wheels – this will only dig you in deeper. Try using the highest gear possible, rocking back and forth to edge out gently.

If this doesn't work, it's best to call a breakdown vehicle. Stay inside your car until you can see help within 100 yards.

Is snow bad for your car?

It may be tiring and cold, but shovelling snow off your car is a vital precaution. Here's why:

  • It gives you clear visibility out of your windscreen before you drive off.
  • Snow can block your exhaust pipe, pumping lethal carbon monoxide into your car.
  • Melted snow can damage brake pads and seals, causing hydraulic fluids to leak.
  • Salt used to grit roads can mix with fallen snow. If slush from the road gets onto your car and melts, the salt may have a corrosive effect on various parts of your vehicle.

How do I drive in heavy rain?

We've covered tips for driving in snow and ice, so what about wind and rain? Take a look at these safety-conscious suggestions:

  • Leave plenty of room between you and the vehicle in front, as spray and heavy rain affects visibility.
  • If you have to drive along a flooded road, keep your car in first gear and drive slowly, keeping the engine speed high to avoid water getting into the exhaust.
  • Never cross a flooded road if you're unsure how deep the water is.
  • If you see a vehicle coming the other way, don't drive through floodwater.
  • You may be aquaplaning if the steering suddenly feels unresponsive. If this happens, gently lessen the pressure on the accelerator and slow down, pulling over if you can find a safe place to stop.
  • Check your brakes work straight after driving through flood water.

How do you drive in the winter weather?

If you're driving in foggy conditions, you might be tempted to speed up once things look clear – don't! Fog is often patchy and could reappear suddenly. In thick fog, use your front and rear fog lights, remembering to switch them off once visibility improves.

In high winds, be extra vigilant driving across bridges. If the wind starts blowing your car around, slow down. Avoid driving near high-sided vehicles or motorcycles in strong winds, as they're particularly vulnerable to turbulence.

Stay covered this winter

Winter weather is unpredictable and dangerous. You can take all the precautions in the world, but sadly accidents can and do happen out on the road.

That's why it's vital to have reliable insurance cover, protecting you and your vehicle. Hastings Direct is Defaqto 5 Star rated and was voted Car Insurance Provider of the Year in 2018. Don't risk winter driving without dependable insurance.

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