Winter Motoring Guide
04/12/2013 12:30 | By Steve Walker

How to drive in snow

When it snows driving gets more difficult and dangerous, here's how to stay safe.


Tips for driving in snow (© Continental)


A snow covered winter wonderland is the last thing most motorists want to see when pulling back the curtains in the morning.

It could be worse, you might find that your car has spontaneously combusted in the night or that Godzilla is in town and using your grandmother as a toothpick but of the likely scenarios, snow is about as bad as it gets.
 

UK roads don't cope very well when it snows

Why? Because you just know that driving to where you need to go is set to become so much more problematic than it would otherwise have been.

UK roads don't cope very well when it snows and part of the reason is that UK drivers don't either. We can be forgiven to an extent because across the majority of the country, snow is a rare occurrence and driving in it an experience we're not used to. That leeway only stretches so far though and some small changes in our attitudes and approaches to driving in snow could pay dividends.

Winter Motoring Guide
 

Driving in snow (© Mercedes-Benz)

 

How to drive in snow: respect the cold

Treating the cold weather with a little more respect is a good place to start. Most motorists are sensible enough to adjust their speed downwards and give other road users a bit more room when there's snow on the roads but that best practice should also be carried over to roads that have been cleared.

According to Bernstein Research, when it snows, accidents are statistically more likely on roads that have been gritted than those that are still snow-covered. That's partly because more traffic gravitates towards the clear routes but also because we assume gritted roads are fine and drive on them as normal.

Men are also more likely to have accidents in snowy conditions than women. This is nothing to do with the driving abilities of the different sexes, and if it was we wouldn't be entering that particular minefield here.

Instead, it's thought to be linked to male working patterns and bravado making them more likely to attempt journeys in the snow. Snow-covered roads are dangerous and if you're on them, you're increasing your chance of trouble.

When we're told only to travel if it's absolutely essential chaps, it might pay to take more heed!

 

How to drive in snow tips

 

How to drive in snow: avoid over-confidence

Our attitudes to driving in snow are also linked to the cars we drive. Contrary to what many people might believe, SUVs are more likely to be involved in accidents in snowy conditions than normal cars.

This is linked to the fact that drivers of 4x4s are inclined to get over-confident, assuming the extra traction their cars generate will let them drive as they would in normal conditions.
 

Don't sit there spinning your wheels

The fact is that four-wheel-drive only improves traction, it can't help with grip. Basically, you'll be able to get moving and keep moving easier but cornering and braking can be just as tricky as in a normal car. In fact, the extra weight and high centre of gravity that's common in large SUVs can count against them, making them harder to control and, crucially, stop.

It's a similar story with winter tyres, they improve a car's performance on snow and ice but fitting them and assuming you can drive on low grip surfaces as you normally would on clear roads, is a recipe for trouble.
 

Tips for driving in snow

 

How to drive in snow: Drive according to the conditions

The message when driving on snow or ice, on gritted roads and generally in cold temperatures is always to take extra care. Even if the road looks clear and you're shielded inside a giant 4x4 on winter tyres, you should still take the conditions into account.

Pull away from standstill smoothly using the minimum of engine revs and change up early into as high a gear as possible to reduce the chance of wheelspin. Always make smooth, gentle inputs with your steering, accelerator and brakes. Avoid braking at all if possible.

Control your speed and maintain a safe distance from the car in front, remembering that stopping distances increase massively when it's icy. If your tyres stop making a noise on the road surface, this could be a sign that you're driving on ice.

If you do get stuck and have ESP stability control or traction control on your car, try turning them off. These systems can work against you, reining-back the engine's power when wheelspin or skidding is detected.

Don't sit there spinning your wheels though, especially if you're caught in deep snow. The snow around the tyre will simply melt and re-freeze, lessening your chances of escape.

You could try digging away at the snow around the wheels with a shovel or putting down salt to melt the snow. Sand and cat litter are also sometimes used to help tyres get a grip. In rear-wheel-drive cars, carrying extra ballast in the boot increases weight over the driven wheels and can help improve traction.

For more tips on winter driving, winter tyres and winter cars, check out the MSN Cars winter motoring guide.


Winter car checklist
Choosing a car for winter
Winter driver training
MSN Cars Winter Motoring Guide

 

17Comments
30/11/2010 00:54
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I'm loving the 'SUVs are more likely to be involved in accidents' and '4x4s are inclined to get over-confident' bit.  I live in the country, where the 4x4's like to jam the narrow winding lanes.  Clever people, it's a narrow road so lets buy the widest car possible.  Not such a problem for my little car to get by, real trouble if they meet another 4x4.  Now it seems my little car is better with the snow too.
30/11/2010 09:48
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I learned one thing, don't brake, i dropped the car into 2nd gear to take a right bend and i used the brake the front wheels locked and i ended up going straight. No damage to anything but not a nice way to learn :/
30/11/2010 19:21
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 the fact that drivers of 4x4s are inclined to get over-confident, assuming the extra traction their cars generate will let them drive as they would in normal conditions.

The fact is that four-wheel-drive only improves traction, it can't help with grip. Basically, you'll be able to get moving and keep moving easier but cornering and braking can be just as tricky as in a normal car. In fact, the extra weight and high centre of gravity that's common in large SUVs can count against them, making them harder to control and, crucially, stop.

Spot on. I've been driving in slow moving queues of traffic when morons in 4x4s have over taken, presumably assumming that they're immune to accidents.
29/11/2010 19:08
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wet ice, dont go out unless you have studded tyres. problem is they are illegal in most of europe, apart from norway sweden finland. the best thing next to snow chains [for ice & hard packed snow] for soft snow, normal winter tyres are best.
30/11/2010 07:27
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The only over confident drivers here are the army of supermarket & white van deliveries putting evryone @ risk we had to mount verge recently to avoid asda truck as to wide for the lane plus way to fast !! Make right choice of tyres a legal requirement as in europe , lots of fines to be had there ........
30/11/2010 21:31
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Most of these stupid 4x4's you see nowerdays are actually pretty hopeless in conditions like we've got. A proper 4x4 like a defender with real off road tyres would be ok, but the chelsea tractors with thier massive alloys and big fat low profile tyres are useless. youd be better off in a small car with skinny tyres cos they cut through the snow, fat tyres distribute the weight of your vehicle and "float" on top of the snow.

24/12/2010 12:11
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Everyone in this country should be legally enforced to attend a weekend skid pan .The level of driving skill on ice and snow is horriffic.Ive seen people driving at ten miles an hour on almost totally clear roads then go mad when i overtake, its very frustrating .every year i fit my car with winter tyres and have never been blocked ,unable to get up hills or been a nuisance to any other road driver.Please please people buy some winter tyres next year , its really not that much of a problem to drive in snow. ps they will last you two seasons as well.
30/11/2010 17:17
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I  don't  think satsumo is  a t....t,he seems  nicer than ex-sapper

29/11/2010 23:54
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Stone the crows, I just looked on the  site again and went to "member's cars" and it is still there, top right, showing under the name of the old gent (Mick George) I bought it off three or four years ago. It is the red one with a canvas cover over the cabin. I doubt it exists now as the person I sold it to said he didn't want the body and was going to use the chassis to build a special

29/11/2010 23:47
29/11/2010 23:40
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Yes, the club is still going http://www.number69.​net/RCOC/

The saloon car was  the Metisse Sports Coupe. There is a good photo of it on their site

16/02/2014 01:05
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Back in the early 1990's I had a Fiat 126.  it is a small rear engine rear wheel drive car with a 26hp 650cc engine.  this is probably the best 2 wheel drive vehicle you can drive in the snow as the power is limited.  I also had a Honda C70 Cub which is a low power motorcycle with narrow tyres.  this would go where a car could only dream of.  put a pair of motocross knobbly tyres on it and it was invincible
29/11/2010 23:35
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Ah, a Rickman Ranger was a jeep like vehicle made by the Rickman brothers who made their name building trials and scrambling bikes. They also made a sporty saloon car but I cannot remember it's name. The Ranger was built using Ford Escort parts. You can probably find it on Kit Car websites. They did have their own website but i am not sure whether it still exists. I suppose I should have a look!
29/11/2010 23:10
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WTSBOB,what the hell is a rickman Ranger?I have had all manner  of cars and motor cycles,from Vincents,Aerials,and Humber cars and Yankee Olds,but I have never heard of a Rickman Ranger.
29/11/2010 20:56
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I remember a trip in 1962 on a Triumph Tiger Cub that I made from Bath to Penzance. I tried to drive across Exmoor but the snow was as high as the hedges so I had to detour out of my way on the A roads. It took me all day to get to Exeter, ending up on my backside half of the time and my chain coming off, caused by rutted frozen snow. I had great fun sometimes ending up sliding under abandoned jack-knifed lorries. Luckily there was hardly any traffic on the roads. When I got near Exeter, I started to come across black ice so gave up and stayed the night there. The next morning, the rest of the journey to Penzance was clear and uneventful. Another journey I made was from South Wales in a newly purchased but old Rickman Ranger which was only rear wheel drive and as I started my journey in the evening, it started snowing. I drove through  the night with the snow coming down ever harder and got as far as Bodmin Moor at about 4 O'Clock in the morning and noticed loads of cars abandoned on both sides of the carriage way. Anyway, the old girl kept going and arrived home to find that the police had had to rescue travellers from their snowed in cars which the old Rickman Ranger sailed passed!
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