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Cars have been on British roads for well over a hundred years and we’ve experienced winter for many more than that. But no matter how many times it’s happened before, we still seem shocked and unprepared for winter road conditions. It doesn’t have to be this way; with a few basic tools and a bit of preparation, the winter commute doesn’t have to be any harder than the summer one.

The simplest solution is to not go out at all. If you can help it, delay your journey until tomorrow or even set off later than normal to miss the additional traffic. Of course, this isn’t realistic for most people and if that’s you, here are some essential winter driving tips.

De-icing your car

First of all, don’t pour boiling water onto your windscreen as rapid changes in temperature can cause glass to crack. Even cold water can cause problems; in particularly low temperatures, it can add to the existing ice or it can pool next to the wipers and cause them to freeze to the car. It’s best to use the heat of the engine, window heaters and internal climate control to slowly melt the ice. Use a plastic ice scraper to remove stubborn frost.

First of all, don’t pour boiling water onto your windscreen as rapid changes in temperature can cause glass to crack. Even cold water can cause problems; in particularly low temperatures, it can add to the existing ice or it can pool next to the wipers and cause them to freeze to the car. It’s best to use the heat of the engine, window heaters and internal climate control to slowly melt the ice. Use a plastic ice scraper to remove stubborn frost.

Clear the whole car so that you have good visibility; don’t just create a peephole in front of the steering wheel to peer out of. Clear deep snow from your roof and bonnet so that it doesn’t fall onto your windscreen and block your view or blow into another driver’s path. Make sure your wipers are in their starting position rather than mid-wipe before you turn off the car. If it’s icy, they can freeze to the screen and damage it or the wiper blades. You could also damage the wiper motor if you try to use the wipers when they’re stuck in place. If they do get damaged, at least your wipers are easily changed.   

Keep your car in the garage

Keeping cars in the garage seems rarer and rarer these days but doing so can save you the hassle of going through the steps mentioned above. Alternatively, use a windscreen cover to prevent frost and ice from forming overnight and remove it just before you set off.

How to drive in the winter

Being mindful of the road and its conditions is extremely important. Snow might be easy to see but ice isn’t. Keep an eye out for reflections on the road that could be patches of ice and be aware that what looks like a puddle might be frozen water. Black ice takes on the colour of the road and is even harder to see. Don’t expect the roads to have been gritted. Driving at night makes all of these considerations even more important.

The simplest tip is just to drive more slowly than usual. Doing everything smoothly and gradually – accelerating, braking and steering – is the best way to avoid skidding. Stopping distances can be more than three times longer in winter weather so keep a greater distance between you and the car in front. Be wary of driving on the tracks that other drivers have left behind. This compacted snow can often be more slippery than the normal snow around it. If you do skid, follow the steps below.

What to do if you skid

  • Take your feet off the pedals and try to steer.
  • If you lose traction, remove your foot from the accelerator and, when traction returns, gradually press the accelerator again.
  • Resist the urge to use the brake and only do so if you can’t steer yourself out of trouble.
  • If the rear of the car begins drifting to one side, steer gently in that direction until the car rights itself.

Winter or all-season tyres provide greater grip, traction and braking performance. Although extreme winter weather is relatively rare in the UK, they might be worth the investment for the one time you need them. If you’re looking to buy a new car, 4-wheel drives offer greater traction control in snow but may not provide much extra benefit on ice and their extra weight may even increase stopping distances.

Driving up hills in snow and ice

Although driving slowly is the general rule in winter, hills are the exception. You don’t want to drive so slowly that you lose momentum. Starting from a standstill on an icy hill isn’t easy; it’s a recipe for wheel-spin and there would be nothing worse than slipping back down into the car behind you. As you approach a hill, gradually build up your speed and use momentum to make it to the top. To allow you to do this, you’ll need to keep an even bigger gap between you and the car in front. This gap is even more important as you start to move downhill because you’ll find it very difficult to stop without skidding. Try to slow down as you reach the peak of a hill and then select a low gear as you move downwards.

Tips for driving in hot weather

Are you sick of winter already? Are you planning your summer driving trip this early? Find out how to make the most of summer driving.

Tips for driving in the rain

The tips for driving in the rain are not dissimilar to those for driving in the snow and ice but it comes with its own unique hazards and situations. Read on to find out how to drive safely in the rain.