The weather’s turning bad. What do I need to know about driving in snow?

driving in snow

The first thing to remember about driving in snow is things can happen that we aren’t used to in the UK. First and probably most importantly, your car will be covered in the white stuff. As unpleasant as this might be, it’s important to clear all the windows of it so you have all-round visibility.

If you can, clear snow from the bonnet and roof too. You don’t want it flying off and blinding a following driver, or sliding forwards when you brake.

Do you know which wheels drive your car?

This is important for driving in snow because it will have an impact on how your car performs. Models whose front wheels receive the power from the engine or electric motor tend to be better in snow because there is more weight over the driving wheels. Most cars these days are front-wheel drive.

It’s also important to know which wheels drive your car because those are the ones you’ll have to mount snow chains or snow socks to, if you have them.

driving in snow
Find out which are the driving wheels and use gentle inputs on the controls to avoid wheel spin

Do you know how to get going?

Driving on snow is different to a slippery, wet road. Assuming you don’t have winter tyres, you will probably find you have no grip at all. And that means the driving wheels have no traction.

If that’s the case, less is more. Planting your foot on the accelerator will simply cause the wheels to spin and you won’t go anywhere. If your car is manual, put it in second gear and slip the clutch. If it’s an auto, again, put it in second gear. Doing this makes it less likely the wheels will spin and the slower they’re rotating, the more likely they are to find some grip.

Remember gentle inputs on all the controls is the way forwards in snowy conditions.

Slow down using the gears

What you don’t want to do when you’re slowing down is lock your wheels up and go into a skid. If you can, slow down gently by changing down through the gears (or if it’s an EV, use the regenerative braking).

If you do hit the brakes, because the tyres don’t have any grip, you’re likely to skid. You might also feel the ABS (anti-lock braking) kick in. This will sound like a chattering and you’ll feel a vibration through the steering wheel as the brakes rapidly grip and release the wheel.

driving in snow
Setting off in second gear gives the tyres more chance to find traction

Do you know what to do if you lose control?

Imagine you’re approaching a corner, you turn the wheels and the car just ploughs straight on. This is called understeer. What you don’t want to do is brake. Let the car slow naturally and the tyres should regain grip. The only way to stop it happening is to approach the corner more slowly. That gives you more time to have gentler inputs on the steering wheel.

Equally, you might be cornering and experience the rear end coming round. This is called oversteer. The way to counteract this and prevent the car from spinning is to the turn the wheel in the direction that the car is skidding. Do this right and it will turn a potential spin into a drift.

Do you know which route you’re taking?

Think about your usual route. If it’s not on main roads, there’s every chance the roads will be snowier and more treacherous. Main roads are more likely to have been gritted and the volume of traffic will probably have helped to melt the snow.

Keep your distance

It can take you 10 times longer to stop in snowy conditions. Bearing that in mind you don’t want to run into other cars if you can help it – remember it’s your fault and you pay if you tail-end someone ‑ so keep your distance from them.

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