How you can avoid winter driving problems

Of all the seasons, it is probably winter which presents the most challenging conditions for motorists. Plummeting temperatures combined with snow and ice can cause even the most experienced drivers problems.

But there are simple steps we can all take which should make motoring safer and more trouble free.

Before you go out

Ensuring your windscreen, windows and mirrors are kept clean and free of snow or ice is a good starting point. And having wipers in good working order and a plentiful supply of water and winter-ready screenwash should ensure your visibility isn’t impaired.

Remove any snow from your bonnet and roof as this can blow off at speed causing a hazard for you and other motorists.

Grip is going to be important and this means your tyres should be in a good condition. The legal limit for tread is 1.6mm but it is recommended that you have at least 3mm tread. In really wintry conditions, drivers may consider using snow chains or snow socks.

Plan your journey before you set off and give thought to locations which might be badly affected, such as flood prone areas, and monitor local weather forecasts.

Coping with winter weather

When roads are slippery it’s advisable to stay in as high a gear as possible and keeping your revs low. This reduces the chance of spinning your wheels and losing control.

Pay particular attention to your speed and the distance between you and the car in front. In wet conditions you should double the distance you normally would and in snow and ice distances should be up to 10 times further than normal.

As you approach a bend in the road you should have already slowed before entering the bend. If you do begin to skid, steer gently into it. For example, if the rear of the car is sliding to the right, steer to the right. Do not take your hands off the steering wheel or brake hard.

Dipped headlights should be used in heavy rain and snow – daytime running lights may not be adequate. And if visibility falls below 100m then use your foglights.

Don’t be lulled into a false sense of security during a long journey in your nice and warm car. Keep an eye on the temperature outside and if it falls below freezing adjust your driving technique accordingly.

Even if you think frost has thawed, be aware that microclimates can occur on roads. For example, roads under bridges are often the first to freeze and the last to thaw.

Avoid a breakdown

Cold weather can exacerbate underlying mechanical problems with cars so follow these tips to ensure your car is in good condition.

Check your fuel, oil, screenwash and coolant levels before any journey, and keep an eye on your tyres. Make sure there is adequate tread and be alert to any uneven wearing as this can indicate problems with tyre pressures or steering.

And make sure your lights are working correctly – faulty bulbs or fuses could prevent your headlights, indicators or brakelights from working when you need them most.

Your brakes need to be in tip top condition for winter so if you notice they are becoming ‘spongy’, creating unusual noises, or if your car pulls to one side under braking then you should immediately get them checked by a mechanic. Even if you don’t encounter these symptoms keeping a check on how the pads are wearing is good practice.

Other warning signs to be aware of are ‘flaring’ engine revs during hard acceleration (which could mean a slipping clutch), intermittent knocking or droning sounds (possibly a worn wheel bearing), engine hesitation (may indicate a fuel system problem), or engine stutter (could indicate deteriorating spark plugs or spark plug leads).

More immediate problems can be indicated by a loud knocking noise from the engine – in which case you should stop your car and check the oil level on flat ground, topping up with a suitable grade of engine oil if you’re below the minimum on the dipstick.

A list of essentials which the RAC recommends you should carry in your car includes:

  • Ice scraper
  • ​​Torch and spare batteries
  • Warm clothes and blankets
  • ​High-visibility jacket
  • ​Boots with good grip
  • ​First aid kit
  • Jump start cables
  • Empty fuel can
  • Food and drink
  • Shovel
  • Reflective warning sign
  • Road atlas
  • Sunglasses
  • Phone charger 

More advice

For more winter driving advice visit the RAC’s winter driving pages.

Did you know that car owners who take out NFU Mutual’s motor insurance policy will also receive roadside assistance from the RAC should they breakdown more than a quarter of a mile from their home?

Find out more about our motor insurance.