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15 top tips for driving in snow

Even though spring looks like it’s on its way in the Northern Hemisphere, it’s still good to know how to prepare for and handle driving in the snow with these essential tips.

I had only just packed away the sledge, and low and behold the UK was hit by a huge snowstorm this past weekend, dubbed ‘Mini Beast from the East’. Yesterday evening, as I drove back home through the countryside, with most of the roads cleared of snow, I swooped around a corner only to find the road down to one lane – there was so much snow banked up on the other side, it had cascaded across both lanes, causing havoc. Luckily, before I set out, I had read some advice, produced by the RAC, that is well worth reading and certainly made me feel more secure as I headed into a snowy bend:

• Wear comfortable and dry footwear.

• Accelerate gently, use low revs and change up to a higher gear as quickly as possible.

• Move off in second gear as this will help reduce wheel slip – some cars have a winter mode, which does the same job – so to check whether your car has this function in the vehicle’s handbook.

• Get your speed right and maintain safe stopping distances between you and the car in front, leaving as much as 10 times the normal recommended gap.

• Prepare for an uphill by leaving plenty of room in front so you can maintain a constant speed without the need for changing gear.

• Use a low gear for going downhill and try to avoid braking unless necessary, make sure you leave plenty of space between you and the car in front.

• When approaching a bend, brake before you actually start to turn the steering wheel. If your car does lose grip, try not to panic; the key thing is to take your foot off the accelerator and make sure that your wheels are pointing in the direction you want to go in.

• If you do encounter a 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 stamp your foot on the brakes.

• When driving in heavy snow, make sure that you use your dipped headlights. Relying on daytime running lights is not enough, because they don’t always put lights on the back of your car.

• If visibility drops below a 100m, put your fog lights on. But remember to turn them off when the visibility improves.

• If the road has not been gritted, be wary of driving in the wheel tracks or other vehicles as compressed snow is likely to be more icy than fresh snow.

• Controls such as the brakes, as well as the steering, accelerator and even gear changing should be operated smoothly and slowly.

• Sunglasses can help to reduce the glare of low winter sun on the snow.

• Keep your speed down and allow more time to stop and steer.

• Finally, it’s important to think about the environment that you’re driving in, especially microclimates that might appear on the road. These are areas that perhaps the sun hasn’t got to, which could stay icy when the rest of the road has thawed. Bridges are a good example. They’re normally the first to freeze and the last to thaw. So be aware of that when you’re driving in open spaces.

Being prepared with snow-chains (Not so sure about the inflatable rings?)

And here are some of my own winter driving tips:

  • Plan the route and check the weather before leaving. Check for wind too; in exposed areas the wind can blow enough snow across the road to close the route without it actually snowing
  • Try to keep the fuel tank full. If a road is closed and a diversion is necessary, it could add a lengthy extension to the trip into countryside where there are no fuel stations.
  • Try to park under-cover if possible. If not, park facing downhill leaving the car in gear and with the handbrake off, as it can freeze.
  • Lift windscreen wipers away from the window when you park, so that they don’t freeze to the windscreen.
  • Remember where the car is parked; a car is not easy to identify under a metre of snow!
  • Clean off all the snow from the car (including off the roof) before attempting to drive away and thoroughly clear the windscreen, using a scraper to get any ice off the windows. Driving with piles of snow on the roof is illegal in some countries.
  • Keep your anti-freeze/coolant topped up at all times.

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