In an emergency always call 999

Winter Driving

Winter Driving


Winter motoring requires special care and a little preparation if you are to avoid a breakdown or accident. This guide is intended to help you with your journeys in adverse weather, especially as it gets worse over winter.

If you must drive in snowy conditions, make sure your vehicle is well prepared and that you know how to handle your vehicle in dangerous road conditions.

Consult the manufacturer’s manual for tips specific to driving your vehicle in slippery conditions. Modern vehicles are fitted with various safety systems which are there to aid you. These systems may be labelled as ESP, ABS, DSC or ESC. There are often buttons labelled as such on the vehicles dashboard and linked into warning lights which illuminate when they are operating. Read the vehicle manual and understand what these systems can do for you and how they operate.

Before you set out always check your route, making sure you listen for real-time weather warnings and traffic information, and are prepared to change or delay your journey dependant on advice being given. Let somebody know where you are going and the route you are intending to take, too.

Driving Safely on Icy Roads

  • Decrease your speed and leave yourself plenty of room to stop. You should allow at least three times more space than usual between you and the car in front of you.
  • If your tyres are making virtually no noise this could be a sign that you are driving on ice.
  • Brake gently to avoid skidding. If your wheels start to lock up, ease off the brake.
  • Turn on your lights to increase your visibility to other motorists and keep your lights and windscreen clean.
  • Using low gears will help you keep traction, especially on hills. Higher gears can be used for better overall control.
  • Do not use cruise control on icy roads.
  • Be especially careful on bridges and infrequently travelled roads, which will freeze first.
  • Even at temperatures above freezing, if the conditions are wet, you might  encounter ice in shady areas or on exposed roadways like bridges.
  • Do not pass snow ploughs and gritting vehicles. The drivers have limited visibility, and you are likely to find the road in front of them worse than the road behind.
  • Do not assume your vehicle can handle all conditions. Even four-wheel and front-wheel drive vehicles can encounter trouble on winter roads
  • Clear any snow off the roof of the vehicle before you drive off. It can slip down over the windscreen and obscure your view or blow onto the vehicle behind you.
  • If your vehicle skids, depress the clutch and turn the steering wheel into the direction of the skid.
  • When the vehicle straightens, steer along the road. Do not brake - it will just lock up your wheels and you will skid further.
  • Show consideration for vehicles travelling uphill towards you.

Rear Wheel Skids

Dependent upon the systems fitted to the vehicle, some systems such as ESP and ESC require the driver to steer in the direction they wish to travel.

  • Take your foot off the accelerator
  • Steer in the direction you want the front wheels to go. If your rear wheels are sliding left, steer left. If they are sliding right, steer right
  • If your rear wheels start sliding the other way as you recover, ease the steering wheel toward that side. You might have to steer left and right a few times to get your vehicle completely under control 
  • If you are forced to brake and have standard brakes, pump them gently
  • If you are forced to brake and have anti-lock brakes (ABS), do not pump the brakes. Apply steady pressure to the brakes. You will feel the brakes pulse - this is normal.

Front Wheel Skids

Dependent upon the systems fitted to the vehicle, some systems such as ESP, ESC require the driver to steer in the direction they wish to travel. Take your foot off the accelerator and depress the clutch but do not try to steer immediately. If your vehicle starts to skid:

  • Depress the clutch - do not brake.
  • Turn the steering wheel into the direction of the skid, when the vehicle straightens, steer along the road.
  • Release the clutch and accelerate gently.

If You Get Stuck

  • Do not spin your wheels, this will only dig you in deeper.
  • Turn your wheels from side to side a few times to push snow out of the way.
  • Use a light touch on the accelerator, to ease your car out.
  • Use a shovel to clear snow away from the wheels and the underside of the car.
  • Pour sand, cat litter, gravel or salt in the path of the wheels, to help get traction.
  • Try rocking the vehicle (check the vehicle’s manual first - it can damage the transmission on some vehicles). Shift from forward to reverse, and back again. Each time you’re in gear, give a light touch on the accelerator until the vehicle gets going.

If You Become Stranded

  • Do not leave your car unless you know exactly where you are, how far it is to possible help, and are certain you will improve your situation.
  • To attract attention, hang a brightly coloured cloth from your radio aerial.
  • If you are sure the car’s exhaust pipe is not blocked, run the engine and heater for about 10 minutes every hour or so depending upon the amount of fuel in the tank.
  • To protect yourself from frostbite and hypothermia, use woollen items and a blanket to keep warm.
  • Keep at least one window open slightly. Heavy snow and ice can seal a car shut.
  • Eat food and drink carried in vehicle.

Necessary Equipment

An emergency situation on the road can arise at any time and you must be prepared. In addition to making sure you have a full tank of fuel, and fresh anti-freeze, it is recommended you carry the following items in your boot:

  • Properly inflated spare tyre, wheel wrench and functional jack.
  • Shovel.
  • Bag of salt or cat litter.
  • Tool kit.
  • Ice scraper, de-icer and snow brush.
  • Torch and extra batteries.
  • Warm clothes, woollen hat, gloves, woollen blanket and a pair of boots.
  • First-aid kit.
  • Battery jump leads.
  • Food and high-energy drink for particularly cold weather.
  • Pair of sunglasses in the glove compartment to protect from the glare from the low winter sun.
  • Reflective warning triangle.
  • Exterior windscreen cleaner.
  • Carry an up-to-date road map or sat-nav in case of road closures and detours.
  • Make sure you take your mobile phone with you and it is fully charged.
  • High visibility vest or brightly coloured cloth.

Winter Preparation

Prepare your car for winter. A check-up should include:

  • Check ignition, brakes, wiring, hoses and fan belts.
  • Changing and adjusting the spark plugs.
  • Check air, fuel and emission filters.
  • Inspect the distributor.
  • Check the battery. Most batteries last between two and four years. Make sure yours is fully charged and replace it f you are not sure it is reliable.
  • Check the tyres for air, sidewall wear and tread depth.
  • Check anti-freeze levels.
  • Service the vehicle.
  • Keep lights clean and check bulbs regularly so you’ll be prepared for lower visibility. 
  • Ensure your tyres are inflated to the manufacturers’ recommended pressure and have at least 3mm of tread depth - this enables a better grip on the road.
  • Make sure wiper blades aren’t worn so you can keep your windscreen as clean as possible for the extra spray, ice and rain.
  • Dirty windows and mirrors can make it hard to see as the low winter sun hits. Make sure they are kept clean and free of ice and snow in colder weather.
  • Ensure windows are clear and de-misted before setting off.
  • Check the density of your windscreen washer fluid. In very cold conditions this should be approximately 1/3rd washer fluid to 2/3rds water.

This guide can be downloaded and printed and kept as a reminder for when conditions are looking bad.


Do you need a quick answer to a general question? Then we recommend you visit the national Ask The Police web site.