Winter driving tips UK: the best tyres to use, how to handle snow and ice, and how to prepare your car

The UK has already seen its first proper blast of wintry weather, with large parts of the country hit by snow in recent days.

Snow presents its own specific problems for drivers but winter in general is a more testing time for motorists. Shorter days, wetter weather and the impact of cold conditions on cars all mean journeys take longer, can be trickier and the risk of breakdowns and traffic jams increases.

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All of this means it’s more important than ever to make sure you and your car are prepared for any eventuality, so here are some straightforward tips on how to stay safe on the roads this winter.

Car care

Tyres: Your tyres are your car’s only contact with the road so it’s important to make sure they are in top condition. The legal minimum tread depth is 1.6mm but the AA recommends at least 3mm in winter. Check your pressures as well, grip is affected by over/under-inflated tyres. Winter tyres offer improved grip in cold/slippy conditions.

Winter tyres are a sound investment (Photo: Shutterstock)Winter tyres are a sound investment (Photo: Shutterstock)
Winter tyres are a sound investment (Photo: Shutterstock)

Lights: Short days mean it’s essential your lights are in good condition. Check all the bulbs are working and ensure the lenses are clean and clear of frost/snow before every journey.

Windscreen washers/wipers: Check your blades are in good condition and ensure your reservoir is regularly topped up with winter-strength screenwash. The bottle will tell you the correct water/fluid ratio

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Windows: Before every journey clear all your windows of snow/ice, not just the windscreen. Visibility is vital so follow our simple advice to do so safely. Also clear any snow from the roof of your car before setting off.

Pack a bag

Nobody sets out to get stranded on the road but with flooding and sudden heavy snowfalls a common occurrence in some parts of the country, it’s easy to get caught out. It’s best, then, to make sure you’re prepared. Packing a bag with a few essentials and leaving it in your car means you’ll be ready should the worst happen. A blanket, warm jacket, sturdy shoes, high-visibility jacket, torch, charged mobile phone, snack and bottled water are essentials. A foldable shovel could also help get you out of a drift. And old carpet off-cuts can come in handy to get some grip if you become stranded on slippery surfaces.

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Plan ahead

Bad weather means inevitable hold-ups on the road so plan ahead, allow extra time for journeys and think about your route. If you usually use smaller, less travelled roads these might not be cleared or treated as regularly as main routes so it could be worth taking another, busier route where possible. Check travel reports to ensure your route is passable. And keep your car well fuelled in case you get stuck in a jam.

Stay in control

Being smooth and gentle with the controls is vital in poor conditions. Sudden accelerating, braking or steering is more likely to cause an accident if the roads are bad. Remember, braking distances can increase up to 10 times in snow and ice. Anticipation is key. The less you have to change gear, brake or stop and the more time you have to manoeuvre the less likely you are to get stuck or have an accident. Going up hills leave plenty of space ahead so even if the car in front slows you can keep your momentum. Going down hill, leave as large gap as possible to any cars in front and try to avoid using your brakes to reduce the chance of skidding. If conditions are slippy, pull away in second gear to reduce wheelspin.

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For more advice on driving in poor weather read our guide on how to handle a skid.

Get breakdown cover

Even well-maintained cars can fall victim to the hardships of winter so if you don’t want to be stranded at the roadside, make sure you have breakdown cover in place, just in case. It’s always cheaper to have cover in place already than having to sign up when you suddenly need it.