How to drive in sub-zero temperatures

5 min read
Published on
December 13, 2022
Close up view of a cars rear wheel driving on the snow with tyre tracks beneath the wheels and snow clogged up inside the tread of the tyres with white covered trees behind the car
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Drive safely in snow and ice

This recent change in weather conditions requires drivers to adapt their driving technique, be aware of the potential risks and obtain the knowledge to prevent any accidents from occurring. Our experts are on hand to help guide you through driving in sub-zero conditions safely – follow our advice and stay safe!

Preparations to take before driving

  • Check tyre pressure and tread - Inspect your tyres and replace them, if necessary, when entering the winter seasons. Low tyre pressure and low tread depth can increase the risk of driving in icy and snowy conditions massively, not to mention there is a legal responsibility to maintain your tyres.
  • Ensure you have topped up your wiper fluid - Top up your windscreen wiper fluid with an anti-freeze solution, this will prevent ice from forming on your windscreen when clearing your windscreen in the mornings.
  • Fill your car up with petrol - When driving in potentially dangerous weather you’ll want to ensure your car is full of petrol. Not only will this ensure you aren’t caught short on your journey, but if you do become stranded, you’ll have enough fuel to keep your heating on and keep yourself warm.
  • Check the weather forecast - Prior to setting out on a journey it’s important to understand what conditions you are likely to meet. If possible, ensure you take major roads, they’re much more likely to have been cleared of snow and gritted.
  • Prepare for a potential breakdown - Ensure you have a motor breakdown policy, this will ensure you and your car are recovered and rescued in situations where you may have to abandon your vehicle! Although this is a worse case scenario, it is better to be prepared than to be stuck with nothing that can help you or make you more comfortable. Put an emergency kit together with dry food, water, a torch, extra clothing, first-aid kit, fully charged phone, and a high-visibility vest – this should ensure your basic needs are met until you can be rescued.

How to drive on icy and snowy roads

The golden rule for driving on ice or snow is that all your controls such as steering, braking, shifting gears and accelerating should all be performed smoothly, but more importantly slowly.

  • Gently accelerate - The last thing you’ll want to be doing is pulling away at speed, this is a sure-fire way to skid about the road. To reduce chances of your wheels slipping try to change into second gear instead of using first gear.
  • Maintain a bigger breaking distance - We recommend you leave ten times the usual recommended gap between you and the car in front. You may know how to control your vehicle in ice and snow, but you can’t count on other drivers on the road to be as aware. Keep your distance for yours and their safety.

  • Shift down - Instead of breaking harshly which could cause your car to slip or skid, change down your gears, this will slow the car down naturally and gradually.

How to prevent a skid/slide? 

Be aware of the weather conditions, if the temperature is below freezing and precipitation is forecast, slow down and be prepared. If you stay aware and slow down, you should avoid getting into a dangerous slide in the first place. Most fatal or dangerous icy road crashes occurs during high speeds, and it’s advisable that drivers do not exceed 45mph on icy roads for this reason.

Understeer and oversteer are two actions crucial to understand in order to prevent a skid/slide.

-      Understeer occurs when your front wheels lose grip in a turn causing your car to keep going straight even though your cars wheel is turned to one side.

-      Oversteer, on the other hand, happens when your rear wheels lose grip with the road. In an oversteer condition the back end of the car will veer outward, opposite the direction of your steering input. Oversteer slides happen when rounding a curve, turning a corner, or even transitioning lanes on a dual carriageway or motorway.

Slides can also be caused by braking or accelerating – both actions have the potential for the vehicles wheels to lose their grip.

What to do if you get into a skid/slide

There are three crucial things to keep in the front of your mind in the event of a skid/slide on the road:

1.   Do not use your breaks – This is one of the most common mistakes drivers make during askid/slide on icy roads. Braking can not only trigger a slide, but it will makeit worse, as for a skid/slide correction to occur – your wheels need to beturning freely.

2.   Turn into the slide – Turn your front wheels in the into the direction that the vehicle is sliding – for example if the back of your car slides over to the right, turn your wheel to the right. As the car straightens out, straighten out your wheel. Its important to keep your eyes focused on the road In front and keep the correction turn of your steering wheel in proportion with the force of the slide you are experiencing. A small slide will only require a small steering motion.

What makes correcting difficult in extremely icy conditions is that it is common for cars to slide one way and then once corrected slide in the opposite direction, this oscillation can occur many times – keep calm and respond accordingly until your car is out of the slide.

3.   Don’t panic and don’t overcorrect - Overcorrecting can cause a car to completely spinout of control even if you’re correcting the wheel as you should, correcting too aggressively can cause your car to spin back and forth making it difficult for you to control. Stay calm and turn yourself out of a slide with appropriate force.

Keep your speed slow: If you keep your speed below 45MPH when ice or snow is imminent or expected on the road you should end up with the best possible outcome, which is avoiding a slide in the first place.

Adapt to the coldest December in a decade by following our expert advice next time you buckle into your car in sub-zero temperatures! Stay up to date with the latest car owner news, tips + guides, shared by our experts straight to our Blog hub here!

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