Winter driving: how to prepare you and your car

Winter is coming and it's already getting dark. Prepare your car for the coming conditions to stay safe over the colder darker months

Winter driving tips advice

Winter driving can be treacherous, as roads get slippery and visibility drops. Taking time to prepare yourself and your car will help keep you safe. 

This short guide looks at some straightforward ways to improve winter safety – and prevent you getting stranded in the cold. 

We’ll start with what to pack before setting off, then look at various aspects of your car, before finishing with some winter driving tips.

What to keep in your car

Winter driving essentials

Every car should carry an emergency kit during the winter months – particularly if you’re driving in remote areas or far from home. In extreme circumstances, being properly prepared could save your life.

Here’s a full list of what to pack:

  • Mobile phone. The most important thing to do in an emergency is call for help.
  • Mobile phone charger
  • Torch and extra batteries
  • Snacks and water
  • Emergency poncho
  • Reflective safety vest
  • Spare socks and other clothing items that might get wet
  • First aid kit
  • Blanket
  • Two pairs of gloves, one leather and one latex
  • Rags or paper towels
  • Matches or a lighter
  • Whistle
  • Toilet paper
  • Tow rope
  • Jumper cables
  • Flares
  • Spare tyre

Prepare your car for winter driving

Motorists' poor knowledge around winter tyres

We cover the issue of winter tyres and whether they are necessary in a separate guide. However, the short answer is that winter tyres are beneficial – and will improve road safety – once the temperature drops below 7ºC. If you can afford the upfront cost, we recommend using them during the colder months.

You should also check the condition of your spare tyre and jack, and replace worn wiper blades if necessary. Keeping a windscreen scraper and a hardy pair of gloves in the car will prove a godsend on frosty mornings, too.

On that note, make sure your windscreen washer bottle is brimmed with the correct fluid. It contains anti-freeze properties that soapy water doesn’t have. 

Keeping your car’s fuel topped up is also important in harsh weather. When the gauge drops below half-way, refill the tank. If you get stuck on a snowy, deserted road, keeping the engine running and the heater working could be vital.

Lastly, consider the right cabin temperature for winter driving, as wearing bulky clothes will limit your movement. Research by Seat recommends a temperature of no more than 21.5ºC to feel comfortable and stay alert. Driving with an interior temperature of 35°C is similar to having a blood alcohol level of 0.5 g/l.

Winter driving tips

Top tips for safer winter driving

Driving in winter weather demands a more cautious approach. Visibility may be limited, and grip can’t be taken for granted.

Remember, the most important safety feature of any car is the driver, so heed the following advice to reduce your risk of an accident:

  • Slow down
  • Stopping may take much longer on icy roads
  • The bigger the car, the longer the stopping distance
  • Leave extra space to the car in front, even at low speed
  • Do not accelerate hard
  • Do not brake hard unless necessary
  • Avoid using cruise control
  • Bridges, off-ramps and shady spots might be extra slippery. Be aware
  • Slow down and approach junctions with caution. These are the most likely places for other drivers to be out of control
  • Be extra cautious around pedestrians and cyclists
  • Give snowploughs extra room. Never pass a snowplough
  • Pay attention to weather reports and traffic advice for your route

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Motoring Research team
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