With many parts of the UK experiencing the first snowfall of the year, many motorists will now be worried by one thing: how to safely drive in it (and whether we should drive in snow at all). Just in time, here’s the ultimate guide to driving in the snow.
First of all, it’s worth saying that driving in the snow is something you should attempt only if you have to. Being able to tackle it doesn’t necessarily mean you should. Safety warning out the way, we’ve collated some top tips from Seat factory racing driver Jordi Gené…
Anticipation – keep your distance
The first rule of driving in the snow is a rule you should broadly apply to driving as a whole. Anticipate what’s ahead. It’s all the more pertinent in low-grip conditions, given that it will take you so much longer to slow down or even steer, in reaction to what’s ahead.
The easier and slower you take it and the more distance you keep from those in front, the more time you have to react. “Anticipate what’s ahead and take it easy, that’s the basic rule for driving in harsh conditions,” said Gené.
A useful technique for steep descents is called engine braking. In an auto, you simply release the accelerator. In a manual, you can select a lower gear that sees your revs rise higher. While using your foot brake could easily see you lock up and skid (or see the ABS anti-lock brakes kick in), engine braking slows and controls the wheels without grabbing at them like conventional brakes do.
Engine braking should, at the very least, to stop you accelerating or skidding. Then you can start carefully applying your brakes. “Driving downhill in low gears will help you stay in control and it takes a lighter toll on the brakes,” explained Gené.
Stay calm and don’t make sudden manoeuvres
You should be keeping a keen eye out for dark patches of black ice. Once in low grip areas, it’s important to not make sudden adjustments to the controls. Yanking at the wheel or stabbing the brakes will only increase your likelihood of losing grip. The goal is to pass over or through ice and snow as smoothly as possible.
“It’s important to stay calm and avoid making sudden manoeuvres,” explains Jordi. “You have to turn the wheel gently and lightly step on the brake until you’ve passed the ice patch and the wheels begin to gain grip again.”
Use your fog lights sparingly
This is perhaps for the benefit of other road users. Fog lights are only for one rain, snow or fog is extremely dense, such that it’s possible other cars may not be able to see you. Fogs, particularly rear fog lights, are not really there to help you see out, rather for others to see you.
Good, you’ve arrived. Time to pop the wipers up so they don’t stick to your screen. Also, make sure you leave the car in park (auto) or first (manual). This will increase the likelihood of your car being where you left it upon your return.
Other than that? Insert the usual jargon about snow tyres ‘here’. Joking aside, they’re transformative for winter driving. Otherwise, keep your car in good nick and you should be alright. Snow chains are an option in the most extreme circumstances but we’d say if the weather warrants them, it’s perhaps best not to make the journey if you can help it…