How to drive in snow and icy weather

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Driving in severe winter weather poses many challenges.

In very bad conditions avoid driving unless essential. But if you must drive, here's how to make sure you and your car are as prepared as possible and what to do if you are caught out in bad weather.

image copyrightDan Kitwood
image captionHeavy snow is forecast in parts of the UK

Prepare yourself

Allow extra time - get up earlier to allow time to de-ice the car and allow much longer for journeys.

Plan journeys around major roads, which are more likely to be cleared. Avoid shortcuts on minor roads.

Wear warm clothes and comfortable shoes to drive in.

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Don't forget your coat, hat, gloves, sturdy boots, a blanket to keep you warm in case you do get stuck or have to leave your car.

Take some food, chocolate, biscuits, water and a hot drink if you can.

Always carry a fully charged mobile, and some old bits of carpet, or cat litter, to put under the tyres when stuck and a shovel to clear snow.

Prepare your car

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Consider buying winter tyres, which offer extra grip, especially if you live in an area which regularly experiences snow.

Many garages offer relatively inexpensive winter tyre fitting services, and mobile tyre fitters are also available.

If you stick with standard tyres, make sure they're inflated at the right pressure and that each one has at least 3mm of tread.

Car batteries run down more quickly in winter. Make sure you do a regular long journey to top it up, or use a trickle-charger to keep it performing well.

Modern engines are more robust than older ones. All the same, depress the clutch when starting as this will reduce drag on the engine and preserve the battery.

Keep screenwash topped up and use a proper anti-freeze at the right concentration to prevent ice forming.

A squirt of WD-40 can prevent door locks freezing up. If they do, heat your key with a lighter to melt the ice.

Keep your fuel tank topped up - that way if you are caught out, you'll have enough fuel to make it home or run the engine to keep warm.

However, if you do get stuck, make sure snow does not block the exhaust as noxious fumes can leak into the vehicle.

Driving in snow and ice

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Clear all snow and ice from the windscreen, windows and the roof of the car before driving off.

Don't use water to de-ice windscreens - hot water can crack the glass, and the water will only freeze again on the screen or on the ground where you are standing.

Use second gear to pull away, lifting the clutch gently to avoid wheel spin. Stay in a higher gear for better control as you pick up speed.

Many automatic cars have a 'snow' mode feature for the gearbox, while some manufacturers suggest the manual '2' setting on an automatic to set off.

Maintain the right speed for the conditions - not too fast so that you risk losing control, but not so slow that you risk losing momentum when you need it

Brake, steer and accelerate as smoothly as possible. Only use the brake if you cannot steer out of trouble.

Stopping distances are up to ten times greater in snow and ice.

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Leave even more space behind the car in front than you usually would.

Drive so that you do not rely on your brakes to be able to stop.

A four-wheel-drive vehicle will offer much greater traction on snow and ice, but good tyres are essential for optimal performance and drivers should still take care when braking.

Most modern cars have anti-lock brakes, but in very slippery conditions they will not perform in the same way, so do not rely on them.

On motorways stay in the lane clearest of snow, ice and slush. Keep within the clear tyre tracks if you can.

What to do if you get stuck

If you are stuck, the Institute of Advanced Motorists recommends that you turn your wheels from side to side to push the snow out of the way.

Do not try to keep moving if the wheels spin - it will only dig you in deeper.

Use a shovel to clear snow out of the way. Pour cat litter, sand or gravel in front of the wheels to help get traction.

Shift from forward to reverse and back again. Give a light touch on the accelerator until the vehicle gets going.

If you can't move your car, you can stay warm by running the engine. However, it is vital that the exhaust pipe is not blocked by snow as highly toxic carbon monoxide gas could enter the car.

If there is any risk the fumes can come into the car, do not run the engine. Even if it is safe, do not run the engine for more than 10 or 15 minutes in each hour.

Stay in or close to your car.

In heavy snow it is easy to get disorientated and lost or separated from your vehicle. If necessary, you can hang a piece of brightly coloured cloth on your car to let others know you are there.