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10 Tips to Ensure You Survive Driving in Extreme Winter Conditions

Driving in the snow

10 Tips to Ensure you Survive Driving in Extreme Winter Conditions

If you live in a country, or planning to drive in a country which experiences extreme winter conditions, it is not wise to underestimate the extreme cold you could experience should you have the misfortune to break down in icy conditions, during your journey. In recent times the weather has proven to be unpredictable due to many different causes including the Polar Vortex and global warming which in turn has had an adverse effect on the El Niño weather phase.

When a sudden snow storm or a weather bomb occurs, driving conditions can change within minutes. Traffic increases as people rush home before the weather closes in. The roads may not have been gritted prior to the snow storm. Heavy lorries, along with the increased number of cars, compact the ice and snow, until very soon you are driving on a skating rink. This then slows the traffic down, frustrating the drivers, who are then caught up in the problem they were trying to avoid.

The following 10 tips to ensure you survive driving in extreme winter conditions, could save your life and are based upon experience and common sense.

1.Plan your journey in advance

It is sensible to plan your journey well in advance of the day. Find yourself an up to date roadmap or ensure that your Satnav incorporates the maps of your route and destination. Give yourself plenty of time to complete the journey and check the local news for details of any stoppages or diversions on the road. If possible, inform someone at your destination when they can expect you.

2.Help and Assistance

Ensure that you have vehicle breakdown cover and valid car insurance. Cars are notorious for behaving badly in adverse conditions and you may need to call for breakdown assistance. In the UK organisations such as the AA, RAC and Green Flag will attend as soon as possible, and give priority to a lone female. On some rare occasions, if the weather is bad and the number of breakdown calls are at the maximum, they may not be able to provide support so quickly. In some cases the roads may be so blocked by snow, ice and abandoned vehicles that it is just impossible to reach you.

Car insurance is essential, as in the extreme conditions described above, you can easily lose control of your car and may damage other vehicles, lamp posts or other property. If this should happen, phone the emergency services immediately. Contact the insurance company as soon as it is safe to do so, and take photographic evidence of the damage as well as the contact details of any witnesses.

3.The Weather

Check the weather en route, remembering that if your journey can be postponed until the conditions improve then it is wise to do that. Just remember that the weather in the northern hemisphere can change rapidly during the winter.

4. Driving in the Snow

If it begins to snow, then slow down by braking gradually. If driving a manual transmission vehicle, pull away in 2nd gear, gently easing your foot off the clutch gently to avoid wheel-spin. When climbing a hill, maintain a constant speed, and choose the most suitable gear way in advance to avoid having to change down the gears on the hill. When going downhill – make sure that you reduce your speed before the hill and engage a low gear and try to avoid using the brakes. Remember to leave as much room as possible between you and the driver in front.

With an automatic transmission, leave the car in Drive, and the car should work out itself how to manage the conditions. In some cars with 4 wheel drive, the car will understand the correct power to apply to the front and the back wheels.

If you do get stuck, try and straighten the wheels, and using a snow shovel (or any convenient object) to clear the snow from the wheels, the tyres and the surrounding road. If you have a sack, place this under the wheels to get a better grip. If not you can use the internal car mats or any other convenient material. Do not rev the engine, using just enough power to get the car moving again.

5.Tip Top Condition

Before you depart on your journey, check the overall condition of the car –

Is it roadworthy? – check that the tyres are properly inflated and have  least 3mm of tread for winter motoring, and certainly no less than 2mm. Please do not reduce tyre pressures to get more grip as it won’t work, and will reduce stability. Check the lights and the heater, as these are paramount for driving in the winter. Ensure that you have topped up the windscreen fluid and carrying spare coolant, de-icer and water

At the end of the day if your car is not roadworthy then you should postpone your journey or consider renting a car for winter driving.

6.Tune In

Does the radio work? – This could be your lifeline in an emergency. By listening to the local radio station traffic bulletins, you can ensure that you are well warned and can avoid trouble up ahead.


Are the windscreen wipers working? – Even if they are working they may be old and worn, giving patchy visibility. If possible you should replace these before you travel. The leading auto supplies stores will normally immediately fit replacement blades for minimal cost.


Ensure your mobile phone is fully charged and you have charging facilities in the car. You would be surprised how quickly your battery can run out.


Ensure that you have adequate fuel to reach your destination, and have plenty of oil and coolant in the vehicle. Do not carry additional fuel in a container in the car, as this could prove to be fatal if you were involved in a collision on the ice.

10.Prepare for the Worst

Take waterproof clothing, hat, gloves and footwear – once you are wet, hypothermia can set in very quickly and can make you confused. You need to remain in control of your senses in these conditions. Wearing a hat is important as well as gloves, to ensure that the body extremities do not suffer. A snow shovel will help release the car from hard packed snow and sunglasses will make driving easier, avoiding snow blindness. Take a blanket, a flask of hot coffee and some food in case you should have to stay in the car overnight. Ensure that you have adequate money or cards for fuel, food or if you are lucky, luxurious overnight accommodation

By following the above 10 tips to ensure you survive driving in extreme winter conditions, you should be able to face your journey confidently knowing that you have done as much as you possible can – apart from staying at home, glass in hand, in front of the fire watching the poor motorists trapped in the snow – which is my preferred option!

About the Author - Malcolm McNeill

Owner/manager at and – enjoys staying active, creating music, writing good content and providing business and technology project management consultancy to the leading UK financial services companies