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As Chris Rea said in his Christmas song, "I'm driving home for Christmas. Oh, I can't wait to see those faces." No doubt he was driving carefully - which is what drivers need to do, especially when the weather takes a turn for the worst, and snow and ice appear. 

Both the AA  and the RAC (and even the Daily Telegraph) offer up advice for 'snow-driving', but there is a lot more involved in it than just on-the-road behaviour, with breakdowns are more common in the winter.

So here are Ten Tips on staying safe in the snow when it comes to your car and driving.

1. Drive only if it’s necessary

Before you set off to drive in bad weather, it’s important to think about how the conditions will affect the roads and the way your car behaves. Here, Rebecca Ashton from the Institute of Advanced Motorists explains what you need to think about before setting off.

But one thing you should certainly think about is whether or not your journey is THAT important. Is it a matter of life and death? (because it could become one!) Or can it be delayed until the weather gets better.

Weigh up the dangers of going out in bad weather and maybe getting stranded or having an accident, against the fact that you may be letting someone down.

Weather forecasters say it all the time, but they say it for a reason. If you don't need to drive, don't.

And if you do have to go out, make sure that you plan your journey very carefully. 

Take into consideration if your trip takes you through areas that are likely to be exposed to the elements, and those that are perhaps prone to flooding and ice drifts. Keep up-to-date with the local weather via the radio or your infotainment system, and allow extra time,  both before you leave to make sure that your car is de-iced and clear, as well as for the journey.

It's also a good idea to try and keep to major roads rather than some of the back streets and country roads that Sat Navs can often take you through. Major roads are more likely to be cleared and gritted.

Be aware that the salt used to de-ice roads can cause corrosion to your car over time, so if you are making a few trip through areas affected by snow and salt, make a point of cleaning your car regularly throughout the winter months.

2. What to take with you before you leave

As silly as it may sound, you need to treat a trip that could potentially leave you stranded like a military exercise. You need to be prepared for every eventuality, and your shopping list for car essentials should include:

  • Demisting pad
  • Torch (preferably a wind-up one so you don’t run out of battery)
  • Spare screenwash
  • De-icer
  • Ice scraper
  • Blanket
  • Shovel
  • Phone charger - and a FULLY-CHARGED phone
  • Map
  • Hi-vis vest 
  • Food and a flask of hot tea or coffee
  • First aid kit
  • Warning triangle
  • Jump leads 

You could also take a piece of carpet or some grit in case you end up stuck in snow, ice or mud.

Make sure that the mobile phone has the phone number of your breakdown provider stored in it so you can always call for help, and wherever possible, stick to your planned route, so you don't get lost .

3. Basic winter car maintenance - under the bonnet

Check your fuel levels at all times, keeping at least a quarter of a tank in case of unexpected delay. Before starting off, it's best to make sure your car has a full tank of fuel, so that if you do get stuck in a queue, you can run the engine to keep warm. Be aware though that if this happens, you will need to get out occasionally to clear snow from the exhaust pipe because, if it gets blocked by snow, poisonous carbon monoxide can build up in the car - with potentially fatal consequences.

Check the oil levels, screenwash level and water levels, as well as the state of the battery. Car batteries rarely last longer than five years, and there are extra demands on them in the winter, thanks to lights, heating and wipers. Go on a longer than normal drive in your car now and again, to give the battery time to charge up, as short journeys can deplete the battery, and in cold conditions, a low battery might not be able to start the car.

Learn how the car’s heater actually works by reading the manual. It is important to not only keep you warm but to also effectively clear the mist from the inside of the car’s windows. It is especially important to point warm air at the windows to help visibility.

Make sure that you use antifreeze in the car, because if your engine freezes and cracks, this will cost hundreds of pounds to fix. It only costs a few pounds, and a 50:50 antifreeze:water mix will protect the engine down to -34C. But make sure you use the right antifreeze for your car. 

Before starting the car, turn off anything that is likely to affect the electrics like the radio, lights, heated rear window and wipers, and use the starter in short five-second bursts. If the engine doesn't start quickly, wait 30 seconds between attempts.

If you hear a continuous squealing noise when you start up the engine, this is likely to mean that the water pump’s frozen, and the sound you hear is the fan belt slipping on the pulley. Stop the engine straight away and let it thaw out, but be aware that this will take some time when the weather is cold.

Check out our Winter Care Maintenance Guide here for more winter tips.

4. Basic winter car maintenance - the outside of the car

It is important to make sure that anything that could affect your vision when driving is fixed. Far too often we see car drivers on the road peering through a tiny hole cleared in the windscreen. So make sure it is clear.

Clear all windows using a scraper and de-icer, and use a cigarette lighter (or de-icer) to warm a key for a frozen lock.

Make sure that the windscreen is clean and clear both inside and out, and clear any snow off of the roof as it could fall on to the windscreen and block the view of the driver.

Any worn or damaged wiper blades need replacing, and when you park your car up, if there is a chance of frost, make sure that you turn your wipers off, because wipers frozen to a windscreen can damage both wipers and wiper motor when the car is started.

De-icing your vehicle

Inside the car, using air-conditioning helps to demist the screen faster as well as helping to reduce condensation.

It will take time, so leave a little earlier rather than leaving the car running while it is defrosting. Opportunistic thieves love this time of year!

It is recommended that you spend 10 minutes at least clearing the windscreen using a scraper and de-icer, as well as clearing other windows and the wing mirrors, because "they’re just as vital for safe visibility and are often ignored, limiting your vision, especially at junctions."

It is illegal to drive with poor visibility, so don't be tempted to drive away until it is all clear.

It is often pretty obvious what the weather is going to do the next day, so plan ahead by either getting up earlier to make sure you have time to de-ice your car, or put a cover on the car or windscreen to prevent it frosting up. 

Never pour hot or boiling water on your windscreen, otherwise you could crack the glass (and that's expensive to fix). If you don't have de-icer, use lukewarm water and redo it a couple of times to make sure that it does re-freeze.

Make sure that all your vehicle lights, front and rear, are free from frost and/or snow, are clean, and all work properly; perhaps giving them a clean after every journey - because the roads get very mucky this time of year.

And clean your number plate too - it's illegal not to be able to read it properly, and you could get fined. 

Check out our Winter Care Maintenance Guide here for more winter tips.

5. Basic winter car maintenance - the tyres

The fact that tyres are vitally important in winter is an obvious statement to make, but one that needs making. Tyre maintenance itself is important throughout the year, so  you should check out our Tyre Maintenance Guide here for more tips regarding your tyres.

In winter it is recommended that tyres have at least 3mm of tread and should be fully inflated for the winter. Some driver think that letting air out of your tyres to get more grip is a good idea; it isn't! It doesn't work, and it’s unsafe.

You could think about getting winter tyres or all-season tyres - tyres made from a special rubber that gives better grip in cold, wet conditions - or you could use snow chains in exceptional weather conditions, but only use them if there is enough snow to prevent damage to the road.

6. Use your headlights

When the snow does start to fall, turn your headlights on. It's an easy mistake not to, as you wouldn't normally, and with all those lights on on the dashboard, you could easily forget.

Make sure that they are set to dipped beam setting to help improve your vision - and allow other drivers to see you in good time - and if you have automatic headlamps, make sure these have activated (even overriding them manually if necessary to the dipped beam setting.)

Be aware that snow on the ground can increase glare on sunny days, and that snow clouds can cause light levels to drop as well as mist and murk, so keep them dipped at all times in snowy conditions..

7. Pick the correct lights

The Highway Code says that you should only use your fog lamps when the visibility drops below 100m, which, as a rule of thumb, is if you can't see the tail lights of the car in front of you. If you can’t, you (and they) should probably be using rear fog lamps. 

You mustn’t use your fog lamps unless the visibility is very poor because rear fog lamps will dazzle other road users, and when there is spray from melted snow coming out from the rear of the car it makes it even worse. Front fog lamps will affect cars approaching you on the other side of the road, with white snow on the road reflecting the light back up at them.

Don't use your main beam headlamps any more or less often than you would normally, and be aware of dazzling approaching cars on BOTH sides of the road.

If you’re unsure which lights you should be using, take a second to think about the other cars around you, and put yourself in their position. Ask yourself what your car looks like to them, whether they can see you, and whether they might be blinded by any of your lights. 

8. Keep your distance

When driving on an icy road, it can take as much as ten times as long to stop in comparison to when on a dry road. So if you think back to those stopping distances you learnt when doing your driving test, that is a long way. So make sure that you increase the distance between you and the car you’re following accordingly.

In fact, if the road is icy, it's a good idea to be around 20 seconds behind the car in front of you. That will give you time to react, take avoiding action, or stop, if that car has to stop suddenly – or worse still, crashes into a car in front.

Use things like lamp posts, bridges or road signs to help you judge how far behind you are - and don't be panicked by drivers behind you!

9. Drive smoothly and gently and Stay Aware of your Surroundings

When driving, make sure that you are comfortable, and wear sensible, dry shoes, pulling away slowly when you start, easing your foot off the clutch to avoid wheel spin. Use second gear if you have to to start.

When travelling uphill in snowy and icy conditions, make sure that you leave plenty of room behind cars in front, or even wait until it's clear - just so you don't have to stop part of the way up. Try to keep your speed constant, and avoid having to change gear.

And when travelling downhill, slow down before you get to the hill, use a low gear and try to avoid braking. And make sure you leave as much room between yourself and cars in front.

Take it slow, and if you have to use brakes, do so gently. The same with acceleration, using low revs to avoid wheelspin.

When driving in snow, be aware that other cars wheel tracks will contain slippier and compressed snow, so try and avoid them. And avoid sudden manoeuvres like sharp steering or braking, as these will increase the likelihood of skidding.

Be fully aware of what is around you, on the road ahead, and what dangers can be encountered - including other drivers.

When you approach a corner, slow down in advance, and drive around it gently and carefully at a constant speed. This will allow you to react if something happens, like a skid, or an unexpected meeting with another car, or an obstacle like a fallen tree branch, snowdrift and the like,

Be aware that there will be a lot of slow-moving vehicles about in snowy conditions, like gritting lorries. Take care when overtaking, and remember that the road in front of them won't have been cleared!

Be aware of what’s going on not just in front of you, but to each side and behind you too, because other cars can skid sideways as well as forwards and backwards.

"And if another driver is following you too closely, don’t be tempted to react. It’s easier and more sensible to concentrate on your own driving, perhaps pulling over to let them go on their merry way if you’re able to, than to do something provocative that might cause them to crash into you."

10. How to deal with skidding

Gently test your brakes and steering now and again so you can start to realise just how slippy it is out there, but make sure you do it on a long, straight road with no one following you.

And listen to your tyres. Turn down any music you may have on, and listen for the crunching noise that driving through snow makes. If it suddenly goes quiet -you may have hit ice!

If you feel the car start to skid, take your foot off the accelerator and let the car start to slow itself until you feel in control of the car again. The temptation is to slam on the brakes, but in reality you should avoid using them, as this will make the skid last longer. And if the car starts to spin, steer into the direction of the spin and allow the car to straighten up. 

Keep all these in mind, and that Merry Xmas should be a Happy Driving Christmas too!