- The old Focus ST3 - Pre- being thawed out.

7 Top Tips for Winter Driving

How to avoid coming a cropper...

6w ago

Here in the UK, we have a long held tradition of being hopelessly ill-prepared for inclement weather. When it's frosty and snowy you'll frequently see cars wheel-spinning and sliding off the road or driving down the street at 2mph with a 3" by 7" letter box scraped off the windscreen for the driver to see through.

I had to scrape my car windscreen this morning! I used a discount card. I only managed to get 50% off. (Boom, tisch!)

Anyway, unless you want to Rick Hammond off at the first corner on your way to work, it's worth taking a few steps.

#1 Get a good set of winter tyres

Tyres make a massive difference. They make a bigger difference than having four wheel drive. I know this from personal experience as my Porsche is a Carrera 4S, but the 2WD Toyota Verso on Michelin Cross Climate+ rubber is significantly safer to drive in the ice and snow. The Porsche IS better than the old Focus ST3, which was both 2WD and on a really focused, summer, sports tyre. If you're concerned about grip, braking, cornering and traction a set of decent winter tyres is the best fix.

#2 Get a 4WD car

This really comes second to tyres. However, it certainly helps to iron-out the shortcomings of being on inappropriate rubber. You can also choose an AWD to suit your location and needs. A modern Japanese SUV with an AWD system will be pretty decent. However, it'll have nothing on a highly modified original Land Rover Defender with diff locks, a centre-lock and a low-ratio box. I had a Ford Ranger 4x4 and it was somewhere between an AWD SUV and a Defender. It never got stuck, the only time it failed was when I asked too much of it. That was the time I tried to tow a class 2 HGV off a sheet of ice. It very successfully towed a Tesco delivery van off a sheet of ice though so... Of course that was a proper 4x4 AND it had BF Goodrich Mud and Snow Tyres on it.

#3 Clear your windscreens properly

A man can't see, he can't drive. Top Gear and the Grand Tour have never done a 'how far can you drive blindfolded challenge'. Given the stupidity of some of the OTHER things they've done (Caravan battleships anyone? Motorhome racing? Airport machinery racing? Allowing Hammond behind the wheel of an expensive supercar?) this should tell you something about trying to drive without being able to see. One option is to start your engine running and set the heaters on full blast onto the windscreen. This will take a bit, but it works well. Note this is illegal to do on UK roads though. If it's on a private drive you're fine. The issue with the Porsche is the doors won't open if they're too frozen thanks to the windows being frameless and a mechanism dropping and raising them as you open the door. To this end, you can use a large jug of warm water. Do NOT boil a kettle for this! You'd run the risk of cracking your windscreen. Warm water from the tap should be fine though. You can use a spray de-icer, but in my experience this is only really effective when there's a light frost. When it's one of those mornings where your car feels like a solid block of ice, de-icer spray feels a bit like peeing in the sea.

#4 Pack your car with supplies

However well prepared you are, there's a risk you could get stuck. How much you need to pack depends on where you live. If you live next-door to James May in Hammersmith and commute to Richmond, then a thermos of coffee, a couple of bottles of water, some snacks and a blanket should be fine. If you live in the little village just down the road from Richard Hammond's 'Bollitree Castle' and you commute to Aberdeen then I'd also recommend a jerry can of fuel, a tent, gas stove, a shovel, a flare gun and a survival expert. If you know Bear Grylls AND Ray Mears, I'd go with Ray. Bear would have you digging in the snow, then sucking the guts out of some bloated tree-maggot, while Ray would have built a log cabin and be barbequing crayfish in his own home-made marinade.

#5 Adjust your driving style

When it's snowy and icy, things take longer. Accelerating is one example. Braking is another. Whatever gap you normally leave between you and the car in front, you should at least triple. If you're a typical BMW or Audi driver then go for at least five car lengths at 30mph, more if you're on the motorway. Sorry for being a spoil sport, but tripling 3" does not get you to a safe distance.

Look at the road ahead. See a hill that might be tricky to get up? Make sure you have room, then gradually speed up before the foot of the hill. See an obstacle in the middle of road? Such as Richard Hammond sitting in an upside-down car? Slow down way before you need to. See a snow-covered corner up ahead? Slow right down gradually before you get to it, then crawl around. You don't want centripetal force having you Hammond off into a ditch.

#6 Choose your route

Choose your route based on how well prepared you are. If you're driving a Cuthbertson:-

Or a 6x6 Discovery:-

Then I reckon that snow-covered side-road with a steep hill at the end should be fine. If however, you're in an MX5 and you've forgotten your Thermos - maybe stick to the main roads? If you only own a supercharged Kawasaki Ninja H2 and you're only going a mile - maybe set out early and walk?

#7 Have the radio on

This sounds crazy, but weather warnings aside, it's really useful to listen to the radio when the weather is bad. Bad weather causes accidents, accidents cause traffic. If you keep the radio tuned to a channel that covers traffic and weather they'll keep you updated and you'll be able to adapt and choose another route or abandon your journey and head home. There's nothing worse than being stuck in a 20 mile stationary traffic jam in sub-zero temperatures.

Martyn Stanley

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Comments (40)

  • Tips for winter driving… move to Florida

      1 month ago
    • Haha! Yeah, that would work.

        1 month ago
    • Having lived in FL, what you gain in the avoidance of snow you pay for in a disproportionate number of white haired ladies compared to younger drivers piddling along at -5mph below the limit. The redneck drivers in their worn out Ram pickups...

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        1 month ago
  • If I can add one more tip, though I'm sure everyone here on Drivetribe already has the sense to do this: Clean the rear and side windows too. It drives me mental whenever I see some lazy twat who figures the only direction that matters is where they're going, therefore the only spot on their car not packed with snow is the windshield.

      1 month ago
    • That is an excellent point. I do exactly that myself without thinking, but yes I can imagine some numpties don’t bother.

        1 month ago
  • I’d recommend for UK if adjusting your driving style isn’t working then pick up four steel wheels (skinnier than your alloys) and pop a set of winter rubber on and fill your screen wash up with -15 degrees solution I believe you will be fine.

      1 month ago
  • You could consider California or Hawaii too, just a thought...LOL!!!

      1 month ago
  • Yes and don't move to Minnesota, an awful place to be in the winter (which lasts 6 months out of the year).

      1 month ago