Icy mornings and dropping nighttime temperatures are all staples of a British winter. But for motorists, taking on severe weather conditions and slippy roads can be at times frightening and challenging.
With the increased popularity of automatics and electric vehicles (EVs), understanding how to drive in the snow is desperately needed. While manual drivers may be more au fait with tackling snowdrifts and slushy roads, even the most experienced motorists need to be prepared for the snow.
Here we’ve rounded up the best ways to drive your auto, manual or electric car in the snow:
Understanding your gears
Unsurprisingly, not all automatics or EVs are made the same. While you don’t have to think about manually shifting gear, both use a range of systems to take the strain out of driving. Whether you’re dealing with flappy paddles or a gear stick, most modern automatics and some EVs will come with a ‘dedicated snow mode’ to support more challenging weather conditions.
Switch into manual mode, and some autos will allow you to have some control over your gears, not unlike a traditional gearbox. Although it may feel more sluggish and slow in the city, this feature is a real lifesaver in the snow.
You need to start off slow when you first get onto the road in your automatic. That way you have more chance to react, especially if you hit ice and start to slide. Make sure to lightly test your brakes and steering to ensure you are in control and have enough traction to keep you moving.
Electric vehicles, on the other hand, operate slightly differently. Firstly they don’t have gears! But they also have far more torque than their fossil fuel-powered counterparts, hence why the Tesla that recently overtook you on the M6 left you in the dust!
While tackling ice and snow, naturally, your wheels might struggle to grip to the slippery road surface, and your wheels may start to spin. Don’t panic. Ease back, slow down and flick the eco setting button to reduce the torque and give you more control.
In many ways, manuals are easier to control in that you can ease on and off the throttle as much as you like without relying on tech systems to help you. The flipside, of course, is that the power and torque of your vehicle require input from you.
Ask yourself: Is my journey essential?
We all know that driving through the snow and ice is more dangerous than a typical day on the road. So before you get behind the wheel, consider if your journey is essential. If it’s not, then it’s always better to wait until the weather and driving conditions improve.
If you absolutely need to hop in your car, then plan ahead. See what travel disruptions you may face ahead of time, tune into local radio stations and keep tabs on what your Sat Nav or Map App live updates are saying. That way, you can avoid the worst of it.
While you’re at it, make sure your car is prepared as much as you are to take on the snow flurries and dropping temperatures:
- Ensure you have enough time to de-ice your windscreen inside and out. Not only is it illegal to drive without full vision, but the weather will make it harder to see too
- Make sure all your lights are working and are fully visible – you need to be seen by other road users as clearly as possible
- Check your windscreen wipers – they are one of your best weapons to keep your windshield clear
For automatics and manual vehicles, ensure you have topped up with fuel ahead of your journey. Likewise, for EV drivers, make sure you leave on a fully charged battery and know where each charge point is along your journey – pay close attention to where the rapid charge points are for extra peace of mind.
Tips for driving in the snow
As we’ve mentioned about gears, there are many differences between auto, EV, and manual cars operate.
However, there are some basic principles for driving in the snow that are worth knowing. Many of our tips below will overlap, no matter what motor you’re running:
- Switch into “snow mode” if available
- For more control, you can also select “manual mode” – in lieu of using the brakes; you can downshift to make the engine brake. This is preferable in colder temperatures as foot brakes can be ineffective
- Drive cautiously and don’t accelerate too hard
- Know your “drive train” – are you driving forward, rear or a 4×4? Steering works differently in each, so be aware that forward drive can lose steering control if you skid, whereas rear drive can drag the tail out should you start spinning – so take it slow!
- EV power characteristics work differently to both auto and manual cars. The motor makes it easier to pull away and minimise wheel spin
- Release your handbrake, gently touch the accelerator, and the smooth power delivery will ensure minimum fuss as you pull away
- Switch on your “eco setting” while driving in the snow for extra control
- Be gentle on the throttle, and avoid harsh acceleration
- Gently ease your foot off the clutch to prevent spinning – you can even pull away in second gear
- Use engine braking wear possible by working your way down the gears to slow down. Tapping lightly on the brake pedal will show other drivers behind that you are reducing your speed
- Ensure you leave enough slowing down space between you and the driver ahead of you, and drop well back if you are going downhill
- Heavy snow or rain requires headlights! This ensures other drivers can see you and that you can see ahead too
Always consider your current driving environment. Yes, conditions may have improved on the roads by the time you get behind the wheel, but there may be further hazards along the way. Gritters may not have had time to re-salt the highways, and there may be additional flood risks from where the ice has melted. So take care.
Longer stopping distances
While the two-second rule works for fair driving conditions, your stopping distance will always increase during poorer weather conditions.
Snow is the worst culprit. It impacts everything from visibility and how far you can see ahead to doubled braking distances in wet and icy conditions, which can increase up to 10 times more on snow and ice. So hold back from other motorists, and take it slow.
Don’t forget black ice
Black ice is one of the most dangerous aspects of winter driving because it’s so hard to see. After all, it’s a thin layer of ice that is essentially transparent. Plus, where there is snow, rain is soon likely to follow, and along sheltered parts of the road, such as tree edged routes, tunnels and bridges et al., drivers are less likely to see the dangerously slippery ice spots until it is too late.
So if you notice that the road is more slippery than usual, slow down by using the various methods listed above. Ease gently off the throttle and slowly reduce your acceleration to avoid any potential skids.
If you do hit black ice, try to remain calm. Stop accelerating altogether, make your steering as straight as possible and glide across the ice.
Some extras to consider
While most of us in the UK will experience very little snow, there are areas, particularly where there are mountains and high ground, where snow is far more common. However, as all us Brits know, weather can be incredibly unpredictable on these shores, particularly in the winter.
To be better safe than sorry, you may want to consider:
- Winter or all-weather tyres: have a deeper tread and are more equipped to handle snow and ice. They are expensive, though, and you’d need to swap them out with your regular tyres every year! But, if you live in an area of heavy snowfall, they are well worth the investment
- Snow chains or socks: for times where snow is far too challenging for tyres alone
- A winter kit: carrying all the essentials, including a tow bar, jumper and a torch
Challenging weather conditions are likely in the UK. Although we may not experience snow that often, it has been known to make the whole country grind to a halt in its wake.
With other considerations such as the 2030 ban of new petrol and diesels sales and ongoing pressure from the government to switch to electric, perhaps the weather will be enough to push your hand!? Arguably, EVs are more equipped to take on various weather conditions with their high spec safety features and supportive tech.
While you may not be prepared for snow this winter, one thing is sure; winter is in full swing. Stormy gales and icy temperatures are enough to batter down the hatches. Whether you’re driving an auto, manual or EV, ensure you’re ready to take on the more challenging conditions ahead of your journey.