Loads of Useful Advice For Driving in Bad Weather

As we all know, the weather in the UK can be rather unpredictable, and it’s not unknown for it to be sunny, rainy and even snowy all in the space of one day.

If the weather forecast is severe, it’s always better to avoid driving if at all possible. However, this is not always practicable, so it’s important for us to know how to drive safely in any weather condition, so that we can deal with anything that the great British weather can throw at us.

Preparing for Winter

Making sure that your car is prepared for winter can reduce the risk of problems such as poor visibility, skidding or breakdown.

1. Servicing

In winter, it is important to check you vehicle is well maintained and serviced. Make sure that your car has received its regular scheduled servicing, and consider booking it in for a winter service.

2. Battery

Make sure that the battery is fully charged and in good condition. Inspect the battery connections, ensuring that they are tight and free from any corrosion. Learn more about checking and recharging your battery here …

3. Fluid Levels

Ensure that your oil is topped up and that you have the right concentration of anti-freeze in your coolant system.

4. Windscreen Wipers and Wash

Check that your rear-screen and windscreen wipers are in good condition and change them if they have become split, cracked or worn (find out how here …). Make sure that your windscreen washers are adjusted correctly and add in a winter additive to your screen wash to prevent it from freezing.

5. Windows

Clear your windows and mirrors so that they are free from frost, ice and snow. You should also make sure that your windscreen is clean, as the glare from the low winter sun can make it difficult to see through dirty glass.

6. Tyres

All your tyres should be checked to ensure that they have a good depth of tread and are properly inflated. The minimum tread depth is 1.6 mm, but it is recommended that you replace your tyres once the tread is less than 3 mm.

7. Emergency Kit

Always make sure that you have an emergency pack in your car in case your break down or encounter any other problems. This should include the following items:

  • Ice scraper
  • De-icer
  • Warm clothes
  • Boots
  • Spade
  • Blanket
  • Torch
  • Food and drink
  • Battery jump leads
  • First-aid kit

Driving in Snow & Ice

Driving in snow and ice can be extremely hazardous, particularly black ice, which may not be visible to pedestrians or motorists. You should always avoid driving in these types of conditions if at all possible, but if you do have to make a journey, make sure that you know how to prepare and how to adjust your driving to suit the conditions.

Before You Leave

  • Check the local and national weather forecasts and listen out for travel information.
  • Ask yourself – is your journey absolutely necessary? Do not put yourself and others at risk by driving in bad weather or poor visibility conditions unless the trip is essential.
  • If possible, try to wait until the roads have been gritted before travelling. Try to plan your journey using major routes that may have been salted, and avoid side roads that may be blocked.
  • Allow extra time for your journey, and let someone know your departure time, route, destination and estimated time of arrival.
  • Make sure that you have enough fuel for your journey; driving in heavy traffic and stop/start conditions uses up more fuel than normal.
  • Put an emergency kit in your car, containing essential items such as warm clothes, waterproof clothing, boots, a spade and a torch. You should also bring along some high energy food, such as boiled sweets or chocolate, along with some drinks. If you’re planning on a long journey, you may want to take a thermos flask filled with hot soup.
  • If you take any medication make sure that you bring along extra supplies if necessary.
  • Take a mobile phone if you have one, making sure that the battery is fully charged.
  • Clear your windows and mirrors before you set out using a windscreen scraper or a de-icer. Never use warm water from a kettle, as this may crack the glass. You must make sure that all the windows and mirrors are completely demisted and totally cleared of ice; it is illegal to drive with poor visibility. Never drive with a small hole cut through the ice on your windscreen.

On Your Journey

  • Always be aware of your limits and those of other drivers.
  • Use dipped headlights in heavy rain or snow, and put your fog lights on if the visibility drops below 100 m. However, you must remember to turn them off if the conditions improve, as they can dazzle other road users and obscure your brake lights.
  • Accelerate very gently when pulling away to avoid the risk of sliding. If you do begin to slide, change up to the next gear; this will decrease the force applied to the wheels and will allow you to pull away cleanly.
  • Drive slowly and leave a much bigger gap between your car and the one ahead; it can take up to ten times longer to stop in snowy or icy conditions than on a dry road.
  • Manoeuvre slowly and gently; avoid making any sudden movements, such as harsh braking or sudden acceleration.
  • To avoid skidding when you brake, change down to a lower gear, allow your speed to fall and use the brake pedal gently. You must pump the brakes rather than slamming them on, otherwise the wheels may lock and the vehicle will slide out of control. It is always best to use engine braking alternately with the brake pedal.
  • When driving, use a higher gear ratio than you would when travelling in dry weather (for example, second gear rather than first). This will help you to decrease the risk of sliding and wheel spin when travelling uphill or on the flat. However, when going downhill, use a lower gear ratio as this will help keep your speed down without having to over-use the brakes.
    If your wheels do lock and you start to skid, do not slam the brakes on. Simply ease off the accelerator pedal and the brake pedal to recover traction, and then brake again, gently and gradually.
  • If the front end of your car begins to slide whilst you are tackling a bend, reduce your speed by easing off the accelerator and gently press the brake without locking the wheels. If you are in a front wheel drive vehicle and your car loses grip at the rear, gently accelerate to regain the balance. If your rear wheel drive car loses grip at the rear, ease off the accelerator until the rear regains grip, and then re-apply very gently to maintain your speed. Do not brake, as this will accentuate the imbalance at the rear.
  • If you breakdown or get stuck, stay with your car and tie something brightly coloured to your aerial. Make sure that you wrap up warm whilst you are awaiting rescue.
  • If you do go outside, make sure that you wear several layers of clothing to prevent loss of body heat. If you start to shiver uncontrollably, become drowsy or your speech becomes slow or slurred, you may be getting hypothermia. Keep moving your arms and legs to help the blood circulate.

Driving in Winter Sun

The dazzle from low winter sun can be very dangerous, especially when the roads are wet or frozen, when the sun is not only shining directly into your eyes, but is also reflected off the surface of the road. Always keep your speed down in these conditions and keep a pair of sunglasses handy. You should also ensure that you keep the inside and outside of your windscreen absolutely clean.

Driving in Fog

You must take great care when driving in fog, as it drifts rapidly, which means that conditions can change dramatically within just a few seconds. To minimise the risks, follows these guidelines:

  • Drive slowly.
  • Make sure that you are visible to others by using your dipped headlights.
  • If visibility is seriously reduced (less than 100 m), use your fog lights. However, you must turn them off as soon as conditions improve, as they can mask your brake lights and dazzle the drivers following you, increasing the risk of a rear-end collision rather than reducing it.
  • Make sure that you leave plenty of space between you and the vehicle in front. It can be tempting to hang on the tail-lights of another vehicle; however, this can give you a false sense of security, and can lead to you getting too close to that vehicle.
  • If the fog appears to be clearing, don’t assume that it has completely gone and so increase your speed. Fog can frequently be patchy, and you could suddenly find yourself back in thick fog.

Driving in Rain

It is estimated that about fifth of the mileage driven in the UK takes place on wet roads. The two major hazardous factors associated with rain and wet roads are lack of grip and poor visibility.

1. Lack of Grip

In wet weather, your tyres have less grip on the road, which means that stopping distances will be at least double those required for dry roads.

If the road is covered in water, your tyres may lose their grip entirely, causing your car to aquaplane. This is more likely to occur if you are travelling at high speeds or you have worn tyres. If this does happen, ease off the accelerator gently and hold the steering wheel steady – do not use your brakes. Your car will gradually lose speed and the tyres will regain contact with the road. Do not correct the steering until you feel your tyres grip the road, otherwise the car could swerve or spin out of control.

2. Poor Visibillity

  • Slow down and keep your distance from other cars; the rain and spray from vehicles may make it difficult to see and be seen. Keeping your distance will enable you to get a better view of the road and will also give you more time to think and slow down when necessary.
  • Keep an eye out for road users who may not see you; for example, motorcyclists’ helmet visors may mist up or pedestrians may have coat hoods or umbrellas blocking their view.
  • You should also make sure that you can be seen; use dipped headlights when visibility is poor.

Driving in Floods

When a large amount of rain falls over a short period of time, rivers, ditches, sewers and lakes can soon overflow into low-lying or poorly drained areas. With severe weather and floods seemingly on the increase, it’s essential that you know what to do if you caught in such conditions:

  • If floods are forecast, avoid going out on the road unless absolutely necessary. If you do need to travel, make sure that you take food, a flask of hot drink and some spare dry clothing, along with a fully charged mobile phone if you have one.
  • If the flood appears too deep or you are unsure of the depth, do not attempt to cross it. A vehicle will begin to float in a depth of less than 60 cm (2 feet) – this is particularly hazardous if you are driving through fast-moving water, as your car may be swept away.
  • In general, you should only attempt to cross a flood if the water level is less than 30 cm (1 foot); this is about up to the centre of your wheels. However, your car may be damaged in just a few inches of water; for example:
    • Serious engine damage can occur if water is sucked up into the engine air intake system. Not only will this cause your engine to stall, but it can cause such severe damage that you will need to have the engine stripped down in order to get it going again.
    • The catalytic converter fitted in the exhaust system of modern vehicles works at high temperatures and may crack if it comes into contact with very cold water. It is usually very expensive to replace.
  • When entering a flood, make sure that you are the only vehicle attempting to negotiate the water at that time. Wait for other vehicles to clear the flood before you start to drive through.
  • Drive through the water slowly in first gear (L or 1 in an automatic). You should drive slowly enough so that you don’t create a bow wave, which could swamp your exhaust and cause the engine to stall. Keep the engine speed high by slipping the clutch and revving the engine; this will help to keep the exhaust clear and prevent you from stalling.
  • Do not change gear; this may water to be sucked back through the exhaust, damaging your engine.
  • Try to drive in the highest section of the road if possible, and avoid the deepest water (this is usually by the kerb).
  • After driving through a flooded section of road, you MUST test your brakes. Touch the brake pedal very lightly to dry them off and do not drive on at your usual speed until you are sure that the brakes are fine.
  • If water has seeped into the interior of your car (the carpets will be wet), then there is a risk that an electrical short circuit could cause further damage to your vehicle. If your car is fitted with airbags, then these may also be deployed accidentally if there is water in the electrical system. Have your car professionally examined before driving away.