Winter brings with it difficult driving conditions, so it’s particularly important to be on top of the things that help keep yourself and other road users safe. This doesn’t just mean making sure your antifreeze level is correct or that your battery is holding its charge, it means adjusting your driving to cater for the extra hazards winter presents us all with.
It is reasonable to say the UK hasn’t exactly been snowed-in over the past few winters. However, the lack of practise is all the more reason to refresh yourself in case you do come up against black ice or snowdrifts on your car.
• Best winter tyres on sale
Which is why we joined forces with the experts at Mercedes-Benz Driving Academy, Weybridge, Surrey. We used the experiences from one of their intense winter driving courses to produce the “do’s and don’ts” list shown below. The aim is to help ensure you are prepared to drive in seriously bad weather.
On top of this, we have gathered together any other tips and advice for driving in winter, so you can proficiently control your vehicle during the cold, dark nights. Read on and we will cover everything from coping with snow and ice on the road, to safely commuting though high winds, rain and floods that tend to frequent the roads in the UK each year.
Click the links below or at the top left of this page to explore our winter driving tips in full - and read on below for our "do's and don'ts"!
Winter driving tips
Preparing your car for winter
Using ABS brakes correctly
Controlling understeer and oversteer
Driving in snow - top tips
Driving on ice - top tips
Driving in floods and heavy rain - top tips
Winter driving: the do's and don'ts
DO plan your travel
It's important to pick the right roads and avoid areas that will be particularly weather beaten. Use online maps ahead of a journey to see where traffic is worse and avoid any accident spots. Our instructor, Dafydd Williams, senior driving specialist at Mercedes-Benz World, added: “Do you really need to travel? Are there alternative options that reduce your amount of car use to avoid unnecessary risk?”
DO look ahead
It might seem obvious, but looking ahead is the easiest way to stay in control – don’t just concentrate on the end of the bonnet or the car in front. Dafydd explained: “Look as far ahead as you can see and then work back to the front of your car. When you approach a bend, look around it as far as you can see.” Doing this will allow you to prepare speed and steering well in advance and avoid late, dangerous movements.
DO control your speed
In normal dry road conditions, the two-second rule to the car in front still applies, but in wet weather you need to double this, while in icy conditions this should be up to 10 times greater. Extended separation distances are crucial in poor conditions where the road is slippery and tailgating can be suicidal.
It’s not just grip on the road that can alter things, but visibility can be hugely affected when driving in fog or heavy rain. You see obstacles much later and this impacts on your ability to assess how to respond. Match your speed to visibility: the less you see, the slower you need to drive.
DO drive smoothly
There are a number of factors that can affect a vehicle’s stability, and these can have a greater impact in poor weather.
From applying too much power to braking too abruptly or steering erratically, all of these things can upset the balance of the car and ultimately lead to unsafe situations. Remember to brake, accelerate, change gear and apply steering angle as smoothly as possible. Set a goal to do this to the point where your actions are so smooth, your passengers can’t tell that you’re changing gear or braking. Smoothness will aid your safety in poor conditions.
If you’ve looked well ahead, you should be able to slow down early to avoid stamping on the brakes at the last minute. Dafydd said: “Braking sends the weight to the front of the car so you don’t want to turn while you’re braking. But as soon as you’re happy, blend the accelerator back in.” The smoother you drive, the less likely it is you’ll lose control. Steering inputs should be equally smooth – avoid jerky movements.
DON’T take your feet off the pedals
Smooth driving doesn’t mean coasting, though. Dafydd said: “You shouldn’t ever not be giving the car any input. If you’re not on the brakes, then you should be giving the car some throttle. It’s all about weight transfer.” It’s very easy to brake and then take your feet off the pedals and coast around a corner, but it’s not advised. As long as inputs are smooth, you’ll be safe.
DO learn traction control
Traction control is fitted to cars to stop the rear wheels spinning up, and this can be the difference between drivers going in a straight line or spinning in a circle on snowy roads. Dafydd said: “If the traction control – or ESP – lights are flashing, things have started to go wrong, so be aware if they activate.”
DON’T ignore road signs
Looking ahead doesn’t just mean seeing what other road users are doing and where the road goes. Road signs and markings can give you a heap of important information that can make you safer. They can assist with telling you what the road surface is like, how steep the road is, what the limit is and what might be coming up. None of this should be ignored.
DO understand ABS
We got to grips with ABS on the wet braking straight at Mercedes-Benz World and Dafydd told us: “It’s important to know what the system feels like – a judder sensation under the foot. It is important to understand that ABS not only stops you in a shorter distance, it also provides valuable steering control under braking.” If you don’t have ABS, you’ll need to pump the brakes in icy conditions. Make sure you’re familiar with what your car has and react accordingly.
DON’T ignore faults
Cracked windscreens, poorly charged batteries or fault lights on your dashboard shouldn’t be ignored. Even if you drive perfectly, a car that isn’t performing at its optimum could cause breakdowns or accidents. A car’s systems are there to help, so make sure your car is free from ills before heading out on the road. The same goes for maintaining your tyres.
DO dress for the climate
Modern cars come with climate control, heated seats and powerful windscreen wipers, so it’s easy to be lulled into a false sense of security. But what if you break down? Make sure you’ve got a hat, scarves and a winter coat plus blankets and suitable provisions in case the worst happens and you get stranded at the roadside or stuck in a lengthy traffic jam.
It's a general rule to remain a distance from cars in front to give you enough braking time, and this is exaggerated in inclement weather. Stopping distances can be 10 times longer in slippery areas than in normal conditions. Tailgating is also anti-social, so it’s important to remember to be tolerant of others in general. While you might be comfortable with adverse conditions, others might not.
DO steer into the slide
We got to grips with icy oversteer on Mercedes-Benz World’s skid circle which replicates black ice. Although it might look like controlled fun, it’s important to know what to do if it happens in the real world. You don’t want to find yourself sliding around and be unsure of how to stop. Dafydd’s advice is simple: “Steer into the slide and keep steering until you feel it straighten up.”
What are your top tips for driving in winter weather? Let us know in the comments section below...