Tips for driving in winter in the UK

By , 31 January 2024

8 mins read

Driving in winter in the UK

Winter driving in the UK can be challenging for even the most skilled and experienced drivers, with snow, ice, and high winds being some of the elements you will find yourself battling along the way.

Before you begin your winter drive, it is always important to ask yourself if your drive is essential or if it can wait until the weather conditions improve.

If your journey cannot be delayed, it is important that both you and your car are well-equipped for the drive and all eventualities that could happen along the way.

When driving in winter, it is extremely important that you adjust your driving to suit the various conditions you will encounter, which can have an impact on tyre traction, visibility, and manoeuvrability.

These factors, paired with adverse weather conditions, can mean that sometimes accidents do happen. This can be an added worry if you are using a hire car, as you will have to cover the cost of the damage.

Reduce any potential stress so you can focus fully on a successful drive with excess car hire insurance, which covers any accidental damage to your hire car.

Continue reading to discover more handy driving tips and the car check essentials you will need before winter driving...

Winter car checks

Taking to the roads in winter can often result in a longer drive. This can be due to road closures, incidents, or motorists driving at a reduced speed.

These longer journeys can mean that your car is put under extra strain, so it is important that your car is fully equipped to handle both winter conditions and the increasing demand.

Use the below as a guide for what to check ahead of your drive:


You may think that your half-full tank of fuel will be fine for your drive; however, that is not the case when driving in the winter.

It is always essential to have a full fuel tank ahead of your journey, as you may come up against delays, need to take a detour, or not have access to a petrol station.

The latter is also why you should keep an empty fuel tank in your car, as you may need to source fuel from another vehicle.


While you may check your tyres throughout the year or have them examined during your regular car service, it is especially important that you check them ahead of winter driving.

Check the tyres for any damage, including punctures, cuts, cracks, bulges, and worn rubber, which could lead to bald tyres.

It is always worth checking the tread depth of your tyres, which should legally be 1.6mm. However, the AA advises that when driving in winter, tyres should be at least 3mm to help increase stopping distance.

For added support, you could always invest in a set of winter tyres, which are specialised to improve traction and perform under temperatures of seven degrees.


Visibility is paramount when driving, but particularly when severe weather conditions are working against you.

It is essential that other drivers can see you just as well as you can see them.

While carrying out maintenance checks, it is always worth testing out your lights to see if they are in good working order.

Need a refresher on when to use certain lights while winter driving?

Car battery

Severe conditions and sub-zero temperatures can affect your car in many ways, new or old, but Kwikfit states that battery failure is one of the most common issues.

This is due to the cold affecting the chemicals within the battery, making it more difficult to store electricity and impacting its ability to hold charge.

It is always worth charging your car battery ahead of any winter driving for that added reassurance.

RAC also note that you can help to maintain your battery’s life by switching off all lights, heaters, radio, and wipers before turning off your engine and getting your battery tested regularly, particularly if it is older than three years.

Make sure you are prepared for battery failures or breakdowns by ensuring you have a set of jump leads in your car and reading up on how to jump start a car.

Windscreen wipers

To help maintain your visibility while driving in winter, it is essential that your windscreen wipers are up to standard.

It is important to check for any cracks, wearing of rubber, or performance issues such as leaving streaks or squeaking. If any of these issues arise, then they will need to be replaced.

Halfords states that windscreen wipers are designed to last between six months and a year, but there are many reasons why they can wear out sooner, including overuse and incorrect fitting.

Car fluids

These will be regularly checked and topped up when you take your car in for a service; however, there is no harm in you keeping a close eye on them yourself, especially during the winter.

If you are carrying out these checks yourself, ensure the engine oil, brake fluid, coolant, anti-freeze, screenwash, and power steering fluid are all topped up.

For further guidance, check out our blog on what car checks you should do before a long journey.

Winter car kit essentials

Driving in winter can be unpredictable, whether you're navigating through a blizzard of snow or avoiding slippery patches of ice, so it is always best to be well-prepared.

A good winter car kit can ensure you are fully equipped to tackle any eventualities during your journey.

Pack your winter car kit using our handy checklist below:

  • Fully charged mobile phone
  • In-car charger or power bank
  • Phone number of your breakdown cover service
  • Snacks and drinks
  • Spare warm clothing and footwear
  • Blankets
  • De-icer and ice scraper
  • Torch and spare batteries
  • Map
  • Sunglasses
  • Jump leads
  • First aid kit
  • Foldable spade
  • High-visibility jacket and warning triangle
  • Spare screenwash
  • Carpet/rubber matting
  • Empty fuel can
  • Any medications you may need

  • Winter driving tips

    Once your car checks are complete, you’re ready to hit the road. However, before you do so, it’s wise to be aware of the following tips so you have the safest journey possible.

    Plan your journey

    Eliminate any potential stressful situations or delays by doing some research before setting off.

    Check your desired route on RAC, AA and Google Maps, which will alert you to any incidents or road closures so you can plan an alternative route.

    For live traffic information, you can listen to updates on local radio stations, the news, or on the Traffic England website. There are also traffic update sites available for Scotland and Wales.

    You can prepare for any severe weather conditions by keeping up to date with the forecast on Met Office.

    Take your time

    One of the most important things about winter driving is to take your time. Driving in winter can be hazardous enough without rushing or speeding and increasing your chances of having an accident.

    You need to consider that the wet and icy conditions will have an impact on your tyres grip on the road, and that stopping distances can be ten times greater than usual, so it is vital that you stay well back and leave ample space between you and the vehicle in front.

    Drive in a higher gear

    If you have encountered snow and ice during your journey, it is important that you drive in a higher gear to reduce the chances of wheel spin.

    For further information on what you should do in these conditions, check out our guides on how to drive in snow and how to drive on ice .

    Avoid using cruise control

    Cruise control can be a beneficial feature for many car users, as it helps them maintain a constant speed.

    However, you should avoid using it when driving in winter, as it can cause you to lose control of your car, spin out, or hydroplane.

    RAC also warns of the dangers of cruise control and becoming overly reliant on it, referring to it as ‘snooze control’, as you do not have to keep your foot on the accelerator.

    Not paying full attention can further contribute to slower reactions to hazards, such as the car in front suddenly braking or an animal wandering into the road, both of which could end in a collision.

    Recover from a skid correctly

    It can be very easy to slip into a state of panic when you begin to feel your car skidding, but you need to fight this instinct and remain calm.

    Skids can easily be rectified by assessing the type of skid you are experiencing and taking your time.

    If your front wheels have lost traction, this is an understeer skid. You will need to correct it by coming off the accelerator and reducing your steering so your tyres can regain control.

    For an oversteer skid - where your rear wheels have lost traction - you will need to come off the accelerator and steer in the direction of the skid.

    In both instances, avoid braking as much as possible, as this will cause your car to spin out.

    Look out for snow ploughs and gritters

    One of the main hazards when driving in winter in the UK are snow ploughs and gritters. While both are incredibly beneficial, it is less than ideal to get stuck behind one!

    If you get stuck behind a gritter or snow plough, it is important to stay well back, as the salt or spray intended to melt the snow and ice on the road could cause scratches to your paintwork, chips on your bonnet, and cracks in your windscreen.

    This can be an added stress when you are using a hire car, as you will be required to pay for the damage.

    Plan ahead for an eventuality like this and make sure you have tyres, windscreen, and undercarriage cover, which covers any accidental damage caused if you were not driving off-road at the time.

    It is important to remember that winter driving is an adjustment for everyone, particularly when you are not used to driving in these conditions regularly.

    By taking your time, watching your speed and driving with extra care and attention, you are sure to have a safe drive in winter!

    About the author

    Dom has loved cars since he was five years old. He has worked as a mechanic for years, relishing the opportunity to be around vehicles and keep them in top shape.

    Dom trained as a driving instructor once his daughter got her first car so he could help people to stay safe on the roads.

    Now he takes every chance he can to share his knowledge of cars with the general public, focusing on vehicle maintenance and safety.