How to drive on ice

By , 23 January 2024

9 mins read

It can really feel like your driving skills are being put to the test in the winter, with sub-zero temperatures, fog, and icy roads contributing to hazardous driving conditions.

As with driving in the snow, you need to consider if your journey can wait until the weather improves.

However, not all journeys can, so it is essential that you are well-informed and prepared before driving on ice.

Ice can bring many driving challenges with it, including reduced traction and difficulty maneuvering and stopping as you normally would.

These factors can mean that the number of collisions, bumps, and scrapes is much higher than usual, which can be incredibly stressful if you are using a hire car and will have to pay for the damage.

Although some of these things are out of your control, one thing that isn’t is making sure you have excess car insurance in place, which means any accidental damage to your hire car is covered.

For more ways to feel calm and well-prepared ahead of driving in icy conditions, check out our handy guide for all you need to know.

How to prepare for driving on ice

When driving in any winter weather, it is essential that you are prepared for every eventuality. Things to remember ahead of driving on ice are:

Allow extra time

Driving in icy conditions is completely different from your regular day-to-day drive in dry weather.

You will find there is more traffic on the road due to drivers reducing their speed to accommodate the bad weather, a lack of tyre grip, and increased braking distances up to ten times the usual distance.

An easy way to remember this is with the equation: Thinking Distance + Stopping Distance x10 = Total Stopping Distance.

For a safe journey where you’ll have a lack of tyre grip, drivers should adapt their driving style by maintaining a greater distance from the vehicle in front, reducing their speed, and breaking early and gently to avoid skidding.

Stay up to date

It is worth doing some research ahead of your drive by tuning into the local radio stations to learn of any road closures, route diversions, traffic congestion, or collisions that may impact your journey.

Alternatively, you can check your desired route and find alternatives using these route planners on Google Maps , RAC , and Michelin.

You can also anticipate any incoming severe weather by checking the forecast on the Met Office.

Check your car

Ahead of your drive, it is important that both you and your car are well-equipped to deal with the elements that come with driving in icy conditions. Use the below as a checklist to ensure your car is up to scratch for the journey:

Fill your fuel tank

While this may seem obvious, your car will use up more fuel with the heating on and while sitting in traffic.

It is also worth having an empty fuel can in your car when driving on ice, as fuel stops are not always possible in harsh weather conditions, and you may have to source fuel from another vehicle.

Check your battery

Freezing weather can have a significant impact on your car's battery, causing it to hold less charge while increasing the demand.

RAC advise that the average life of a car battery lasts between three and six years , depending on various factors including your car’s age, its level of maintenance, and the type of battery.

When driving in icy conditions, it is always worth anticipating the chance of a breakdown and packing a set of jump leads in your car just in case, as well as familiarising yourself with how to jump start a car.

Test your lights

It is vital that you can see other vehicles as well as they can see you.

Ensure all your lights are in good working order, including your brake lights, fog lights, indicators, headlights, and hazards.

Don’t forget to refresh your memory on when to use certain sets of lights.

The Highway Code states that fog lights are only to be used when visibility drops below 100 metres, however you must switch them off as soon as visibility improves as they can dazzle other motorists.

You can also use dipped headlights when visibility is reduced so you can be seen in dull weather conditions.

If you break down and your vehicle is going to cause an obstruction, you can use your hazard lights to alert and make other drivers aware. You should only use your hazard lights until it is clear your warning has been acknowledged by other drivers.

Take care of your windscreen

Check that both sets of windscreen wipers are working efficiently and that there is no wear and tear.

Make sure to invest in a good screen wash that can withstand sub-zero temperatures to keep your windscreen clean throughout the journey.

It is also a good idea to pick up a high-quality anti-freeze and ice scraper just in case you do find your windscreen freezing during your drive.

Top up your car fluids

You may already keep a close eye on these, but it is best to double-check that they are topped up ahead of driving in ice.

Fluid levels to check are anti-freeze, screenwash, engine oil, and brake fluid, particularly with older vehicles.

During your regular car service, your mechanic will usually ensure these are topped up. However, it is always best to check your engine oil one a month or particularly before a long journey.

To make sure you’re good to go before the cold weather sets in, GOV.UK recommends that all vehicles have a pre-winter vehicle check to make sure your car is in the best condition to withstand the elements.

Keep an eye on your tyres

Tyre checks are essential all year round, but especially when ice and snow make an appearance.

These conditions can seriously affect your tyre’s grip on the road, making it easy to skid and lose control of the car.

The legal tread depth for tyres is 1.6mm; however, Kwikfit advises that many vehicle manufacturers would recommend a tread depth of 3mm for driving in wintery conditions.

As well as your tyre’s tread depth, be sure to check for any wear and tear and that they are inflated correctly.

For that extra reassurance, you could invest in a set of winter tyres, which are designed to reduce stopping distance and improve your vehicle’s traction.

Pack your winter kit

Planning for all eventualities is key when driving in ice and snow, so a good winter kit is essential to have with you on your journey.

If you’re unsure what to pack in your winter kit, we have compiled a list below for you to use:

Focus on your health

Before any drive, you should always ask yourself if you are feeling fit, healthy, well-rested, and calm.

If the answer to all of these is yes, then you are ready to begin your drive.

How to drive in ice

Move off slowly

Before beginning your journey, ensure any ice on your car is fully defrosted and that you have full visibility.

As with driving in snow, it is best to move off gently if you drive a manual vehicle and move up to second gear as soon as you can.

Be sure to ease off the clutch as you do so, as this will help your wheels maintain their traction.

Take it slow

You’ve allowed plenty of extra time for your journey, so there should be no rush.

It is important that you maintain a low speed, avoid heavy use of the accelerator, steer gently, and touch lightly on the brake pedal to reduce the chances of skidding.

Pay attention to your braking distance

When driving on ice, ensure that you maintain a safe distance between you and other cars, as road conditions can be slippery and increase your stopping distance by ten times compared to a dry road.

This will give you time to anticipate and react if the driver in front of you suddenly brakes, reducing the risk of a collision.

Take corners and bends slowly and gently

The two key words to remember when navigating corners and bends in icy conditions are slow and gentle.

Before reaching the bend, brake gently and progressively before smoothly steering your vehicle around.

Be mindful not to accelerate or brake while steering around the corner, as any sudden actions could cause your car to spin.

Watch out for gritters

You are sure to see these when ice and snow hit, and you will likely encounter them on your journey.

Travelling at around 40mph with a flashing amber beacon, gritters spray salt across the roads to melt the ice.

It is advised, as with other vehicles, that you keep well back from these, as the salt could go on your car, potentially causing scratches or chips on the windscreen.

This can be an added worry when driving a hire car, as you will be charged for the damage.

If you do encounter this situation, then tyres, windscreen and undercarriage cover would cover this cost if you were not driving off-road when the car was damaged.

And if you skid...

The most important thing you can do if you start skidding is to remain calm and assess the type of skid.

If your rear wheels have lost grip, this is known as an oversteer skid and should be corrected by removing your foot from the accelerator and steering into it.

However, if your front wheels have lost grip, causing you to spin, this is an understeer skid and can be corrected by moving the cause. In other words, come off the accelerator and reduce your steering.

What is black ice?

One of the most hazardous issues to consider when driving on ice is black ice.

Black ice is known for being particularly dangerous because it is difficult to see in advance due to being thin and transparent.

Driving on black ice

If you do encounter a patch of black ice, as with skidding, it is important that you do not panic.

Keep your steering straight and avoid jamming on the brakes or putting your foot down on the accelerator.

Instead, allow your car to gently pass over the ice so you can safely continue your journey.

Driving on ice can be a daunting experience for everyone, but with careful planning, due care and attention, and adapting your driving style, you’ll soon see that driving in icy conditions isn’t quite as scary as it may seem!

About the author

Jon spent years travelling Europe and Asia before settling down in the UK when he met his wife.

He’s hired cars across the globe and is passionate about helping people save money with excess insurance.

Since co-founding Reduce My Excess, Jon has found that he can use the knowledge he picked up from his travels by sharing it in online guides and articles.

He hopes to save people from making the mistakes he learnt from over the years by giving them the travel information they need before they head off on their holidays.