So you want to drive in the snow?

General Bunk
A public service announcement from Rob Griggs-Taylor, who has some sensible advice for driving in snow.

In a welcome change for PetrolBlog, resident guest blogger, Rob Griggs-Taylor has provided some genuinely useful content. Here he draws on his time in the north of Scotland to offer some sensible advice for driving in snow. It's good stuff. But if you miss the inane waffle and bunk, don't worry, normal service will be resumed soon.

It snowed today and so lots of you are going to try and drive through the snow to accomplish journeys like you do every day. This is not always a great idea so I thought it was time to pass on some advice gleaned from years of driving in the north of Scotland.

If you can't be bothered reading the rest, PLEASE note the following points:

  1. Your journey is probably not a matter of life and death. You also don't have any right to complete a journey just because you want to.
  2. Preparation could be extremely important. At the very least keep gloves, a hat, a thick waterproof jacket, spare socks and a spade in your car where you can get them from the driver's seat.
  3. If you have a rear-wheel drive car and no winter tyres, stay at home. Especially if it's automatic.
  4. ABS is NOT your friend in snow. It massively extends stopping distances as it tries to cope with the low friction co-efficient of the road surface.
  5. The absolute KEY to driving in snow is SMOOTHNESS. This, combined with decent tyres and being in the right gear may get you home.

Now, one other thing. We're all in this weather together. Think about, and help, others. If someone can't get up a hill, help them with advice or a push. If you have guests, get them to stay the night. Better to sleep on a floor in a heated house than in a freezing cold car.

Getting up a hill

High gears are better than low for getting up a hill. DON'T stick the car in first and give it the gas. You'll cause wheelspin, which is extremely efficient at polishing snow into ice. Once the driving wheels of your car are on ice you're going nowhere and neither is anyone else trying to get up after you.

Constant acceleration in second or third gear is significantly more effective at conquering a slope. Keep the throttle utterly constant in position and listen for wheelspin. As soon as you hear the wheels spin, lift off the throttle a little - it'll help the wheels regain traction.

Coming down a hill

Ford Fiesta driving in the snowLow gears are best for retaining control on a downhill slope. Remember that your brakes are unlikely to be much help so start slow and stay slow.

Get the car into first gear and take your feet off the pedals when descending. You'll find that the car will find its own speed and maintain it all the way down. Use the brakes VERY gently only when you've reached the bottom.


SLOW DOWN. Your tyres aren't going to grip properly in snow and they're very likely to struggle as you enter a corner. Once they've let go you're going to hit whatever you happen to be pointing at at that moment. Even hitting a kerb at 20mph can be enough to break a wheel or burst a tyre and you'll be standing at the side of the road trying to change a wheel in the snow while waiting for someone else to run into your disabled car.

Better to be over-cautious and get round the corner.

If you're starting to slide wide with the front wheels, a very brief tweak of the handbrake can bring the tail of car round enough to rescue the slide. This is a skill worth practising in snow-covered car parks or at an official skid-pan rather than when it happens for real. Note that this won't work with an electronic handbrake.


Prepare to drive slower than you ever have in your life. 40mph will feel incredibly fast once you start to slide in the snow and there's nothing to slow you down before you hit whatever you're sliding towards.

Treat the accelerator and brake pedals as if they're constructed of fine glassware and will crack if you push them too hard or too quickly.

Daihatsu 4x4 driving in the snowA note to drivers of cars with four-wheel drive

The only advantage that four-wheel drive gives you in snow is to gain traction when speeding up. It will NOT help you slow down or turn corners. Most 4x4s are also heavier than standard cars and so they retain more momentum when sliding on snow or ice, and they do more damage when they hit something.


You need to concentrate entirely on your driving. Don't be talking on your mobile, getting lost in the sounds of Radio 2, admiring yourself in the mirror or anything that isn't absolutely necessary to drive safely. Things can go wrong horribly quickly and you need your wits about you.


Toyota Avensis driving in the snowSo you definitely need to make your journey? You know that you have the gentleness and concentration levels to complete the drive safely.

You've packed emergency equipment just in case.

You've allowed at least double the normal time for the journey. There's one more thing that many people overlook and it's cleaning the snow off the car.

Not only should every window in the car be completely clear of snow and ice, clear your lights (front and rear!) If you can't be seen then you're more likely to be crashed into. Rear lights are particularly vital in this respect. Also consider clearing snow off the bonnet. It will blow up onto the windscreen and obscure your vision.

And last but not least, be smoooooth. Speed is not cool because you'll look like an idiot when it all goes pear-shaped. Wind on and off steering slowly and gently. Remember that the pedals are made of glass. This is truly a time when slow and steady wins the race.

Be safe out there!

For more of Rob, view his previous posts here, or follow him on twitter @robgt2. For PetrolBlog's guide to winter tyres, click here.

Images courtesy of