Driving tips for winter conditions

winter car check-up

Turning the ignition key first thing on a damp December morning was once a gamble, with little guarantee the car would stir itself into life. Thankfully, cars today are more than capable of dealing with the British winter and a few simple precautions can help avoid an unnecessary breakdown.

winter driving tips


During the winter you use more windscreen wiper fluid so make sure that you have anti-freeze or windscreen washer fluid anti-freeze mix, in your car’s water bottle. You don’t want to find yourself stuck behind a lorry trying to clean your windows only to find your washer liquid has frozen.

Breakdown cover

As well as being 100% carbon neutral, breakdown cover from the ETA offers an unparalleled level of service – cover starts from as little as £3 per month and we’re judged by The Good Shopping Guide to be Britain’s most ethical provider.

Survival kit

If the idea of stowing a winter driving survival kit in your boot sounds a bit ‘Bear Grylls’, think again – carrying a torch, a little non-perishable food and a blanket can make all the difference if you should break down.

winter driving tips

Carrying a torch, a little non-perishable food and a blanket can make all the difference if you should break down


The reason other European road networks do not grind to halt following a decent fall of snow is that many motorists invest in snow tyres. The sporadic nature of our winter weather here in Britain means that very few of us do the same, but it is vitally important to check the condition of your tyres when there is snow and ice on the road. First make sure that the tyre treads are the correct depth – ideally more than 3 mm for winter. Secondly, make sure that the tyres are inflated correctly, as the cold weather can lower tyre pressure. Do not be tempted to reduce tyre pressure to get more grip as this does not work, and can seriously reduce stability.


If it is five years or more since you changed your battery, get it checked by your local garage. Flat batteries are the most common cause of car breakdowns over the winter months. Check that you have car breakdown cover in place

ETA breakdown cover comparison


Keep your tank topped up in winter. If you are driving and become snowed in, conserve your fuel. Run your engine every twenty minutes to warm the car.

Behind the wheel

  • Snow chains are cheap to buy and quick to fit so make a wise investment
  • In slippery conditions, avoid sudden acceleration and braking – driving as smoothly as possible will make it less likely that you slide and return better fuel economy, too. If you start to skid, gently lift your foot off the accelerator and steer into the slide
  • Ensure your mobile phone is fully charged and that you have the number of your breakdown recovery service stored
  • Take time to remove any snow and ice from your vehicle’s windows, headlights, brake lights and indicators
  • Your car may be fitted with electronic stability control (ESC) – a gizmo that, in the event of a skid, automatically applies the brakes to individual wheels. However, you may find that ESC hinders your progress up a snow-covered incline
  • Breakdown cover  – ensure you have it in place.
  • Do not use cruise control in snowy or icy conditions

Driving in the winter

Winter driving can be more hazardous; rain and snow make the roads slippery and less forgiving creating dangerous situations. Also other drivers can be slower to respond to situations, adding to the risk. Before you set out on your journey, check the weather forecast and warnings about ice, strong winds, fog and floods. Allow yourself plenty of time. Plan your route, making sure that you use main roads as these are more likely to be gritted if there is snow or ice on the roads. If you are using a satnav check it’s not going to send you down minor roads and have a map as a back-up. Never leave your car running with the keys in the ignition and the heater on, instead get a warm drink and stay in the car and tune in to the traffic conditions on the radio. Don’t start driving until you have cleared all your windows, mirrors and lights.

Stay alert – to the driving conditions as things can change quickly, so make sure you keep your wits about you.

Slow down – put more space between you and other cars in case you need to stop quickly as stopping distances double on wet roads and are 10 times longer on icy ones.

If you break down

Even if you have done all you can to prepare your car for winter and are an experienced driver, it’s important to have breakdown cover – it costs at least £105 to remove your car from the motorway if you are towed by the police.

Breakdowns on minor roads

Be aware of any problems with your car – don’t ignore warning lights, it’s better to pull over in a safe place than risk carrying on and doing more damage to your car. Make sure where you stop is safe and does not obstruct the road. Turn your hazard lights on so other road users are aware of you. Stay warm – cover yourself up with an blanket. Run your engine every twenty minutes to keep the inside of the car warm.

Breakdowns on motorways

If your car does develop a fault when you are driving on the motorway try if possible to leave at the next exit or service station. If you are unable to exit, carefully pull onto the hard shoulder and pull in as far as you can. Switch on your hazard lights on. Get yourself and any passengers out by your nearside (left side) doors and move away from the road. Don’t try and fix the problem yourself as this can be dangerous – even if it is something simple like fixing a puncture. Do not stand behind or in front of your car, if possible try to climb any banking as you will be safer up there. Use the motorway emergency phone (they are placed every half a mile and marker posts with arrows will tell where the nearest phone is). Do not get back into the car, but stay on the embankment, or as far away from the traffic as possible and for help to arrive.


The ethical choice

The ETA was established in 1990 as an ethical provider of green, reliable travel services. 30 years on, we continue to offer cycle insurance, breakdown cover  and home insurance while putting concern for the environment at the heart of all we do.

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