Lifestyle Guides

Tips for driving in extreme weather

cars in a queue in snowy conditions

Snow, ice, gales, flooding, frost and fog – winter is a challenging time of year to drive.

Driving in winter can have an impact on your car and its insurance. However, you can avoid hazards with good preparation, and we’re here to help with just that.

Read our tips for driving in snow and other challenging weather conditions. We discuss driving in:

Preparing for extreme conditions

Before setting off in extreme weather conditions, ask yourself whether your journey is essential. If it isn’t, it’s best to avoid risking you and your car’s safety.

Fog, snow and rain can cause serious visibility issues in the winter. Check the visibility forecast before setting off and if it’s poor or very poor, reconsider how essential your trip is.

The met office measured visibility in the following way:

  • VP (Very Poor): Less than 1 km
  • P (Poor): 1.1 km to 4 km
  • M (Medium): 4.1 km to 10 km
  • G (Good): 10.1 km to 20 km
  • VG (Very Good): 20.1 km to 40 km
  • E (Excellent): Greater than 40 km

Lastly, you should do a winter health check on your vehicle before driving, and carry a winter driving kit.

This should include:

  • ice scraper
  • de-icer
  • blanket
  • torch
  • shovel
  • high visibility jacket
  • waterproof clothing
  • warning triangle
  • food
  • water
  • fully charged mobile phone

Driving in snow, ice and frost

Clear your windscreen

If your windscreen is icy, use a de-icer and scraper to remove ice across the entire windscreen. You can buy de-icers with

Here are a few things to remember:

  • only removing ice from the driver’s side is dangerous and illegal
  • using boiling water to melt ice can crack your windscreen
  • leaving your car on to heat up while unattended increases theft opportunities and invalidates your insurance

Read on how you can prevent car theft, which tends to peak in the winter months.

Drive carefully and defensively

Driving defensively means following the correct speed limit, braking gently and approaching bends slowly. It’s a similar approach to driving at night.

Braking well in advance of bends prevents you from locking your wheels and keeps you at the correct speed. Drive slow when descending, too.

Clear away snow

Remove any snow from your car’s roof as it can slide down onto your windscreen.

Stick to busy roads

Stick to bigger, busier roads. Major roads are usually treated with salt and grit first.

Double or treble your stopping distance

Leave plenty of space between you and the car in front, if possible. The Highway Code states it can take up to 10 times longer to stop on an icy road.

You don’t want to rely on your brakes too much when it’s snowing or iced over.

Learn how to regain control of your car

Avoid high revs when driving manual to prevent skidding and maximise control – start in second if it’s slippery.

For automatics, use L, 2 or +/- controls.

If your vehicle starts sliding sideways, take your foot off the pedals and steer into the skid. Only use the brake if you can’t steer out of trouble.

If you get stuck, don't spin the wheels or rev the engine – you’ll only dig your vehicle further in. Use as high a gear as possible and slowly manoeuvre the vehicle forwards and backwards to gently creep out.

Driving in fog

Clear your windscreen

Keep your windscreen clean and make sure your screen wash is effective in minus temperatures.

Use the correct lights

Always use dipped headlights in foggy conditions. Use your front and rear fog lights if visibility is less than 100 metres to help other motorists see you.

Do not, however, use your high-beam headlights if the fog is very thick. The lights reflect off the fog and impacts visibility.

Drive carefully

Drive carefully and defensively. Don’t stick rigidly to the speed limit – maintain a slower, steady and consistent pace. You want to avoid sudden, close braking.

Pay close attention to pedestrians and cyclists, particularly in built-up areas.

Park somewhere safe if visibility is too poor

Fog is hard to predict. If it suddenly gets too thick to drive in, park somewhere safe and wait until visibility clears.

It’s better to avoid driving than take a risk.

Driving in heavy rain

Think ahead

Consider if your trip is essential. If not, it’s better to wait until the weather changes.

Before leaving, check your car’s:

  • windscreen wipers
  • tyre pressure and tread depth
  • fuel

Avoid flood-prone areas. Make sure you have a fully charged mobile phone, too.

Use the correct lights

Use dipped headlights. Don’t use rear fog lights.

Drive slowly

Avoid driving fast and braking in heavy rain.

Don’t overuse the accelerator, avoid braking and allow your speed to reduce naturally. If you don’t, you risk skidding.

Stay aware of stopping distances

The Highway Code estimates that stopping distances are at least double in wet weather due to reduced tyre grip.

Leave plenty of room between you and other road users too to avoid braking suddenly. We recommend around a four-second gap.

Driving too close to other cars impacts your visibility as you’re more likely to be sprayed with water.

Keep the air conditioning on

This prevents your windscreen from misting up.

Pay attention to steering

If your steering becomes unresponsive, it probably means that water is preventing the tyres from gripping the road.

If this happens, ease off the accelerator and slow down gradually.

Don’t open the bonnet if you break down

If you break down, wait for help to arrive before opening your bonnet. Heavy rain can fry your vehicle’s electrical system.

Driving in flood conditions

We don’t recommend driving in floods. Floods are very dangerous, and they can impact your vehicle’s insurance.

Read our guide on car insurance and flood damage.

We’ll share some general tips below.

Think about the journey

Avoid flood-prone areas if flooding is forecast. Even if you significantly lengthen your journey, it isn’t worth the danger of being marooned.

Try to avoid standing water

Avoid driving through standing water, particularly if it’s deeper than four inches.

Beware of puddles

Beware when driving through puddles and flooded areas – they may be deeper than you think. If in doubt, turn back.

Once you exit the other side of a puddle, pause for a moment (if it's safe) to let any excess water drain away. You should then gently test your brakes to be sure they're working correctly.

If your engine cuts out after driving through deep water, don’t attempt to restart it, as catastrophic engine damage may occur. Instead, turn on the hazard lights, call for assistance and get professional advice.

Keep your headlights on

If it’s flooding, then visibility is likely reduced too. The Highway Code states that you need to use headlights in poor visibility.

Drive slowly, but only when it’s safe

If you think it’s safe, proceed slowly, stay in low gear and keep your engine revs up so to maintain momentum.

Leave lots of space between you and the car in front and let approaching cars pass first.

Use higher ground

Higher ground is less prone to flooding.

Driving in high winds

Pick the right route

Try picking a sheltered route. You want to avoid exposure to extreme weather if possible.

Let people know you’re travelling too. It helps that people know you’re on the road if you get stuck.

Reduce speed

A lot can go wrong in high winds from fallen trees to flying bins. You can’t predict when debris will impact you, so drive slowly.

If the road is littered with twigs and branches, then drive vigilantly – they’re strong signs a tree may fall.

Reducing your speed means high gusts won’t blow you off course too. Drive extra slow when on exposed stretches of road, bridges and near high-sided vehicles.

Don’t tow

Don’t tow caravans, trailers or horseboxes in gale-force winds as they’ll likely topple.

Read all about towing regulations and insurance.

Leave plenty of space for other road users

Leave extra room for cyclists and motorcyclists, who are particularly vulnerable to sudden gusts, and may veer across the road.

It’s a good idea to give other cars space, too. High winds are distracting, so being proactive is your best bet.

Hold the steering wheel harder

Hold the steering wheel tightly with both hands to have more control over the vehicle.

Does driving in red weather warnings impact insurance?

No.

Our car insurance is valid during amber and red alerts. Follow road rules as you normally would, but with extra vigilance.

I'm an experienced journalist, digital editor and copywriter, now specialising in motoring. I’m editor of Automotive Blog and have worked across the media in newspapers, magazines, TV, teletext, radio and online for household names including the BBC, GMTV, ITV and MSN. I’ve produced digital content in the financial sector for Lloyds Bank, Nationwide and the Money Advice Service. I'm married with two children and live near Bath in Somerset.

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