Winter Driving & Tyre Safety
It’s not just the periods of severe snow and ice that bring hazardous driving conditions to our crisp UK winters. Cooler temperatures below a relatively mild 7 degrees Celcius alone can affect your car’s performance, and the longer hours of darkness and rainy, damp and foggy conditions also make winter driving less safe.
Given these conditions, it’s no surprise that the majority of car accident claims are made during the winter months. Read on for tips on safer driving this winter.
How to avoid winter driving hazards
Black ice is one of the main culprits for causing accidents and is especially dangerous if your tyres are bald or losing grip. Reduced visibility is a hazard, whether due to fog, rain and snow or even iced up windscreens and mirrors. Battery failure is also a common issue when temperatures dip below freezing. Here are a few tips to keep you safe this winter:
Keep essential winter items in the car in case you get stranded. Include a shovel, jacket and boots, ice scraper, de-icing salt, and some bottled water.
Learn to steer out of a skid on ice safely
Skids tend to happen when you’re turning or trying to speed up, or slow down. Avoid the need to steer out of a skid by driving more slowly, steering smoothly and braking early in icy conditions.
If you do skid, remember to ‘steer into the skid’. This doesn’t necessarily mean to steer the way the car is skidding, but to steer gently (no full lock or wrenching of the wheel) into the direction you want to go. Use your eyes to guide your hands on the steering wheel – look at the direction you want to be heading in and steer gently that way. If you steer too hard, you’ll end up overcorrecting and the car will skid the opposite way.
Aquaplaning in waterlogged conditions
Aquaplaning happens when driving across a large puddle or pool of water, reducing the traction between all four tyres and the surface of the road. Steering will suddenly feel light, like you are ice-skating or water-skiing, and the car engine might rev loudly.
Avoid aquaplaning by being aware of the road conditions, and change your driving style accordingly.
- Wet roads, mud and leaves, a smooth road surface combined with old or worn tyres will make it far more likely that you will aquaplane
- The best thing to do is to slow right down – you’re much less likely to aquaplane at lower speeds
- Never use cruise control in wet conditions
- If you do aquaplane, stay calm and switch off cruise control if it’s on (don’t use the brake to stop cruising)
- You won’t be able to steer the car, or brake quickly, so try not to panic
- Let the car slow down and find traction
- You can then steer very gently and brake lightly to regain control of the car
Wheel spins in snow or slippery wet leaves and mud
Wheel spins happen when you lift the clutch too quickly with too much power on the accelerator.
- Avoid wheel spinning in wet or slippery conditions by raising the clutch very slowly and gently through the biting point
- Correct any further wheel spin by pressing the clutch back down if necessary
- You might find it easier to change up into second gear when pulling away from the area
Take extra care in wintry driving conditions
Most accidents occur when the driver fails to look properly, drives too fast for the conditions, or brakes suddenly.
- Remember to slow down in icy or wet conditions
- Triple check the road around you when making manoeuvres and drive smoothly and slowly, in a lower gear, as a rule in the winter
- It’s also really important that your car is in good working order and your tyres and brakes are not worn
Tyre safety checks for winter driving
Checking your tyres throughout the year is always advisable, however in winter this becomes a necessity. Here’s our simple checklist to ensure your tyres are up to the job:
- Tread – Ensure your tyres have a minimum of 3mm tread remaining
- Pressure – Keep the pressure at the manufacturers recommended guidelines; lowering it for snow and ice can affect the handling
- Wear and tear – Check each tyre to make sure it’s in good working order; any damage could be exacerbated in cold conditions
If your tyres aren’t up to scratch, visit our tyres pages now to see the full range of year-round tyres.
Car safety checks for winter driving
Following the checks on your tyres, here are a few other areas to check:
- Brakes – Ensure your brake pads and discs are not worn or failing
- Battery – If it’s older than 5 years it may struggle in the cold weather, so get it checked (and potentially replaced) to avoid failure
- Lights – Keep them clean and carry spare bulbs. Check your fog lights are working too
- Fuel – Make sure you’ve got more than enough fuel to get where you want to go, to cover unexpected delays or diversions
- Windscreen – Ensure it’s clean inside and out and that all the frost has been scraped off to ensure maximum visibility
- Windscreen wash – A good quality screen wash will reduce the chance of it freezing in very cold temperatures
- Coolant – Check the levels regularly, if it’s especially cold, top up with a mixture of antifreeze. Consult your garage if you’re unsure of the correct concentration
- Heater/air circulation – make sure it’s in good working order to help defog the windscreen and rear window
When are 'cold weather tyres' needed?
There is a common misconception that the UK is too warm for winter tyres to be effective. In fact, winter tyres are effective at any temperature below 7 degrees Celsius.
Winter tyres perform better in the wide variety of hazards present in the colder months, like mud, wet leaves, grit, slush, ice, frost and wet roads. Unlike summer tyres, winter or ‘cold weather’ tyres won’t harden at temperatures below 7°C. This means you have a stronger grip on the road, helping you steer accurately, and accelerate and brake safely. Crucially, winter tyres will give you shorter stopping distances.
It’s a good idea to use winter tyres between October and April in the UK, before switching back to summer tyres.
CrossClimate Tyres – an alternative to winter tyres
From April 2015, Michelin CrossClimate tyres provide an alternative to having a separate set of winter and summer tyres. They’ve fused together summer and winter technologies to produce a year-round tyre with exceptional performance in all conditions.
New Legislation on EU Tyre Labelling
Similar to energy efficiency ratings on appliances, you’ll now find tyre safety labels with ratings on tyres sold in the EU. Showing fuel economy, braking performance on wet roads and external noise levels, the labels make it really easy for consumers to compare tyres.
It’s worth bearing in mind that when buying winter tyres, the braking on wet roads performance level will be high, but fuel efficiency may be lower. Gaining more traction and higher rolling resistance means more grip, which is ideal in winter tyres. The safer winter tyres are therefore less efficient on fuel consumption than summer tyres.