How to make sure your car’s safe to drive in snow and ice

Sensible drivers stay at home when it's bad weather, but that’s not always possible. If you need to drive in snowy or icy conditions, there are plenty of steps you can take to make sure you and your car are as safe as possible.

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The Highway Code will always advise that you avoid driving in snowy and icy conditions.

But if your journey is essential then there are steps you can take to help make your car safer to drive in bad weather.

Visibility

The Highway Code says that before you drive off in the snow and ice, you must be able to:

  • See clearly out of every glass panel: this means you need to clear snow and ice off of every window
  • See your lights and number plates: clear your lights and number plates of any snow and ice too

You’ll also need to make sure:

  • You can see clearly through your mirrors
  • Your windows are demisted from the inside
  • Your car is cleared of any snow that might fall off and fly into the path of another car

Clearing your car of snow isn’t a legal requirement, but if the snow then falls off the roof and means you can no longer see out of a glass panel in your vehicle, then you are breaking the law. So driving with snow on the roof of your car leaves you at risk of breaking the law if anything happened.

If any snow does fall off your car and fly into the path of another car then you could be penalised for 'driving without due consideration' or 'using a motor vehicle in a dangerous condition’.

If you make a claim on your car insurance for an accident that was caused by snow on your car or reduced visibility then the provider can refuse to pay out.

Winter tyres

It isn’t a legal requirement to fit your car with winter tyres in the UK. But winter tyres can help to improve traction and safety in the snow and ice, and can make it easier to drive in the snow.

Standard tyres are designed to soften in warmer temperatures to keep grip on the road. But this does mean they then toughen up in colder temperatures, providing less grip.

Winter tyres are designed for use in temperatures below 7°C, and can be used on both dry tarmac and snow/ice covered roads. They stay soft in colder temperatures to keep a good grip, and they have different tyre tread patterns that dig into the snow better.

If you do fit your car with winter tyres then most car insurance providers won’t increase your premiums, so long as they’ve been fitted properly (according to the manufacturer’s instructions) and they’re fit to be driven on the road. They’ll also usually need to be the same size and value as the original tyres to not affect premiums.

You may need to tell your insurer you’ve fitted winter tyres to make sure you’re properly covered (view the ABI winter tyres motor insurance commitment PDF to check).

If you’re fitting winter tyres on your car then you’ll need to change over all your standard tyres.

Alternatives to winter tyres

Because winter tyres aren’t compulsory in the UK, you can choose to fit your standard car tyres with either snow chains or snow socks to help improve tyre traction in wintery weather.

Snow chains

Snow chains help to increase the grip between your standard car tyres and the road in snowy and icy conditions, and can stop the tyres from slipping.

Snow chains can be fit over regular tyres, gripping the road to then leave room for the wheels to keep moving forwards.

If you’re fitting snow chains then you’ll need to fit a chain on each of the forward driving wheels (four chains are only necessary for 4x4s). 

Read the RAC’s guide to fitting snow chains.

You’ll need to take the snow chains off your tyres when the road is gritted or clear of snow as they can damage the roads – and cause damage to the chains themselves.

Snow socks

Snow socks are material covers you put over your standard car tyres to help them grip to the road.

You only really need to fit a snow sock on each of the forward driving wheels, although you can fit them all round for increased grip.

Snow socks can be easier to fit than snow chains, but they can also offer less traction than snow chains (particularly on ice).

Snow socks should only be used for snow-covered roads. Fold them up and keep them in your car ready for when you need them.

European rules for driving in the snow

European countries that have a lot of snow and ice will have different rules for driving in the snow.

Country

Winter tyres

Snow chains

Andorra

Recommended

Required

Austria

Mandatory

Required

Czech Republic

Compulsory

Required

France

Not required

Required

Germany

Compulsory

Required

Italy

Recommended

Required

Norway

Recommended

Recommended

Sweden

Mandatory

Recommended

Switzerland

Recommended

Required

Mandatory = fit during certain times of the year and during wintery weather

Required = carry in your vehicle and use when required by road signs and conditions. Speed limits may also be affected

Recommended = it’s a good idea to fit during certain times of the year and during wintery weather

Compulsory = required by law during any wintery conditions

Things to keep in mind when driving in the snow in Europe:

  • You can be charged a large fine if your car isn’t fitted with the right safety precautions when driving in the snow in the rest of Europe
  • And if you’re involved in an accident where your car should have been fitted with snow chains then your vehicle will automatically be liable
  • You may still need to use snow chains over wintery tyres in some snowy conditions
  • Snow socks cannot be used as an alternative to snow chains where signs say that snow chains are required
  • Some 'M+S' (mud and snow) combination tyres sold in the UK might not meet the standards for winter tyres of some European countries, which means your car may not be safe to drive. This AA guide lets you know what type of tyre you need to drive in the snow in select European countries

Tips on how to drive safely in the snow

For tips on how to stay safe when driving in the snow, visit the RAC or AA.

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