Winter driving can be tricky at the best of times, but even more so when driving a motorhome or towing a caravan.
To ensure your own safety and that of other road users, we have prepared a list of simple measures you can take for coping with winter driving during adverse weather conditions.
Remove snow and ice
The Highway Code states you must be able to see where you are going, so snow and ice must be removed from ALL windows prior to travel.
Partially clearing your windscreen is not acceptable. It's illegal to drive with snow or ice blocking your front or rear windscreen, so don't take any chances. You must also ensure your lights are clear of snow and ice, and your number plates are both visible and legible. Always keep a scraper and/or a bottle of de-icer in your motorhome or car. Never try to de-ice your windows using warm or hot water, which could cause your windscreen to crack.
Here are our top tips for quick de-icing:
- Apply de-icer to your windows the night before you’re due to travel. This will reduce the build-up of ice overnight, making it easier to remove the light layer of frost in the morning.
- Score thick ice with a scraper before applying de-icer. If the ice is particularly thick, it will penetrate quicker, for a faster melt-time.
- Use a windscreen cover. Spray de-icer on your windscreen beforehand, to prevent the cover from sticking to the glass due to frozen, excess moisture.
- Start your vehicle and turn the heater to maximum setting, with the fan on low. Be aware, this should be a last resort as it could drain your starter battery.
Make sure you remove snow from your roof, as it could potentially fall onto your windscreen while you’re driving, or onto the path of other road users.
Demist before setting off
When Winter driving, your view can become a bit clouded, so it’s important to ensure your mirrors are clear and windows are demisted thoroughly before travel. It’s not only crucial that you can see where you’re going, but it will also prevent you from becoming distracted while driving, because you’re fiddling with dashboard controls.
Top up your screen wash
During the winter months, there’s generally more dirt on the road, which gets thrown up by other vehicles, and can seriously obscure the view through your windows.
Marks or smears on your windscreen can cause dangerous sun dazzle, particularly during the winter when the sun is low. Winter screen wash will quickly remove dirt, prevent freezing water jets, and help to de-ice the windscreen when the temperature plummets below -0°. By law,[i] windscreen wash must be used by all vehicles with windscreen wipers unless they are:
- an agricultural vehicle first used before 1 June 1986
- a tracked vehicle (eg. tank tread or caterpillar track)
- a vehicle which cannot go faster than 20mph
- a vehicle used to provide a local service (as defined in the Transport Act 1985)
Water alone is not sufficient to remove dirt and grime from car or motorhome windows.
Check your brakes
Make sure that your brakes are properly serviced to be able to withstand temperature changes and adverse weather conditions.
What to do if your brakes jam
Frozen brakes can occur during icy weather. The is handy guide form WikiHow explains how to free a frozen parking brake.
Adapt your speed
This winter driving rule applies to all road users but is more important to motorhome drivers and those towing a caravan, as both will have a much greater overall weight than a standard car. Due to additional weight, slowing a motorhome or tow car down takes longer. In wet, icy, or foggy conditions, the braking distances can more than double.
RAC’s Stopping Distances Made Simple article is a helpful guide to safe braking. The Highway Code also states that if driving a large vehicle in a tunnel, you should allow a four-second gap between you and the vehicle in front. Driving too fast will increase the risk of losing control of your vehicle, especially on bends or when turning corners. It should be possible to slow down simply by taking your foot off the accelerator and moving down through the gears, before applying the foot brake, if you allow ample time.
Accelerate with care
Winter driving requires careful acceleration, especially on slippery road surfaces. It’s all too easy to wheel spin when pulling away in snow or ice, so pulling off in second gear can help to reduce the chance of a skid. Be gentle with the clutch and ease off slowly to prevent your motorhome or tow car from sliding.
The important thing for a successful ascent up hills is to keep the momentum going. Driving fast but steady is generally required to make it up hills when the roads are snow covered or icy. When descending, reduce your speed and move to a lower gear, to avoid using the brakes and leave as much room as possible between you and the vehicle in front.
Use Winter tyres
Whenever a modest amount of snow falls in the UK, and our motorways grind to a halt, it is never the weather that is really to blame, more a lack of preparation.
In the UK, we aren’t accustomed to seasonal tyre changes. However, using winter tyres can make winter driving safer.
To the casual observer, summer and winter tyres may look similar, but there are significant differences.
It’s important to stress that winter tyres are designed for use in temperatures of 7ºC and below, and not specifically ice and snow. Due to the compounds used in their engineering, coupled with a deeper and more distinctive tread pattern, they provide better traction in sub-zero temperatures, in comparison to summer or all-weather tyres. Winter tyres can also be identified by a snowflake symbol found on the sidewall.
While winter tyres are not a legal requirement in the UK, they are required for travel in certain parts of Europe. If you plan to drive your motorhome or tow a caravan in Europe during the winter months, it’s important to check if you need them prior to travel. Our article, Winter Tyres: Mandatory Requirements for Winter Travel in Europe, explains all you need to know.
If you stick with your current tyres in the UK, check that all four have at least 3mm of tread and are inflated to the correct pressure. This is crucial for maintaining grip in wet and icy conditions.
Plan your journey
During periods of extreme weather, untreated roads, such as B-roads, may be inaccessible to motorhomes or caravans due to snow or ice. Before you set off, assess your route, and decide if you think it’s safe to travel. If you can, stick to motorways and main roads for most of your journey, if travel is unavoidable. National Highways is worth checking, to learn of anything that could hinder your journey.
Fill your fuel tank
Becoming stranded because you’ve run out of fuel is not ideal at any time of year, but it’s something you’ll want to avoid in extreme weather. Keeping your tank topped up should prevent you from getting stuck at kerbside, for something that could have been avoided. You could be faced with a lengthy wait for your breakdown assistance provider, whose services will most likely be stretched to full capacity during extreme weather events.
Be prepared for the worst
According to our breakdown insurance provider RAC, the most common causes of winter breakdowns are:
- Battery faults
- Tyre problems
- Engine management
- Mechanical failures
- Electrical faults
That’s why we offer breakdown cover from RAC to our motorhome insurance and touring caravan insurance customers, as a policy enhancement. RAC’s feature-packed policies can provide peace of mind that you won’t be left stranded, should the worst happen.
And finally, don’t leave home without packing these essential items:
Download checklist here.