With many parts of Australia experiencing a very cold snap this week, seeing snow fall where it doesn’t normally we thought we’d explain how to drive in the snow.

DRIVING IN THE SNOW is different to driving in the rain, fog or on dirt. And for many of us we might only see it once a year, if that. Other parts of the country cop days and days of the stuff with the roads, particularly in alpine regions, receiving fresh falls of snow during winter blanketing vehicles and the countryside.

This week we’ve already covered off on the things you should do when you’re heading to the ski fields, how to start your car if you’re caught out by a surprise dump of snow and explained why diesel turns waxy and can prevent your car from starting.

The trick to driving in the snow is, basically, not to head out onto the roads if you don’t have to. It just adds congestion and increases the chances of an accident occurring. Besides, when snow falls, emergency services usually close the roads and divert heavy vehicles onto alternate routes.

Overnight Leura and Katoomba, where I live, copped a heavy fall of snow and the tourists came out in force. People who don’t normally drive in such conditions headed out onto the road to take in the snowy sights. And fair enough, too. But many made basic mistakes and caused chaos with a handful of roads blocked by cars who’d either braked mid-corner and slid along the road, crashing into parked cars, or ended up braking and skidding into the car in front. One group of cars I saw, in an attempt to avoid an early accident, actually caused another one when one of the cars trying to turn around on the snow-covered road to go back the way they had come started to slip and so the driver hit the brakes. They slid straight into a parked car.

  1. The first thing to do is to remove the snow from your car before setting off. You see plenty of cars driving around in the snow with their roof thick with snow. The problem with that is that when you hit the brakes, all that snow will slide forward and cover your windscreen. And your wipers won’t be strong enough to clear it. So, walk around the car and scrape the snow off the roof and the windscreen, and check your lights both at the front and back are clear of snow and frost, too.
  2. Make sure the screen wash you use is rated for below-freezing so as to prevent it from freezing on your windscreen when you squirt the water. You can use lukewarm water to de-ice your windscreen but never hot or boiling water as this could cause your windscreen to crack. In extreme conditions you might find your door lock freezes; you can get around this by warming your key, or tipping some lukewarm water across the lock face.
  3. Before turning on your car make sure your auto, or rain-sensing wiper function (if your car has it) is turned off. Because, if you don’t you’re likely to blow the wiper fuse, especially if the wipers are frozen to the windscreen.
  4. Once you’ve got your car sorted out and you’re ready to hit the road then you’ll want to accelerate away from the kerb gently. You might even have to move off in second gear to prevent wheel spin; some cars with an automatic transmission have a snow setting that you can select to help move off without spinning your wheels.
  5. It’s important to leave plenty of room between you and the car in front of you; as much as 10 times the distance. And don’t accelerate quickly or make sudden direction changes, and don’t brake hard either. You want gentle applications of the steering, throttle and brakes.
  6. If you do start to skid then don’t A) take your hands off the steering wheel to cover your eyes, and B) don’t jam on the brakes. What you want to do is steer where you want to go, so, if your car is starting to slide to the left then steer to the left and ease off the accelerator.
  7. It’s rare for roads to be gritted in places where snow only falls once a year, and while it seems like it might be a good idea to drive in the wheel tracks of the car ahead of you because the road looks clear; the road is often more slippery than if you were to drive on fresh snow.

It was not an accident, it was a crash - unintentional is not the same as unavoidable.


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