Best equipment for winter driving

Keep warm, keep moving and stay safe with the best equipment for winter driving

BuyaCar team
Nov 21, 2018

Winter weather might bring cancellations to railways and delays at airports but with the right preparations in place it doesn’t have to stop drivers getting from A to B.

Driving on icy or snow-covered roads is second nature to motorists in Scandinavia, eastern Europe and America. That’s because they equip their cars with the right gear and carry some simple and inexpensive practical kit to make sure they are safe in the event of trouble.

Scroll down for the best options to choose when buying a car in order keep it comfortable and stable in the worst winter weather conditions, or jump to the bottom of the page for the best winter accessories to add to your current car.


The best options to fit to a car for winter driving   

Equipment for winter driving: front or four-wheel drive

Four-wheel drive cars tend to provide the most grip in slippery conditions, because the power from the engine is shared between all four wheels, so each one is turning with a relatively gentle force, making them less likely to spin.

However, they tend to be more expensive. The good news is you don’t necessarily need a four-wheel drive car for snow and ice because front-wheel drive vehicles, fitted with the right tyres, are good in those conditions too.

These vehicles send the power from the engine to the front wheels only, but the weight of the engine pushes them down, so the tyres can burrow through the snow and find grip.


Equipment for winter driving: avoid rear-wheel drive cars

A rear-wheel drive car is one that sends the engine’s drive to the back wheels. In most cases, those back wheels will have relatively little weight over them – because in nearly all cases, the engine is in the nose of the car – and that means they give poor traction, especially on slippery surfaces.

Electronic driver aids can only help so much. A set of all-season or winter tyres will improve matters, but if you regularly face harsh winter weather where you live, pick a front-wheel or four-wheel drive car.


Equipment for winter driving: automatic gearbox with snow mode

A handy feature on cars fitted with an automatic gearbox is a ‘snow’ or winter driving mode. By switching on this feature, the car will pull away in second gear, minimising the chance of its spinning its wheels. These modes generally change the way power is delivered to the wheels, making them less likely to lose grip.

Snow mode is usually activated with a button showing a snowflake, or one with the letter 'W' for winter.


Equipment for winter driving: heated windscreen

Clearing ice and mist from car windscreens can be a real pain, but a car with an electrically heated windscreen will be ready to drive in a matter of seconds.

Sometimes called ‘quickclear’, engineers at Ford  came up with the idea to use an ultra-thin mesh of heating wires in the glass to warm it instantly, like a fancier version of a car’s back window. It works a treat and is a worthwhile option.


Equipment for winter driving: heated seats and steering wheel

You don’t need snow drifts and icicles to feel the chill through to your bones. Which is why on a cold winter’s day, you’ll appreciate being able to press a button and have both your seat and steering wheel warm up in seconds.

Even versions of humble cars like the Ford Fiesta and Hyundai i10 offer a heated steering wheel these days.


Equipment for winter driving: heated washer jets

When buying a new car, heated washer jets for the windscreen are often included in optional winter packs, which bundle together related extra equipment.

The beauty of having heated washer jets is they won’t freeze up when driving, helping improve visibility in snow and sleet. And when you start the car on an ice-cold morning, they will defrost.


Equipment for winter driving: higher ground clearance

To clear serious snowfalls, more commonly seen in the north, you’ll need a car with good ground clearance. This refers to the gap between the road and the bottom of the car; a hatchback such as the Ford Focus has less than 5in (12cm) of ground clearance, so it would struggle to some deeper drifts of snow.

In contrast, the Ford Kuga offers nearly 8in (20cm) of clearance. For more still, a big 4x4 like the Land Rover Discovery stands 12in (28cm) proud of the ground.

Equipment for winter driving: voice control

Driving through snow can be stressful, so a car equipped with voice control for features such as navigation, the phone and even the heating (yes, really) will allow you to focus on the most important job at hand – keeping you and your passengers safe.

Equipment for winter driving: spare wheel

Many cars come with kits to inflate a flat tyre. However, if the tyre has been damaged by a particularly nasty pothole, the inflation kit won’t be of any use as the tyre may not be able to be repaired or its structure could be compromised, making it dangerous to drive on.

That’s why it is better to have a spare wheel and tyre. Whether compact or full size, they will get you going again and save you from being stranded. Check with the car maker what options are available when specifying your new car.

The best accessories for winter driving 

Accessories for winter driving: all-season or winter tyres

All-season tyres are becoming increasingly popular, and it’s easy to see why.

They offer good grip in the winter, on ice-cold or snow-covered roads, but are better than winter tyres when the temperature – and roads – return to normal conditions. It means you need only pay for one set of tyres, all year round.

By contrast, winter tyres are designed to perform at temperatures below 7C. So you have to switch them back to summer tyres once Spring arrives.

Both types improve a car’s grip on snow and ice, in terms of pulling away, taking a bend or stopping. You can see their effectiveness in the video above from our sister publication, Auto Express.


Accessories for winter driving: snow socks

If on average you only suffer a few days of snowfall where you live, you probably won’t want to invest in a set of all-season or winter tyres. In that case, snow socks could ride to the rescue.

Snow socks cost from about £40 a pair. A little like socks for your tyres, they snap on the driven wheels (e.g. the front two on front-wheel drive cars) and provide extra grip to get a vehicle moving.

They are only designed to keep driver moving in snowy conditions, so can’t be used on clear roads, and manufacturers typically advise travelling no faster than 30mph when using them.


Accessories for winter driving: snow chains

The ultimate all-weather accessory, snow chains are fitted around the driven wheels of a car. They dig in to snow and find more traction than even snow tyres or snow socks can provide, which is why they must be fitted in many continental ski resorts.

Costing from less than £30, the chains can only be used on surfaces covered by snow; on a clear road they reduce a tyre’s grip.

Accessories for winter driving: winter driving course

There are a wide range of advanced driving courses that simulate winter conditions all year round, meaning drivers can practice controlling a car in a challenging environment.

From dealing with aquaplaning to performing an emergency lane-change; preventing the nose or tail of a car skidding out of line to just pulling away from a standstill, the courses take just a few hours but the skills stay with you for a lifetime.

Accessories for winter driving: emergency kit

The AA and RAC advise drivers to pack a winter emergency kit that will keep them warm and safe if your journey takes longer than expected, the car breaks down, or traffic grinds to a halt leaving you stranded on the road.

Both recommend that motorists include the following:

  • Ice scraper and de-icer for clear windows
  • Phone charging cable
  • A warm coat and practical footwear
  • A rug or blanket to keep you warm if your car breaks down
  • Snacks, in case you’re stuck in a long delay
  • Extra screenwash to ensure you can clear road salt from your screen
  • First aid kit
  • A shovel to clear snow

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