Best equipment for winter driving

Stay toasty and on the move with the best equipment for winter driving

BuyaCar team
Jan 23, 2017

Train cancellations, airport delays and chaos on the roads: on the few days of the year when severe winter weather arrives in Britain, we're rarely well-prepared.

Whether it's a dusting of snow in the south, or blizzards in the north that render the roads almost impassable, an icy chill can bring the country to a standstill. But that doesn't need to be the case.

If you really do have to drive in tough conditions, then picking the certain options and having the right accessories in your boot can make all the difference.

Scroll down for the best equipment or jump to the bottom of the page for the best winter accessories.

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Equipment for winter driving: avoid rear wheel drive cars

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

But you don’t 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 two wheels only, so each one is being turned with a larger amount of force than in a four-wheel drive car with the same engine.

However, the heavy engine is usually fitted over the front wheels, pushing them down, so they can burrow through the snow and find grip.

You really don’t want a rear-wheel drive car in the snow, especially if there’s nothing in the boot: The rear wheels, have less weight pushing down on them, so they lose grip more easily and spin round without pushing the car forward.

There are some exceptions - such as the Porsche 911, which has an engine at the back and rear-wheel drive.

But while your choice of driven wheels can make a difference, it won’t affect your car’s braking - any car can skid in the snow - or the speed at which it can take slippery corners. And that’s one of the reasons that the tyres you choose for your car are just as important.

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Equipment for winter driving: automatic gearbox with snow mode

Another really handy option on some cars with automatic gearboxes is ‘snow’ mode. Cars with this feature switched on change gears early so the engine doesn’t rev as much. This sends less power to the wheels,. making them less likely to lose grip and spin. In normal driving conditions, it makes acceleration much slower.

Snow mode is usually activates with a button showing a snowflake, or one with the letter 'W' for winter. Don't mistake it for 'S' mode - this usually stands for Sport and is likely to make your wheels spin even more.

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Equipment for winter driving: heated windscreen

Clearing ice and mist from car windscreens can be a real pain, so it’s worth looking out for cars with an electrically heated screen. Rather than just blowing hot air onto the screen, which requires a warm engine to begin with, an electrically heated screen uses an ultra-thin mesh of heating wires in the glass to instantly begin clearing the screen. It works a treat, and is a common feature on Ford cars.


Equipment for winter driving: heated seats and steering wheel

Even if you’re not driving through snow drifts, a car with the right equipment can take the edge off a seriously chilly day. There’s nothing more jarring, for example, than jumping into a car with freezing leather seats – tick the option box for heated seats and you’ll luxuriate in the warmth of a toasty posterior. Heated steering wheels do exactly as advertised to thaw frosty fingers.


Equipment for winter driving: heated washer jets

Heated washer jets for the windscreen are often included in optional winter packs, which offer a bundle of extra equipment when you buy a brand new car. It might seem like a small detail, but if your washer jets freeze up at the wrong moment, you may not be able to see very much. Another good feature is heated side mirrors that prevent them from fogging up in inclement weather.


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 of ground clearance, so it would struggle to drive over a heavy blanketing of snow. In contrast, the Land Rover Discovery offers about 12in of clearance.

Crossovers, which combine the mechanical parts from a hatchback with the higher driving position of a proper off-road SUV such as the Discovery, offer a good middle-ground: the Ford Kuga has around 7.5in of ground clearance.


Equipment for winter driving: voice control

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


Accessories for winter driving: winter tyres

Winter tyres are designed to work best in cold conditions, and make a big difference to the amount of grip that you have on snow and ice, which can help you avoid getting stuck and dramatically reduce the distance you need to stop. You can see their effectiveness in the video above from our sister publication, Auto Express.

Read more on winter tyres and how they work


Accessories for winter driving: snow socks

On the odd occasion where conditions get really treacherous and even winter tyres struggle, then snow socks could ride to the rescue. They really are little more than socks for your tyres: you snap them on the driven wheels (eg the front two on front-wheel drive cars) and they provide extra grip to get your vehicle moving. 

They are only designed to rescue you from slithering nowhere on snow, and manufacturers typically advise travelling no faster than 30mph when using them.

Snow socks will wear out quickly when driven off the snow and ice, so are best used to get you onto a grippier surface and then removed.


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 grip hard, so if you get stuck in a car fitted with snow chains, then only a snow plough is likely to help.

The chains are not designed for any other driving: the metal chains reduce grip on tarmac.


Accessories for winter driving: what to keep in the boot

The AA advises drivers to pack a winter emergency kit that will keep you warm and safe if your journey takes longer than expected, you break down, or you're stuck in stationary traffic for several hours.

It says that you should include the following:

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

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