Driving on Ice

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Driving on ice is very tricky and requires you to be careful and take your time. It's vital that you are prepared, and know in advance what to do should you lose control of your vehicle.

If you're aware that conditions outside are freezing and icy, it's best to only take necessary journeys, evaluate alternative methods of transport and keep to main roads that are more likely to have been gritted.

Here we've put together some top tips on how to drive on ice in the safest way possible.

Eight essential safety tips for driving on ice (covered in more detail below):

  1. Stick to gritted roads
  2. De-ice your car before you set off
  3. Stopping distances can be up to 10 times longer when driving on ice, so keep your distance from the car in front
  4. Reduce speed and make gentle movements
  5. Avoid wheel spinning when pulling away by selecting second gear and easing your foot gently off the clutch
  6. Try and keep your speed constant - choose the most suitable gear in advance and you won't have to change down when going uphill
  7. Use third or fourth gear when driving downhill
  8. Never slam on the brakes, always apply them gently

Don't drive unless you have to

The first question to ask yourself is - do you really need to take the car out? If it's a non-essential journey, then consider putting it off until conditions improve. Even if you're a confident driver, ice can still get the better of you. You should also make checking the weather forecast part of your daily routine in the winter, as being aware of your surrounding conditions will help you be more prepared.

Prepare your car before setting off anywhere

Besides the usual ice scraper, you should be carrying a fully charged mobile phone with you in case of an emergency, a warning triangle, a tow-rope, jump leads and warm clothing in case you get stuck somewhere for a while.

Before you drive, make sure your car is ready to go. Start it up, turn on the heating, demist your windows and wipe your mirrors before setting off. Make sure you de-ice your car on the outside too, removing all frost, mist and snow from your window screen, bonnet and roof - for more information on how to de-ice your car, check out our handy guide.

How to spot ice on the roads

Sometimes you can see ice on the roads, but if you're in the dark or driving on black ice, you won't be able to. So when driving in winter, pay attention to the thermostat in your car. If it's 0°C or lower then expect ice on the roads.


  • Turn off the music in your car and listen to your tyres. If they're making virtually no noise at all, then you could be driving on ice.
  • Slow down and drive gently, there's less grip when it's icy and while stopping distances double in the wet, they can be ten times longer on the ice. Even at low speeds, there's a risk of skidding, especially when you apply pressure to the brakes or make sharp steering movements.
  • We advise when making any sort of movement, it's slow and deliberate with a smooth application of the throttle, brakes and steering to reduce the risk of skidding.
  • If you're driving a manual or semi-automatic car, you should try and set off in second gear rather than first, or engage the winter driving mode. This way, the power of the engine doesn't overwhelm the tyres.

What to do if you start to skid?

If you feel your car starting to skid, do not worry and panic, try to keep calm. Your natural instinct will be to slam the brakes on - this is the worst thing you can do when skidding on ice as your wheels will lock, causing you to skid further. Instead, if it is a rear wheel skid, turn your steering wheel into the direction of the slide. Your vehicle should straighten out. If it is a front wheel skid, stop pressing the accelerator and reduce the steering angle to allow the front wheels to regain grip.

The best course of action will depend on whether your car is front wheel drive or rear wheel drive.

For front wheel drive vehicles:

  • Do not brake suddenly
  • Smoothly decrease the throttle (as opposed to abruptly, which can disrupt the car)
  • Keep the wheels in the direction of the skid - in a front-wheel drive car you are more likely to lose the nose rather than the rear of the car
  • Let the car slow down, taking care to only begin lightly applying the brakes as grip is restored

For rear wheel drive vehicles:

  • Do not brake suddenly
  • Steer smoothly into the skid if the car feels like it may spin around
  • Smoothly increase the throttle to transfer some weight to the rear wheels and increase the grip enough for the car to correct itself
  • Slowly recentre the wheel as the car regains traction

For more information on how to drive safely in the winter, take a look at our post on Winter Driving Safety.

If you’d like the peace of mind that your car is in good working order before heading out on the roads, why not book our Free 5 Point Check, or our 10 Point Car Check which you can get for free when you join the Halfords Motoring Club. We’ll look at key areas of your vehicle to make sure that everything’s running as it should, to help you stay safe in bad weather. You can find all our free car checks here.

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