/ Travel & Leisure

Driving with snow on your car – it’s snow joke

Car covered in snow

I don’t usually like to tell other people what they should – or shouldn’t – be doing, but seeing some dangerous behaviour over the past week has compelled me to get typing. Why drive with snow on your car?

Waiting to collect my daughter from school on Friday, I was disturbed to see a procession of cars leaving the school almost completely covered in up to 10cm of snow. Not one had bothered to clear the snow off the side windows of their cars. The best had just stuck the front wipers on and the worst had only cleared off the driver’s side of the front screen.

Not only was this a rubbish example to be setting for the pupils, it was also downright dangerous – they would struggle to see other vehicles and the children walking home near them. The AA this week also criticised drivers who haven’t cleared their cars of snow and ice, or what it calls the ‘igloo mentality’.

Of course, it’s also illegal. The Road Vehicles (Construction & Use) Regulations 1986 state that it’s illegal to drive a vehicle where the driver’s vision through the windscreen is impaired.

Clearing your car of snow and ice

So why didn’t they at least clear all their car windows so they had all-round visibility? And surely they’d want other road users to see them, so wouldn’t they think to wipe the snow off their cars’ lights and indicators?

To be honest, they really should have gone further, as I learned from a motorbike-riding colleague. He told me he’d almost been knocked off his bike by a roof-load of snow that suddenly flew off a car.

At least some of the drivers I saw had made a small effort to clear their cars’ screens, unlike one motorway driver who’d only scraped a narrow slit in the screen of their Audi A4. I’m not one for reporting other motorists for bad behaviour, but I’d definitely have informed the police about this one.

Do you drive in the snow?

Yes (49%, 230 Votes)

Only if I really need to (44%, 210 Votes)

No (7%, 32 Votes)

Total Voters: 473

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You should knock it off the roof too. A load of snow sliding down over the windscreen blinding you – if only for a few seconds – is madly dangerous.

More importantly, it’s dangerous to others if it slides off the back, especially if they’re on two wheels.

Pete says:
25 January 2013

I agree. In Germany, for instance, it is illegal to drive with any snow on the roof. Obvious! Only some halfwits here would not think of clearing it

I cannot believe that people are stupid enough to drive in cars covered with snow, though I can imagine that shorter people will find it difficult to clear snow off the roof.

In cold weather it is essential to use plenty of additive in windscreen washer bottles. Watch out for hire cars that may be sent out with just water. That usually results in the washers not working but if the water freezes on the screen when you are on a motorway it can be frightening.

If you are shorter than your car then surely you should carry a long handled implement? Good advice on the screenwash wavechange.

Ms Evans is absolutely right that drivers not clearing the car of snow is highly reckless. Astounding when you consider it is an area with a dense number of young pedestrians.

BTW Julie Do you have winter tyres?

“Astounding when you consider it is an area with a dense number of young pedestrians.”
It’s also dangerous when passing cyclists.

“BTW Julie Do you have winter tyres?”
This is a question that’s been going through my head (not Julie specifically, all road users). I have studded winter tyres on my bike and I suspect that I have better stopping ability than most cars on icy roads. That’s of some concern.
Winter tyres aren’t a legal requirement in the UK but should they be?

Sorry to ask, but who’s Julie?

I am guessing that it’s the person who cleared only a small amount of snow from her Audi windscreen, but we do need an answer.

Oops – cousins name is Julie Evans. I was curious about Ms Claire Evans tyres. Nothing other than idle curiosity as she may live in a an area without problems and be following Which? recommendations..

If wipers are operated with the blades frozen to the screen this could overload and damage the wiper mechanism.

Take care to ensure that the full sweep of the wiper blades is clear of snow. With modern cars, snow can easily build up between the bonnet and screen, putting considerable load on the motor.

The answer is to unstick the wiper blades and clear off all the snow before starting the engine. If you start the car when clearing the car of snow, beware of automatic wipers starting up when the screen is still covered with snow.

I guess people just get up too late to clear their cars properly.
Apparently glass has an affinity for snow and ice – it bonds well. A good way to save time is to spray on a product the night before to prevent it sticking. A blanket can also help – but hot water is bad, as your glass can crack through the sudden temperature change.

Why many people seem to get away with pouring kettles of hot water on their windscreens is one of life’s great unexplained mysteries. Why they are daft enough to do this is another.

My approach is to clear the car last thing at night and to use a decent quality scraper. There is often little to be done in the morning.

Another problem with the kettle technique is that, in frosts like we have been having over the last two weeks, the water rapidly loses its heat and very soon freezes where it lands, including along the wiper edge and in the gulley between the windscreen and the bonnet.

I have notioced a strange piece of behaviour lately – the car is covered in snow except for the number plates which have been carefully wiped to reveal the vehicle’s identification. Partial knowledge of the legal requirements I suspect and presumed immunity from enforcement.

Ah, but if the lights are not cleared also, there is no immunity.

Here’s a tip: I carry a pan (from a household pan & brush set) in the car. This makes it very quick and easy to get rid of freshly fallen snow, like what we had in the past couple of weeks. Even 20cm of snow is easy to clear with one of these. (They don’t work on hard ice – you need a scraper for that.)

An acquaintance cleared windows but left snow on car roof. When travelling on the motorway a check in speed resulted in whole lot descending on windscreen leaving no forward view whatsoever. By a miracle she was able to move over to hard shoulder without hitting anything. Very scary story!

Yes, with a rapid deceleration of the vehicle, if the snow has lost its adhesion to the roof it continues travelling at speed and will descend in a big lump in front of the driver. Same occurs, of course, with loose things inside the vehicle [as testified by the bashed up mail-order parcels we all complain about]. Bad weather [especially when visibility is impaired by snow on the roof and sides] is more likely to give rise to an emergency brake application so there’s a lot more to think about than cleaning the light clusters and hoping the engine’s heat will deal with everything else.

Phil says:
24 January 2013

If you drive off with snow on the roof of your car it will come off sooner or later, either forwards when you brake or backwards under normal driving. It may seem firmly frozen in place at first but of course as the interior of the car warms up the lowermost layer of snow/ice melts and becomes quite efficiently lubricated.

When I first went out in my car this week, I took a lot of care to clear it of snow. However, as wavechange mentions, I was unable to reach the top of my car to clear the last remaining snow! I will have to try using a long-handled implement next time, as dieseltaylor suggests.

In the past, I was driving with someone who hadn’t cleared the snow from the roof properly, and witnessed first-hand how dangerous it can be. I saw a shocking number of cars in recent days driving around completely snow-covered, including the headlights!

Chris Henderson says:
24 January 2013

I am vertically challenged (just over 5’1″) and when I eventually took my car out yesterday I used an old soft broom to clear the top of the car; must remember to put it in the car if I ever have to drive when it’s snowing.

The supermarkets often sell long handled scrapers for under a tenner. I picked a telescopic one up that has a scraper on one end and a snow brush and squeegy on the other. Very useful, even just for defrosting the windscreen.

A household long handled brush is excellent in getting the bulk of the snow off.

I have noticed that many van drivers do virtually nothing to make their vehices fit for the conditions. Obviously, it’s difficult to get a long-handled implement to cope with every situation. That is when you need a policeman because they have the long arm of the law at their disposal.

I’m not sure how white van man could clear the snow off the roof of his van, even if he was disposed to doing so. No comment about the joke. 🙂

As it is just been reported and is perhaps relevant to people being clueless on various winter driving requirements perhaps education is required and not only on clearing your vehicle before driving.:

“Over the last five days Kwik Fit has sold more than five times the number of winter tyres than the same time last week, as drivers have taken heed of severe weather warnings and made advance preparations.

However, it is still a small proportion of drivers who are switching their tyres in the winter and research for Kwik Fit shows that the majority of drivers (two thirds, or 68 per cent) are unaware of the difference between cold and warm weather tyres. A quarter (23 per cent) of motorists say they haven’t even heard of winter tyres. Kwik Fit is calling for the government to update the driving test to include knowledge of winter tyres. ”

Incidentally last year a major tyre seller reported that 60% of the tyres replaced were actually illegal – I assume primarily lack of tread depth. Bad in summer lethal in the wet. Doubly so when the rubber goes rock solid.

Having driven a hire car in the Alps with winter tyres I am now a convert (or will be when I next get a car), the control was amazing one winter roads.

Before driving with them I assumed (yes, I know) that it was much of a muchness with tyre types and icy roads.

I have all-season tyres – deep tread in the middle of the tyre, slightly more shallow tread on the outside edges.

I’ve driven to Austria and back on all-season tyres for a snowboarding trip and didn’t feel the need at any time to get the snow chains out of the boot as the tyres gripped well. But we were staying in a fairly low level resort (Mayerhofen), so we were not ploughing through snow or driving up icy steep roads for prolonged periods of time.

However, in the cold weather we’ve been having here, my current all-season tyres (have been replaced since the 1,600+ mile to Mayerhofen trip several years ago!) are proving to be a worthwhile purchase.

What is also dangerous is the ice and snow that blows off the tops of lorries and artics – difficult to clear.

Jim Kenney says:
24 January 2013

a few points to add to the mix:
1. if you think about what would happen to a motorcyclist or cyclist if they get hit by snow & ice tumbling off the back of a car, the consequences of not clearing a car roof/boot can be extremely dangerous. ‘Dangerous’ as in ‘dangerous driving’. And as for the kamikazes that peer through a pillbox slot in their windscreen on the school run – this is stupidity verging on the homicidal! My view is that you drive without clearing your car of snow, you are preparing to maim someone.
2. There are some very good low cost gadgets available in most car accessory shops that I have found are a godsend; it is a 3′ long pole with a long softish brush on one end and an ice scraper on the other. this means you can brush away difficult to reach snow & scarpe ice with ease. it also keeps your hands away from the cold stuff hence avoiding frostbite of the digits. Jennifer, I’d recommend you invest a fiver?
3. This isn’t intended to sound sexist but I have spotted that a lot of the cars that are left covered in snow tend to be very tall chelsea tractors driven by smallish women who just cannot reach around their car to clean it & make it safe. I guess the status of being seen outside school in a Range Rover is more important than children’s safety?
4. and finally, the kettle on the windscreen – I have known people who have doing this successfully for c15 years and hence I have been giving it a go. OK, so you need common sense, but it does work. I’d suggest good rules include (a) dont use water too hot to hold your hand in (b) never do it on a windscreen with a flaw/crack/chip (c) only use if you are going on a long enough trip (10 minute?) for the heater to stop it from freezing on the screen (d) keep the water to a minimum. and most importantly (e) dont blame me if it goes wrong.

Thanks for the suggestion Jim, I might just do that. I wasn’t as prepared as I should’ve been, simply because I’ve never driven in the snow before! I generally try to avoid it, but this time, I didn’t quite manage.

Wouldn’t be surprised if the occupants of the snow covered cars were wearing their pyjamas.

Jim Kenney says:
25 January 2013

or a onesie?

Talking about onesies – here’s our ‘onesie debate’ complete with poll: https://conversation.which.co.uk/energy-home/onesie-adult-hate-love-nick-clegg-debenhams/

I suggest that the best use of ‘onesies’ could be to put them under the wheels to gain traction if stuck in the snow.

Remember to get the occupants out first, particularly if late for the school run.

Jim Kenney says:
25 January 2013

What about if the occupant is Nick Clegg?

never ceases to amaze me how many people speed with children in the car, or park on double yellow lines near the school. somehow the rules are always for others to obey.

“it’s s’no joke” doesn’t work

what is the point of your poll ‘do you drive in the snow’?

Just a bit of fun M Rover and interesting results so far. We couldn’t come up with something along the lines of ‘Do you think it’s wrong to drive with snow on cars?’ as it’d likely be close to hitting 100%. And sorry you don’t like our ‘pun’

Jim Kenney says:
25 January 2013

Isn’t it useful to know how many people avoid driving in the snow for lots of reasons. Surely it means theres a training requirement for snow driving? Its a useful poll.


Surely it is obvious that driving in snow increases the risk of death and injury and places extra demand on our emergency services.

Perhaps it would be useful for people to learn to drive in snow and how to deal with skids (deserted car parks are ideal), but the priority should be to keep off the roads if possible in adverse conditions.

I also try to avoid driving on busy roads at rush hours. Maybe the fact that I have been a motorcyclist and was left with a permanent injury in 1975 helped make me realise that I am not invulnerable. If you, your family or a friend has an accident as a result of driving in snow you might decide that it’s best to avoid driving in snow. But yes, I agree that training could be useful.

Jim Kenney says:
25 January 2013

I completely agree that no-ne should take uneccessary risks but as a motorcyclist (since 1979) I think driving a car in the snow is less dangerous than riding a motorcycle in the rain. I realise it is a matter of personal experience though. And clearing the car of snow is just the first of a series of steps in being prepared. I guess I do a lot of driving for work and seeing loved ones and I dont want to put my life on hold for what I perceive is just a little snow.
But I would add that if we all avoided driving in adverse conditions then we wouldn’t have the skills to deal with them. I guess like everything else, it is a matter of managing the risk? A good debate!

Anyone who has driven a motorcycle or ridden a bike for any length of time will know something about risk management. It certainly helped me.

The fact that we have to share the roads is the biggest problem. If everyone behaved sensibly, understood their own limitations and those of their vehicle, that would help avoid a lot of accidents, and not just when there is snow on the roads.

This is a bit off-topic, but something that really bugs me is people who don’t bother to switch on their lights when visibility is compromised. Many people seem to think that if they can see they can be seen, which is far from the case. Some colours of cars can become almost invisible in poor light.

I’ve lost track of “day running lights” which some manufacturers have been fitting as standard for years – are they now compulsory for new vehicles, or is this still in the “too difficult” tray?

Daytime running lights are now fitted as standard. I wish that all vehicle exterior lighting was designed to be practical and effective rather than decorative. The ones that look like a string of fairy lights amuse me. Maybe the next design will twinkle like a Christmas tree.

Thanks Wavechange for that update. I agree with you on the appearance of them. They are there to enable the car to be seen, not to illuminate the road ahead or dazzle other road users. A large round lamp with diffused lens [as once fitted as sidelights on buses or as indicators on Rolls-Royces] would be ideal – can still be an LED light of course.

There’s a difference between ‘running lights’ as sproted by Volvos for decades and fog lights, the use of which is illegal unless it’s very foggy: http://www.legislation.gov.uk/uksi/1989/1796/regulation/27/made

That doesn’t stop them round our way (but we’re talking Croydon). You see a lot of cars with just fogs on, some with fogs on and one headlight failed, or vice versa, or just about any other combination you can think of. When it was snowy it was usually this brigade who’d be about 18″ from your rear bumper pushing to overtake and wrap themselves round the next tree.

You see cops driving on front fogs in sunny weather, so there’s no hope.