Driving on snow or ice is a challenge most newcomer drivers will encounter at some point, and being able to react quickly and correctly can mean the difference between a nerve-wracking moment and a potential accident.
Remember that roads are cleared of snow regularly, and northern Swedes, being very community-minded, almost always stop to help people in any kind of trouble on the road.
Also, ensure that any car you buy in Sweden already has an engine warmer, or block heater.
An engine block heater can be a lifesaver for your car during the coldest Norrland winters. Freezing temperatures can be harsh on your vehicle's engine, potentially causing damage. Having a block heater can significantly extend your vehicle's lifespan, especially if you live in a frigid climate. Additionally, many engine block heaters come equipped with a plug-in cabin heater, which ensures that the interior of your car is warm and comfortable when you're prepared to hit the road. These cabin heaters also provide the added advantage of effectively clearing fog and frost from the windscreen when positioned correctly.
Before you pull on your driving gloves, here’s a list of items that should always be in your car, prior to embarking on a winter drive.
Winter supplies and emergency kit
Keep these vehicle supplies and personal items in your trunk/boot, and make sure you know how to use them during an emergency:
- small shovel with a long handle
- sand or cat litter (both excellent for helping you escape from an icy or slushy predicament)
- traction mats (see item above)
- cloth or roll of paper towels
- warning light, reflective safety triangles or road flares
- extra socks, gloves, and footwear
- non-perishable snacks
- water bottles
- starter/booster cables
- hand and foot warmers
- fire extinguisher
- extra windshield washer fluid
- fuel line antifreeze
- extra fuses
- lock de-icer
- small tool-kit
Keep these important items IN the cabin of your vehicle:
- ice scraper and snow brush
- first aid kit
Some general winter driving tips:
- Maintain a safe following distance from other vehicles.
- Avoid speeding and sudden lane changes.
- Keep in mind that stopping distances on icy roads are much longer than on dry roads.
- Slowing down, leaving space, and staying aware of other drivers can make your drive safer and less stressful.
- It might appear sensible to follow the path of preceding vehicles while driving, right? However, snow that has been compacted by the tires of another car is, in fact, icier than the fresh layer you're hesitant to traverse. If you're pondering the safe depth of snow for driving, a useful guideline to abide by is to avoid any snow exceeding 10 cm in thickness.
- Avoid using the brakes at corners or bends. Read the road ahead, slow the car down to the required speed using engine braking and brakes, before reaching the bend or corner, and then gently apply the accelerator to smoothly power the driving wheels to complete the manoeuvre.
Use studded tires:
- Studded winter tires offer better control in icy conditions.
- While the initial cost may seem high, it's a cost-effective investment compared to potential repair bills or increased insurance costs after an accident.
Learn to handle black ice:
- Understand that ice affects your vehicle's stopping distance and handling.
- Practice driving in slippery conditions, such as an empty, snow-covered parking lot, to get a feel for your car's behavior.
- Practice with your winter tires on, as they remain pliant in cold temperatures.
What is black ice?
- Black ice forms on pavement surfaces after freezing rain or the re-freezing of snow or rain.
- It often occurs when the air temperature is warmer than the road temperature, causing liquid moisture to freeze on contact with the road.
- Quick temperature drops also lead to black ice formation, as water on the road doesn't have time to evaporate before freezing.
- It's called "black ice" because it lacks bubbles and is transparent, making it difficult to spot as it blends with the road surface.
How to detect black ice:
- Spotting black ice is challenging due to its transparency.
- Instead, anticipate where and when it might occur.
- Bridges are common locations for ice formation because the air underneath is usually cooler than the road surface.
- Watch for icy patches in the early morning or at night when temperatures drop below freezing.
- Keep an eye on the behavior of vehicles in front of you; sudden swerves may indicate icy road patches.
How to prevent skidding:
- Stay calm and minimize your reactions.
- Keep the vehicle heading straight, remove your foot from the gas, and avoid braking.
- Hold the steering wheel at nine and three o'clock positions for better control. This can give you better control of the wheel compared to the usually recommended ten and two.
What to do if you start to slide:
- Stay calm; don't overreact.
- Focus on where you want to go, not where you fear going.
- Gently steer in the direction your rear end is sliding.
- Apply light brake pressure if skidding severely.
- For cars with ABS, maintain steady brake pressure as the system will automatically pump the brakes.
- Without ABS, use the heel-and-toe method to gently pump the brakes with your toes while steering in your desired direction. If your brakes lock, reduce pressure and repeat until you stop.
Which drivetrain to use: 4-wheel drive, front-wheel drive, rear-wheel drive or all-wheel drive?
Using 4-wheel drive in snow: What you need to know
Having a 4-wheel drive vehicle doesn't grant you immediate magical immunity from the challenges of driving in snowy an icy conditions, nor does it automatically enhance your traction. Its primary advantage is distributing power to all four wheels, allowing each tire to contribute to overcoming snowy obstacles.
While 4-wheel drive can assist in getting you moving and maintaining momentum, it won't aid in stopping once you've started to slide. Therefore, similar to any other vehicle, it's crucial to exercise caution and follow safety measures.
Driving in snow with 2-wheel drive
While 4-wheel drive is recommended for winter conditions due to its superior snow-handling capabilities, if you already own a car you can still navigate snowy roads by following the tips mentioned in this guide. These guidelines will help you safely drive in snowy conditions with a 2-wheel drive vehicle.
Front-wheel drive (FWD) in snow:
Front-wheel drive cars are known for their fuel efficiency and are excellent choices for snowy and icy conditions. When driving with front-wheel drive, it's essential to prioritize smooth and fluid movements. Avoid abrupt stops and jerky steering, as these actions can lead to sliding.
If you find your vehicle slipping, don't overcorrect by steering too aggressively in the opposite direction. Stay calm, go with the slide, and gradually attempt to turn back in the desired direction.
Try to avoid driving in deep snow, as front-wheel drive lacks the power of all-wheel drive to push through. This increases the risk of getting stuck.
Handling rear-wheel drive (RWD) in snowy conditions:
As mentioned earlier, when it comes to driving in the snow, your first choices should be a 4x4 or a front-wheel-drive vehicle. Rear-wheel drive (RWD) isn't the best option due to its lack of weight over the driving wheels. Unlike front-wheel drive vehicles where the engine is over the front wheels, providing some traction, RWD vehicles lack this advantage. However, if you find yourself behind the wheel of an RWD vehicle, there are steps you can take to improve your snowy road performance.
First and foremost, it's crucial to add weight to the trunk of your RWD vehicle. This extra weight can enhance traction and stability, making it less prone to skidding.
Additionally, you must exercise extra caution when making turns. The rear wheels, responsible for driving in RWD vehicles, can potentially cause your vehicle to spin if you accelerate too aggressively while turning. To mitigate this risk, maintain a steady and controlled pace and take turns slowly, avoiding excessive gas pedal pressure.
Driving safely in snow with all-wheel drive (AWD):
The debate over all-wheel drive (AWD) vehicles continues, with both pros and cons in the discussion. However, it's important to note that AWD without studded tires may not offer significant benefits in snowy conditions. Therefore, the first thing to check is whether your AWD vehicle is equipped with appropriate winter tires.
AWD vehicles can be advantageous when driving on unplowed roads, gaining traction on slippery surfaces, and escaping snow-covered areas. Nevertheless, they do not provide a substantial advantage when it comes to turning or braking on snowy terrain.
Finally, the most important issue of all for driving in northern Sweden is tires.
Invest in studded tires - in the snow and ice they make the most significant difference to any kind of vehicle.