Driving your van in snow: Everything you need to know

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In lots of countries, many drivers lose all sense of sensibility when a bit of inclement weather strikes. As traffic grinds to a standstill across the land, it can almost feel like people have forgotten how to drive. Snow is usually the worst for this. But thanks to our handy guide, driving your van safely in snowy and icy conditions needn’t be as scary as many motorists seem to think. 


Don’t talk to me about essential travel


In the post-pandemic era, most of us are fed up of hearing the words ‘essential’ and ‘travel’ together. That’s why we’ve split them up here. But given snowy conditions can be treacherous, it’s worth asking yourself if your journey really is essential before you set off. If not, how about putting it off until the roads are clear? Light a fire, put on some music, and relax in the warmth and security of your own home. However, if your trip out into the wilderness is really necessary, there are some things to keep in mind to ensure you stay safe. 


It does not do to leave a live dragon out of your calculations, if you live near one


Okay, so J.R.R. Tolkien was quite literally talking about dragons in this excerpt from The Hobbit. But his principle for planning is a worthy one. If you know you’re about to drive your van in the snow, then account for the snow being part of your journey. Leave yourself plenty of time to get from A to B in a steady, safe manner. 


Be aware that accidents and therefore delays are more likely in bad weather, especially if a load of snow has just been dumped across the area. Or if it’s still snowing and visibility is impaired. Use a sat nav to plan a good route which sticks to main roads that are most likely to be properly gritted. This can also help you get a clear idea of how long you need for your trip. 


Check it out now, my funk soul sibling

Before jumping behind the wheel of your van, there are some basic checks you should do to set yourself up for a safe ride. 

Check the depth of your tyre tread, ensure your pressures are right and give the level of things like your wiper fluid and oil a quick check. Make sure all your lights are working properly, including your brakes and indicators, and take the time to throw a few winter-proof essentials like a high-vis jacket or some sacks into your van. You’ll find out why later. 

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It may sound obvious that you should clear snow and ice from windscreen before you set off. But we’ve all seen people driving around on a cold day peering through a little peep hole, as they wait for their heaters to thaw out the rest of the glass. Don’t be one of those guys or girls. 


Falling at the first hurdle

Decided to go for it? But can you even get your van out in the first place? If there’s a decent covering of the fluffy white stuff which we usually love so much, you may not be able to get off your drive or away from the street, with hills and even slight slopes the nemesis of many would-be adventurers. Or adventurers, perhaps? 


Fuel your dreams

Sir Edmund Hillary eat your heart out. You’ve done your checks. You’ve made a plan. And now you strike out onto the road and a scene akin to the magical land of Narnia greets you. It can be easy to forget the simple things, like having a full tank of fuel. 

Wintery conditions can drain your tank faster but having plenty of fuel in reserve could be crucial. Why? Say you get stuck somewhere and need to sit in your van with the engine running and heat on. Plus, a full fuel tank can protect certain parts of your van, such as the fuel lines and pump. Dreamy. 


You’re rear-wheel drivin’ me crazy

There are no two ways about it – rear-wheel drive vans aren’t great in the snow compared to front and all-wheel drive ones. There isn’t much you can do about this if your van’s RWD, except for avoiding buying or hiring one. If it’s too late for that, you may find driving in snow and ice a lot more difficult compared to other vehicles, so keep this in mind when you’re deciding about the importance of your journey.

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The highs and the lows

Whichever wheels your van’s power are delivered to, there’s an important principle to keep in mind when driving in snow and ice. Repeat it in your head a few times – high gear, low revs; high gear, low revs; high gear, low revs. Engage as high a gear as you can to keep the revs low. This will help you to avoid wheelspins. High gear, low revs. 


Don’t stop till you get enough

Stopping distances increase a lot when it’s snowy and icy out. In fact, it can take up to 10 times longer to stop on an icy road compared to a dry one. Give yourself much longer to brake for corners and junctions and keep your distance when following other vehicles. 


The best advice we can give you is to leave a 20-second gap to the car in front, giving you plenty of time to react if something happens further up the road. 


Curb your need for speed

Considering all of the above, it stands to reason that you should watch your speed. There are never any prizes for driving quickly on public roads, and this is especially true when the roads are slippery from snow and ice. Drive steadily, smoothly and with a reduced speed which takes the conditions into account. 


Avoid skid marks

Keeping your music down can be a good way to listen out for potential skids. You’ll hear the crunch of snow more easily, while a sudden silence may mean you’ve hit a patch of ice. If this happens, take your foot off the accelerator pedal, and allow your van’s speed to gradually come down. Slamming on the brakes will make you skid more and potentially spin. If this happens, steer into the direction of the spin as calmly as you can, giving your van the chance to straighten up. 


Mind your load

If you’re going to be loading or unloading your van when you stop, this could also take more time. Snow and ice are obviously dangerous if you’re carrying heavy things, while valuable or electrical items won’t like a dusting of snowflakes on the way in or out of your van. 


I’m a van driver…get me out of here!

Despite all your best efforts, wise planning and careful driving, a sudden blizzard strikes, and you get stuck in the snow.

Straighten your steering wheel, climb out of the cab and clear any snow from the wheels. Rocking your stylish high-vis jacket, take out your pre-packed sacks and pop them under your wheels for grip. If that doesn’t get you out, it may be time to phone your breakdown. 

For more essential safe van driving tips read our guides on driving in the dark, parking your van and staying safe in high winds. 

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