Holiday Road Trip: Don’t let winter weather catch you by surprise

Eriks Draiska
Eriks Draiska
Published on December 15, 2017

When Mother Nature throws wicked winter weather our way, the difference between being safe and stranded can often come down to how prepared you are.

The following tips will ensure that you’re ready for whatever happens on the wild and woolly roads and alleviate some of the anxiety of taking to the road in winter.

Prepare your vehicle

Ensure that you’ll actually get to your holiday snow destination by preparing the car for the trip.

Check the car’s antifreeze and top it off, if needed. The manual that came with your vehicle will instruct you on how to check the levels.

How are the tires looking? Check the pressure and add air if necessary. Then, check the tread, using the “20c Coin” as suggested by Bridgestone Tyres. To check your tyre’s tread depth, place an Australian 20c coin into the tread of your tyre. If the tread doesn’t reach the bill of the platypus, there’s less than 3mm of tread left on your tyres – and it’s time for some new rubber to keep you safe on the road!

The experts at Castrol recommend a thinner motor oil for cars driven in areas with sub-freezing temperatures so talk to your mechanic before you have an oil change to find out what she or he recommends.

Then, fill the windshield wiper fluid reservoir with a freeze-resistant fluid.

Finally, check the breaks, battery and heating/defrosting system.

Winter Driving Tips from the RAA

The cold and wet weather in winter can create some challenging conditions for driving, so it’s important for motorists to adopt a ‘wet weather attitude’.


One of the most dangerous conditions faced by motorists during the winter months is a wet road. If you’re travelling at high speed over a road covered with water, there’s the possibility that your vehicle could aquaplane. This occurs when your tyres glide over the water rather than separate it, resulting in a loss of traction, which could cause you to lose control of your vehicle.

If this happens to you it means you were travelling too fast for the conditions. To reduce your chances of aquaplaning the message is simple – slow down in the wet.

However, should you find yourself in this situation, there are a few things you should remember:


Take your foot off the accelerator and reduce your car’s speed.

When you have regained control, drive slowly through any water on the road.


Never slam on the brakes, as this may increase your chances of skidding out of control.

Driving through flood waters

In wet weather, it’s also important to be aware of local road conditions and areas that don’t drain well after heavy rain.

If you know a road is prone to flooding, alter your driving route to avoid it.

If, however, you are confronted by a flooded road, and no alternative routes are available, be sure to check the water depth before proceeding. Look for flood water depth markers. If there aren’t any nearby, proceed with extreme caution.

Use the bottom of your radiator fan blades as a benchmark. If the water is higher than that, it’s too deep and you should stop and turn around.

Should you decide to proceed, you risk causing damage to your car’s engine or radiator. This is because the fan will act as a propeller, sending water all over the electrical system. On top of that, the pressure of the water on the fan blades can bend or break the blades, causing damage to the radiator.

If it’s not too deep, proceed with caution, driving very slowly. Once you have passed through the water crossing on to dry land, apply light pressure to the brakes over the next 100 metres to help them dry out. After you’ve travelled about one kilometre, apply the brakes heavily a couple of times, just to make sure they are operating effectively – remember to check that the road is clear first. It’s also a good idea to check the underside of the engine for any debris that may be attached.

Finally, remember to dry out any wet carpets, mats and underfelt as a precaution against mould and rust.

Battling fog and rain

Driving through fog and rain can be hazardous and requires extra care, especially in places such as the Adelaide Hills.

In these conditions, reduce your speed to a level where you can comfortably see the road and traffic ahead. Keep in mind that the signed speed limit is the maximum safe speed in good driving conditions.

When visibility is poor, turn your headlights on – not on high beam, as this will dazzle other drivers.

In fact it’s actually easier to see in foggy conditions on low beam.

Make sure that you allow several car lengths between you and the car in front to allow for greater reaction time and stopping distance.

Tyre safety

On wet, slippery roads your tyres are especially important in keeping you safe. After all, they are all that’s between you and the car in front, so allow greater reaction time and stopping distance.

You must have a minimum of 1.6mm of tread over the entire tread area (1.5mm is roughly equal to the depth of a match head – use this to check if your tread is adequate). Make sure all the tyres, including the spare, have adequate tread. If any are worn, replace them.

Windscreen wipers

Before the winter months set in, make sure your windscreen wipers are operating correctly and the blades haven’t split or perished. If your wipers are leaving smears across the windscreen, replace them.

Why not make checking your wiper blades part of your regular routine when washing your car? All you need to do is lift the blade from the screen, rinse with clean water and at the same time look for signs of deterioration.

Fogging up

A fogged up windscreen is not only annoying but also dangerous as it restricts the driver’s vision. However, there’s a quick and easy way to get rid of the fog – just turn on your demister and switch on the air-conditioning. The temperature control can be turned to warm or even hot, and it will still clear the windscreen quickly.

More information

To download RAA’s fact sheet on winter driving, click here.

Create an emergency kit for the car

Your vehicle emergency kit should include:

  • Blankets for each occupant
  • Ice scraper and/or liquid deice
  • Shovel
  • Bottled water
  • Non-perishable food
  • LED flashlights
  • Flares
  • Extra clothes (especially shoes or boots and socks)
  • First-aid kit
  • Basic tools
  • Jumper cables
  • Matches or lighters
  • Extra phone charger
  • Battery-powered radio and extra, fresh batteries
  • Tow chain or rope
  • Fluorescent distress flag

If you get stuck

Disasters happen when folks make the wrong decisions about whether to stay put or go for help when they’re stuck on the road during a snow storm.

If you can’t see a safe location nearby if you broke down on a road where rescue is unlikely if you’re not dressed for the weather or you don’t have a way to call for help, pull off the highway, turn on the car’s hazard lights and stay inside the vehicle.

Run the engine and heater once an hour for about 10 minutes to keep warm. During these sessions, “open a downwind window slightly for ventilation and periodically clear snow from the exhaust pipe. This will protect you from possible carbon monoxide poisoning,” suggests the Department of Homeland Security.

If you don’t have a blanket, use whatever you can find in the car for insulation, such as seat covers, road maps and floor mats. Light exercise will also help you maintain body heat.

If, on the other hand, you are dressed for the weather (several layers of warm clothing with moisture repellant outerwear, mittens, hat and a scarf to cover your mouth), the conditions outside are relatively safe and there is a nearby source of help, leave the vehicle to seek assistance.

Additional considerations

  • Drive only if it is absolutely necessary during heavy snowstorms.
  • Always let someone know where you are going, which route you’ll be taking and your estimated time of arrival. Then, stick to the route without taking shortcuts.
  • Monitor local weather conditions.

Taking simple steps before your road trip keeps you from being at the mercy of severe winter weather.

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