How to drive safely in snow conditions

Moving Well | Peter Nugent | Photos: Anne Morley | Posted on 28 May 2019

Drive safely to the slopes this winter with our expert tips.

Every winter thousands of Victorians get stranded on our mountains on their way to the ski fields. Anne Sgro, of RACV’s Bright Emergency Roadside Assistance Depot, has been coming to the rescue for more than a quarter of a century, but she sees the same mistakes being made every winter. Here are her tips for getting to the slopes safely and on time.

Aerial view of mountain with snow covered trees

Preparing for an alpine weekend away? Here are our top tips to ensure you arrive safely. 

Seven tips for safe driving in the snow

Beware of diesel

If you drive a diesel, be sure to fill your tank with alpine diesel before heading for the mountains. In extreme cold, wax crystals start to form in standard diesel.

Depending on a range of factors, including how full the tank is, standard diesel will turn to gel at around minus-six degrees, preventing the vehicle from starting. “People try to start their car, it stalls, they constantly try to start it and in the end they think they have a flat battery,” warns Anne.

Alpine diesel is formulated to withstand temperatures at least four degrees lower than standard. Anne recommends calculating how much fuel you'll need to get to foothills towns such as Bright, Mount Beauty or Mansfield, then fill up with alpine diesel. Bear in mind, service stations in some regional towns aren’t open around the clock. 

Carry chains

Every vehicle heading to ski resorts must carry chains. “Have a look in your manual and know the correct wheels to fit your chains to, front or back, as every car is different,” Anne advises. Also make sure you’ve got heavy work gloves to wear while fitting your chains and a head torch in case it’s dark.

Fill up with antifreeze

Even if you’re in a new car, make sure you’ve filled up with antifreeze with a -20 Celsius rating. “When a radiator doesn’t have the right coolant or antifreeze, it’s a bit like putting a plastic bottle in the freezer,” says Anne. “Everything expands until it breaks.” 

It’s worth getting your car serviced before your trip and telling the mechanic you’re heading for the snow so they can recommend the best coolant for your car.  

Snow covered cars parked at the snow with windscreen wipers up.

Always leave your wipers up when parked to avoid them freezing to the windscreen.

White SUV with snowboard on the roof making tracks in fresh snow

Tread carefully when driving on snowy, icy roads by ensuring your tyres have enough grip.

Check your tyre tread

Mountain roads can be icy or covered in snow, so ensure your tyres have plenty of grip. The easiest way to check is to send a photo for a free RACV tyre check.

Watch out for wildlife

“We have a lot of deer on the road in winter,” warns Anne. “People are rushing to get to the resort, and as soon as it gets dark they hit a deer.”

Leave your wipers up when parked

This stops them freezing to your windscreen which could ruin the wiper blades. 

Don’t drive with snow on your car

Before heading home, dig out your car with a plastic shovel then start the engine and let it idle with the demister on while you pack up your skis and luggage. “People come back to their car and there’s half a metre of snow on the roof,” says Anne. “They might think it’s cool to drive around with it on, but as soon as they put their foot on the brake, it all ends up on the bonnet and they can’t see a thing.”