How to handle your car like a pro when driving in the snow

When driving in snow it’s vital to accelerate and brake as gently as possible. File picture: Netcare.

When driving in snow it’s vital to accelerate and brake as gently as possible. File picture: Netcare.

Published Jul 8, 2024


As South Africans brace for a week of bitterly cold weather across the country, with snow also forecast for certain areas including the Western Cape, motorists need to know how to handle their cars in such treacherous conditions.

Parts of South Africa have already been hit by light snowfall, and videos circulating on social media have shown cars sliding around in areas such as the outskirts of Stellenbosch.

The South African Weather Service (SAWS) says mountainous areas in the Western Cape as well as the Eastern Cape, Free State and Northern Cape can expect light snowfall to continue on Monday and Tuesday.

Unlike other parts of the world where snowfall is more regular, South Africans don’t fit snow tyres to their vehicles during winter. This means that in rare event that you do need to drive in snow, a whole lot of extra caution is needed.

Driving slower and giving yourself more time to get to your destination is essential, according to Eugene Herbert, CEO of MasterDrive.

This is because it takes more time to accelerate, decelerate and stop in slippery conditions.

“If you start to spin, stop accelerating and let the car slow naturally. Do not brake as it will extend the skid. If you start spinning, steer in the direction of the spin until it is safe to straighten. Do not slam on your brakes,” Herbert warns.

Masterdrive provides the following tips to help drivers prevent getting into a dangerous situation in the snow:

  • Gently test your brakes to judge how slippery the road is.
  • Accelerate and decelerate slowly to maintain traction and avoid skidding.
  • Increase your following distance to 10 to 12 seconds.
  • Anticipate stops where possible and rather start moving while still moving slowly as there is less resistance compared to being completely stationary.
  • Accelerating up a hill can cause skidding. Rather gain speed before the hill and slow down when you reach the top.
  • Avoid stopping halfway up the hill.
  • If your vehicle has a drive mode for snow, use it.
  • Do not use cruise control when driving on slippery surfaces.

Drivers should also check that their tyres are properly inflated before setting off, and that the vehicle’s anti-freeze is adequately topped up.

Beware of black ice

Motorists are also advised to look out for black ice, which can occur in areas that experience sleet rather than full snowfall.

Black ice is a thin layer of transparent ice on the road, and it can be difficult to spot. Motorists should look out for wet patches on the road that look slightly glossy.

If you do hit black ice, remember not to hit the brakes, but rather lift your foot off the accelerator and focus on keeping the steering as straight as possible.

IOL Motoring