Winter Driving Tips

Whether you're planning to hire a car for a road trip to the Scottish Highlands or off to Alpine ski slopes, it's important to make sure you're safe whilst driving in winter weather. Whilst many people choose not to hire a car when driving abroad there are always those who want access to a car - especially when travelling to your ski lodge or chalet. Whatever you're planning, it is important to ensure that you're aware of how extreme weather conditions such as ice and snow can affect your driving - so that you can avoid unnecessary risks.

Car driving down snowy forest road

What's in this guide?

Winter driving tyre requirements

Ensure that your tyre tread is at least 3mm in many countries, however, some countries, for example the Czech Republic, now require tyre treads to be 4mm as a minimum when driving in wintery conditions. We recommend that you check the necessary tyre tread for the country you are travelling to. has a good guide on winter tyre tread depth for Western European countries.

It should be noted that many car hire companies may charge extra if you want winter tyres or snow chains.

Which car to hire for winter conditions

As weather can be unpredictable both at home and abroad during the winter season, it's important to ensure you have the right car for the conditions. In Iceland, for example, a four-wheel-drive vehicle is recommended - especially if you're considering taking to Iceland's famous ring road.

Equipment for driving on icy roads

It's important to ensure you are carrying the right emergency equipment in your car whilst driving, especially in wintery conditions. We recommend taking the following:

  1. A tow rope
  2. A shovel
  3. De-Icing Equipment
  4. A torch (with fresh and spare batteries)
  5. Warm blankets for you and your passengers
  6. Emergency rations
  7. A charged mobile phone


Many car hire companies will offer car hire insurance, however, taking out cover with the car hire business could be far more expensive (and less comprehensive) than cover provided by an insurance provider - such as

It's also really important to note that without sufficient car hire excess insurance you - as the driver - could be facing additional costs - including the responsibility of any damage caused by a road accident.

This is yet another reason why winter tyres or snow chains are recommended whilst driving in ice and snow abroad as they could help to reduce the likelihood of an accident. By not having these, if it is a legal requirement to have chains or winter tyres fitted, you could end up incurring further costs.

Pre-winter driving checklist: 

  1. Check that your car's lights are in working order
  2. All wiper blades are in good condition
  3. Ensure that the car's windscreen wash is topped up and contains antifreeze
  4. Make sure there are no warning lights on the car's dashboard
  5. Before driving - check local weather reports and weather for the areas you will be driving through
  6. Plan your route and make sure you have a "Plan B"
  7. Make sure that others are aware of your plan
  8. Check your hire car's tyres - if necessary ask for snow chains or winter tyres to be fitted
  9. Ensure your car is well fuelled-up before taking to the road

Winter weather driving tips:

  1. Drive at a safe speed - do not exceed the speed limit and where snow and ice is particularly, bad slow down
  2. When possible, stick to well-lit roads and reduce your speed if you have to take darker roads. Remember - it gets dark earlier over winter months
  3. Give cars in front plenty of space on snowy or icy roads. If you find other vehicles following you are driving a too close for comfort, slow down or let them pass you where it's safe to do so. Remember - driving in slippery conditions can greatly increase your braking distance
  4. Use your hire car's de-mister and windscreen wipers
  5. If you get stuck whilst driving in snow, try clearing the snow from the car's wheels and place a sack or old rug in front of the driving wheels to give your tyres more grip
  6. If your planned journey is long, consider stopping for breaks at service stations.
  7. Make sure your rental car is well fuelled up

Winter driving can be quite challenging, which is why we recommend taking out car hire excess insurance to ensure you have adequate cover should you have an accident whilst driving.

To find out more about our policies and how we can cover you – read our article which answers the question: “What is car hire excess insurance”.