Car Care

Driving in bad weather? Prepare for the worst

While our winters can be mild, there may be times when it seems Mother Nature throws everything at us. Sometimes this can happen when you’re on the road, so it’s always important to prepare for the worst.

Weather conditions in New Zealand are often unpredictable, and winter brings the added risk of unforeseen snow and black ice, not to mention heavy rain or fog. These all present challenges when we’re driving. 

If you can reschedule or delay a trip then remaining off the roads is ideal, but if you have to make the journey there are a few things to keep in mind when driving out there.

Driving in ice

Anticipation and smoothness is key for driving on icy roads. Look well ahead for potential hazards including, of course, patches of ice, and significantly reduce your speed. Accelerate, brake, steer and change gears as smoothly as possible to reduce the risk of a skid.

Sometimes black ice appears as a glossy sheen on the road. You may see it glinting in the sunlight, or spot cars ahead swerving for no obvious reason. However, it’s likely you won’t see black ice at all, so be particularly cautious on shaded stretches of road, bridges, flyovers and tunnels – anywhere the surface temperature may be lower. Quieter roads are more likely to be affected.

If you hit a patch of black ice, don’t panic. Keep the steering wheel straight and maintain your speed – don’t hit the brakes. Use your gears to slow down if necessary, but avoid any sudden movements that could destabilise your car.

Snow Chains

Driving on roads that have experienced particularly heavy snowfall may require you to use snow chains. Snow chains provide increased traction when driving in snow and ice, and are available for all types of vehicles.

There are a few different types available, from chains to Kevlar type ‘Auto Socks’. If in doubt, ask your nearest automotive parts store to help with suitability and to explain the fitting process. It’s a good idea to practice fitting them before your journey.

Severe storms and high winds

If you’re caught out in a storm and are not able to pull off the road, drive with caution as loose debris, slips or other hazards such as fallen trees could be just around the corner.

High winds are particularly hazardous to high-sided vehicles such as campers, light trucks or vans, and to anyone riding on two wheels.

Take extra care around cyclists and motorcyclists, as winds can cause them to drift into your vehicle’s path without warning.

For up-to-date weather forecasts, MetService is a reliable New Zealand weather site. When very strong winds are forecast, Waka Kotahi NZTA will sometimes issue bridge closure announcements.

The NZAA Journey Planner is a good place to check for road closures or traffic warnings prior to departure.

Forward planning

Expect the unexpected. Just because it’s fine when you depart doesn’t mean bad weather is not around the corner.

June, July and August are the months in NZ where we’re most likely to encounter snow or icy conditions, particularly on and around the Desert Road in the North Island, and throughout most of the South Island. 

Be sure to clear any ice or snow from your windscreen, roof and all windows completely before setting off for optimum vision during your journey. If the weather is extreme, delay travel and stay indoors.

Most rental cars in NZ include a plastic ice scraper (never use a metal one, as it can scratch the glass) found in the front glove box, which is critical when heading off on those chilly winter mornings in the South Island.

Always be prepared

Packing a driving emergency kit before departure on a road trip is always recommended, and should include items like:

  • A fully charged mobile phone
  • Extra clothing, blankets, coats, gloves etc.
  • Snow chains
  • A torch
  • Reflective safety gear
  • A First Aid Kit
  • A Fire Extinguisher
  • Tyre changing tools
  • A multi-tool or Swiss-army type knife
  • Food and water
  • A small spade
  • Plastic ice scraper

Drive to the conditions

In snow or ice, slow down to give yourself more time to manoeuvre. Slowing down well before heading into corners, and approaching Give Way and Stop signs, reduces the risk of sudden braking.

When attempting to stop or slow down in snow or ice, the reduced friction between the car and the ground can cause the vehicle to slide. Increased following distances should be maintained at all times.

Braking and turning should be approached in a gentler fashion. If your vehicle begins to slide, reduce pressure on the accelerator and attempt to maintain steering.

Drive with your lights on

Snow, fog and heavy rain can all reduce visibility. Having your headlights on in these conditions increases the chance of other vehicles being able to see you.

Allow extra time

Treacherous conditions normally equates to a longer journey time.  If possible, try to travel during the warmest part of the day, giving snow and ice the opportunity to melt further due to the increased traffic levels throughout the day.  If it is necessary to travel in darkness, then be extra prepared for the presence of ice. 

Help and advice

Always follow the advice and recommendations of road patrol or police officers. Road closures and restrictions are put in place for your safety - ignoring these will not only void your insurance, not to mention that it’s illegal to drive on a closed highway. In the event of an emergency always dial 111.

For mechanical breakdowns, contact AA Roadservice, or your nearest AA Auto Centre or AA Approved Repairer. If you get stuck, remain with the vehicle until help arrives, and most of all keep warm. Report any crashes to the police even if no one is injured.

Looking up road conditions, closures and delay information is recommended before departing on your journey in those winter months, along with up-to-date weather forecasts and local conditions.

Previous post
Next post
AA Preferred Dealer Network launches with 26 reputable dealers
Read more
A guide to engine configurations
Read more