Driving in snow
Are you heading to the snow this winter? Here are our top tips on how to prepare your car and drive safely in alpine conditions.
Get a mechanical check
Give your car a thorough once-over before you leave. Ask your mechanic to check the tyres, battery, brakes, cooling system, engine, windscreen wipers and washers, electrical system (particularly the alternator) and the heater/demister.
Add anti-freeze to older cars
Most modern cars use coolant with wide temperature capabilities, but ask your mechanic to check if you need anti-freeze in your radiator or a special coolant for low temperatures.
If you need anti-freeze, match the amount to the capacity of the cooling system. If you don’t add the right amount the engine block, heater core and radiator may crack as the coolant freezes, leaving you stranded and with an expensive bill for towing and repairs.
Fuel for snow conditions
If you drive a diesel vehicle, filling your tank with alpine mix diesel from a service station close to the snowfields, or adding an alpine diesel additive will stop your fuel from freezing. Dual fuel vehicles (LPG/petrol) should switch to petrol before entering alpine areas.
Create an emergency kit
Put together an emergency kit that includes a torch, blanket, tow rope, spade, wheel chocks, plastic scraper (for scraping ice off the windscreen), bottled water and a first aid kit.
What are snow chains?
Snow chains are loops of chain that fit over your car's wheels (usually the back wheels on rear-wheel drive cars and front wheels on front-wheel drive cars) to provide extra traction in the snow.
Which vehicles require snow chains?
All Two Wheel Drive (2WD) vehicles entering Kosciuszko National Park between the June and October long weekends must carry snow chains (you could be fined if you're caught without them).
You must also carry snow chains on the following roads:
- Kosciuszko Road from the Kosciuszko National Park boundary at Thredbo River to Perisher Valley.
- Alpine Way between Thredbo and Tom Groggin.
- Island Bend/Guthega Road for its full length.
Snow chains are also recommended to be carried on Alpine Way between Jindabyne and Thredbo, and on the Snowy Mountains Highway.
While Four Wheel Drive (4WD) and All Wheel Drive (AWD) vehicles do not require chains (under National Parks regulations), it is recommended that you carry and fit chains when driving on ice and snow. You may need them in the event of extreme weather conditions. Vehicles fitted with ‘winter tyres’ are not required to fit chains.
You'll need to fit your snow chains correctly because the New South Wales (NSW) Police Force and other authorised officers may conduct regular chain inspections.
Hiring and fitting snow chains
You can hire or buy snow chains before you leave home or on your way to the snow. There are many hire outlets along the route to NSW snow country in Cooma, Berridale, Talbingo, Khancoban, Jindabyne, Canberra, Wagga and other cities and towns.
The chain provider should show you how to fit them but try to fit them yourself before heading off. It's much easier to do this in dry conditions than by the roadside in a storm.
Your car's handbook or the snow chain supplier will explain which wheels to fit the chains to and the best ones for your wheel diameter and tyre size.
Take a waterproof blanket or groundsheet to protect you from the road when you fit the chains. You don't need to jack up your car to fit the chains. It could be hazardous to do this if the road is icy and slippery.
Chains should always be fitted in chain bays; however, if you do need to fit your snow chains on the roadside, turn your hazard lights on and choose a straight stretch of road where other drivers can see you and there’s enough room to park and fit the chains safely.
When you fit the chains, make sure they are properly tensioned and secured and the ends of the chains aren't left loose. They can do a lot of damage to your car if they are not correctly fastened.
Driving with snow chains
Tyre manufacturers recommend that cars with radial tyres shouldn't travel faster than 40 km/h when fitted with chains. Stop and check the tension of the chains after driving about 200 metres.
Remove the chains immediately when you're told it's safe to do so.
Adjust your speed
Slow down when conditions deteriorate and drive with caution in fog, snow or ice. Remember that NSW Police target speeding, drink driving and seatbelt offences when people are travelling to and from the snow.
Use your headlights
Keep your headlights on at all times as they increase your visibility. Use your fog lights (if you have them) when it is foggy or if the weather deteriorates.
Overtaking and braking
Never overtake on a hill, at a bend or an intersection.
Allow extra distance from the vehicle in front as you can't brake as quickly in snow and ice, as you can in dry conditions. When braking, do it gently and early and accelerate slowly.
Braking or accelerating too quickly in slippery conditions can cause you to lose control of your vehicle.
Look out for signage and snow poles
In snow country, watch out for signs advising you to fit snow chains as well as wildlife warning signs. Many road crashes in alpine areas involve native animals crossing roads, particularly at dawn and dusk.
Snow poles are painted orange and are tall enough for drivers to get their bearings in heavy snow. Don't keep driving if you can't see the edge of the road or the next snow pole. Stop your car in a safe location off the road, put on your hazard lights and wait for a break in the weather.
Black ice is a transparent layer of ice that forms on the road surface in shaded areas. You can't see it, but you'll know if you hit it as the car will slide. If you notice black ice, use your headlights to warn oncoming drivers.
Park in marked areas
Only park in marked parking areas so your car is not buried by a snow drift or damaged by snow clearing vehicles.
Don't apply the handbrake
Moisture can freeze cables and brake linings. If you have a manual handbrake and you're parked on a flat surface, don't apply the handbrake; put the car in gear and chock the wheels instead. Don't use rocks as they may damage snow clearing machines.
Leave the car in gear
Put the car in gear with the front wheels turned away from the road slope.
Fit snow chains
Even if chains were not required when you entered the resort parking area, you should fit them after you park as conditions can change quickly. It's easier to do this straight away, while the weather is clear, in the event the weather changes.
Clear ice from windows and mirrors
Clear all glass and mirrors of ice using a plastic ice scraper or something similar before you drive away from the car park. You can also use lukewarm water to clear ice but don't use your windscreen washers - they'll make it worse.
To demist the inside of the windows, use the car's heater and fan and the air conditioner.
Lift windscreen wipers
Unless you're parking for a short time, it's a good idea to lift the wipers off your windscreen or place them in a plastic bag so they won't stick to the glass.
Warm the engine
Check the exhaust pipe is clear and then start the engine. Let your car's engine warm up for a few minutes and let the windows demist before driving off.