Driving in snow

Heading to the snow? Here are our top tips on how to prepare your car and drive safely in alpine conditions.

Snow chains on a car on an icy road

Preparing your car for a snow trip

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) and a first aid kit.

Hiring, fitting and using 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 2-wheel drive (2WD) vehicles entering Kosciuszko National Park between the June and October long weekends, must carry snow chains (you’ll 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, and
  • 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 4-Wheel Drive (4WD) and All Wheel Drive (AWD) vehicles do not require chains, you should carry them in winter if you lack experience 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 and Jindabyne, Canberra, Tumut, Wagga and other cities and towns.

The chain provider should show you how to fit them but try to fit them yourself before you head 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. In fact, it could be very dangerous to do this if the road is icy and slippery.

Chains should always be fitted to cars in chain bays; however if you do need to fit your snow chains on the roadside, choose a straight stretch of road where other drivers can see you and there’s enough room to safely park and fit the chains.

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 not properly fastened.

Driving with snow chains

Tyre manufactures 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.

How to drive in snow

Adjust your speed and headlights

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.

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 at intersections. Allow extra distance from the vehicle in front as you won’t be able to 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

Black ice is a clear layer of ice that forms on the road surface in shaded areas. You can’t see it, but you’ll certainly know if you hit it as the car will slide. If you notice black ice, use your headlights to warn oncoming drivers.

Leaving your car in the snow

Parking in snow is very different parking in other weather conditions. Taking the following precautions will help you to park and drive away safely.

Park in marked areas

It’s important you 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. Instead, chock the wheels, but 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 are not required to enter the area, you should fit them after you park in case conditions change. It’s easier to do this straight away, in case 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 just make it worse.

To demist the inside of the windows, use the car’s heater and fan as well as 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

Warm your car’s engine for a few minutes before driving off.

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