Winter driving mishaps

Driving in the snow [Credit]

With the current snowfall in the UK making the roads a bit slippy, the Drive Cult team recall some of their winter driving stories.

Driving in the snow can be perfectly safe, especially if you've fitted winter tyres, but everyone has a story of a snowy drive where things went a little...sideways! Sometimes it's intentional and just for fun, and other times you're out of control before you know it, heading for a solid object with nothing to do but wait for the inevitable! Read on for Drive Cult's tales of winter driving.

Matthew Lange

While at Aston University in Birmingham back in 1994 I had a Vauxhall Cavalier 1.6L. It was three years old when I bought it, but it had already done more miles than the Starship Enterprise.

In February of that year Birmingham was hit by similar levels of snowfall as London has had these last few days. Normally in those situations I wouldn't have even considered using the car but my then-girlfriend phoned me to ask if I could pick her up because it was cold and, being the gentleman I am, I wasn't going to say no.

The roads in the area hadn't been gritted - sound familiar - but I got to the end of the road with no problems. The trouble was the next road was downhill and quite a steep descent at that. I had barely turned into the road when I hit a large patch of sheet ice. The front of the car slewed to the left and I ended up sliding broadside down the road. Even a dab of oppo made no difference - I had zero grip and the steering wheel just freely span from lock to lock.

All I could think was, "This is going to be expensive."

Being completely out of control obviously meant I was likely to end up hitting something solid, and with both sides of the road lined with parked cars all I could think was, "This is going to be expensive." I can still remember the red Peugeot 205 that was the the most likely victim, but somehow I managed to (just) miss it and ended up clouting an empty skip.

The noise of a Cavalier interfacing with a skip is like that of striking a very large, misshapen bell. Thanks to the slippery surface, both the car and the skip slid down the slope a few centimetres until the skip wedged itself against the kerb.

At this point the car was broadside across the road, and the thought that someone as idiotic as me could do the same thing meant I needed to get out of my predicament very quickly. Initially I was stuck fast and the cold weather meant no one was around to help free me, so I did what every idiot would do: I selected reverse and revved the engine to within an inch of its life. Surprisingly, this actually did the trick and I was able to free the car and proceed slowly on my way.

The damage amounted to a completely totalled front headlamp unit, a dented bonnet which ultimately needed replacing, and my severely dented pride!

Chris Ratcliff

Oddly, my story also involves a Vauxhall Cavalier. Who knew they had such a penchant for colliding with stationary objects when on ice?

I was driving around when I probably shouldn't have been, given the icy conditions. A right/left chicane in the road, a bit of 'eager' steering - which, with hindsight, is best classed as 'driving like a cock' - and a lift of the throttle and...

The car span around so fast that I had no idea what was happening. Instinctively I stamped on the brake pedal, which, given the lack of ABS, probably made things worse! The rear wheels locked up and smacked into the kerb at 30mph, causing a sharp 90 degree kink in the wheel.

My clearest memory is coming to a stop, half on the pavement, steering wheel never having moved from straight ahead, eyes bulging, and looking out of the drivers side window to see the right rear hub cap rolling slowly past. It was almost funny.

Getting home, the kinked steel wheel was leaking air quite badly and was swapped for the spare, but everything else was still straight. The now incomplete set of hub caps would be replaced with generic ones for a reasonable price, and the dented wheel and tyre were junked and new ones purchased.

My Dad's finest words to me that evening: "The first one's free."

Martin Spain

A few years ago, there was an unexpected snowfall in early October. I was at work, looking out of the window and wondering whether I should leave work early. By the time I actually got out of the door, the snow was 6 inches deep and every single road in town was filled with stationary traffic as everyone tried to get home before the roads became impassable.

I mooched around in the carpark for a while, doing little skids in my BMW and waiting for the traffic to clear. After an hour of this, it became clear that the roads weren't going to clear anytime soon, so I decided to brave the backroads and head cross-country to my girlfriend's house.

I made it through the traffic jams and out onto the B roads, and was carefully picking my way through the snow when I crested a hill to find a lorry careering towards me, completely out of control and on my side of the road.

All thoughts of carefully-applied dabs of oppo and drifting around the bends disappeared, replaced by sheer bloody panic.

Up until this point, I'd been feeling quietly smug, happy in my car control and my sensible choice of route, but now all thoughts of carefully-applied dabs of oppo and graceful sideways drifts around the bends disappeared from my head, and were replaced by adrenalin-fuelled sheer bloody panic.

It was clear that the lorry driver was never going to regain control of his vehicle in time, and if I didn't do something drastic he was going to hit me head-on. It's a well-worn cliche, but time really did seem to slow down as I desperately tried to avoid the impending collision. I can remember thinking, "Maybe a Scandinavian flick onto the opposite side of the road would work" and then simultaneously dismissing the thought as ridiculous, since I've never done a Scandinavian flick in my life and it didn't seem like the best time to start learning advanced rally driving techniques...

In sheer desperation, I swung the wheel to the left and gave it a bootful, and rode the BMW up onto the verge and into the hedge as the truck went flying past. I distinctly remember the tearing sound of the branches scraping down the side of the car, and the utter silence once the moment had passed.

A friendly bloke in a Focus who had been following me pulled up alongside, and asked me if I was OK. I remember claiming I was fine, which was utter rubbish. I was white as the snow outside and shaking like a leaf in a gale, adrenalin and relief flooding through my system! I drove the rest of the way at about 5mph! I've never trusted lorry drivers in the snow ever since.  

Jack Wood

It was one of those reminders that you're not infallible, and no matter how right you think you are there is always going to be a situation that presents itself and makes you readjust your perspectives and limits.

My little "moment", as it has become affectionately known, occurred just a few days ago. I was in the Cayman, on my way to work on one of those near-zero winter mornings. The roads were coated with a sheen of damp road salt and other countryside detritus, but I was safe in the self-righteous knowledge that I was one of the very few that saw fit to install a set of winter rubber to the car the moment the temperatures had started to plummet. What could possibly go wrong?

The warnings were there right from the get-go...the rear tyres skipped and spun as they crossed the white lines.

Sat behind a queue of four cars meandering through the lanes, waiting patiently for a gap to appear so I could blat past, I promptly discovered exactly what still could go wrong. As we approached the stretch of road that I knew held the best opportunity for overtaking, I readied myself, dropping a couple of cogs and positioning the Cayman on the shoulder of the rearmost car in the queue. Rounding the final bend onto the straight I dropped back and then gently pushed the accelerator down with the anticipation that comes with the hope of a clear stretch of road ahead. The hedges unwound and the road opened to reveal a long stretch of empty tarmac, the decision was made and the move was on.

In retrospect, the warnings were there right from the get-go. Pulling to the right with the throttle headed towards the carpet, the rear tyres skipped and spun as they crossed the white lines, but quickly bit and second gear burned through as I passed the first car and on towards the second. Slotting home third gear, I was closing on the third car but with the gap to the fourth car opening as the driver saw fit to accelerate away, decisions were being made at a rate of knots inside my soupy matter.

Distances, speeds and braking points for the tortuous series of cresting off-cambered kinks and dips in the road were being worked out, and then a set of lights popped over the brow of the road ahead. Heading my way.

By this point the car was on song, deep into third gear with close to 300bhp pounding through what was soon to become obvious were far too skinny 225-width rear tyres.

I was closing in fast on the final car, and with room to spare the overtake was complete. Now to get the car back to the correct side of the road. As I moved left to return to the safety of my own lane, the rear end broke loose. Shit! An armful of oppo when you're flat at the very top end of third gear is not the most natural of situations to find oneself in, and certainly not for me!

Luckily, with wide eyes, puckered arse, and a good dose of luck, the sideways motion was restrained and all I was left with was a small dap of over-corrective lock to sort out. And that is where the "moment" arrived, as the proximity of the hedge to the left of the road became a real issue, and the left rear rump of the Cayman bit in, clipping a protruding nub of what must previously been an overhanging branch, and putting a dint into the leading edge of the wheel arch.

It's certainly not something I'm proud of, but there was no way I was stopping to assess the damage there and then. All 4 wheels were still attached and the telegraph pole 10 yards further down the hedgerow had been avoided, so I counted my blessings and scrubbed the speed needed to make it through the next series of bends.

Lesson learned: as fantastic as winter tyres are in snow and ice, when it comes to putting 300bhp onto a greasy, salty road, they still have their limits!

Drive safely this winter, and Merry Christmas from the Drive Cult team!

[Banner photo by Steve Maw on Flickr. Used with permission under a Creative Commons 2.0 licence]