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Planning a Winter Road Trip

Top Takeaways

  • Ensure your car is serviced and running well, and that your battery is all good.
  • Have plenty of gas
  • Check the forecast
  • Carry chains and have tried fitting them
  • Take a tow rope and shovel, just in case

Imagine: you’re driving over an unfamiliar, winding mountain pass in near-dark, wintry conditions.

Your car is packed to the hilt with gear, including snowboards and skis stacked on your roof. There’s ice, there’s snow and worst of all, there are other drivers on the road! Winter driving can be hazardous, but to get to the slopes it’s unavoidable. Whether you’re driving your mum’s old Honda or the biggest, baddest new 4WD, you need to be prepared for the conditions.

Before You Go

Plan your route:  You do not want to get lost in the dark, in freezing temperatures miles from anywhere and out of cell phone range. Take a map, make sure you know your way and work out how long you’re likely to be on the road.  The less you can drive at night in winter, the better.

Know the forecast: Let’s say there’s a fierce front on the cards. Will it affect the roads you’re taking? Is it worth the risk? And even if you make it to your destination, will you be able to get home?


Get gas: Ensure your tank is full before you set out (in both directions!). Even if you think you’ve got enough, you will use more gas in adverse weather conditions. Check your oil and water too.

Watch your weight: Driving with trailers, caravans, in a campervan or with piles of boards and accessories on the roof can be dangerous in high winds, or if you’re not used to the weight of the load. If you’re unfamiliar with the load or you’re driving in exposed areas, be extra cautious.

Check your vehicle: Tyres should be correctly inflated for maximum traction and braking; spare tyre should be in place, along with tyre-changing tools (and instruction manual if necessary); headlights should be working and cleaned – dirt blocks light; windscreen wipers should be in good working order and windscreen washer bottles must be full; the windscreen should be spotless both inside and out to reduce sunstrike ; check antifreeze levels.

Be prepared: Ensure you’re carrying chains, and that you know how to fit them. Take a torch (you may have to fit those chains in the dark!) and spare batteries, a charged cell phone (with credit on it!), warm clothes or blankets, extra food and some water (for both you and the car). Other handy additions include a shovel, jumper cables and tow rope.

On the Road

Be patient! Winter conditions dictate slower travel. Chances are you may end up behind a slow driver who’s not comfortable with the conditions. Be patient, only overtake if you’re confident about the road conditions ahead and travel at a much larger distance behind the other vehicle than you usually would. On average, the ‘two-second rule’ becomes the ‘four-second rule’.

Be alert. There are many more hazards on the roads during winter – ice, snow, storms, other drivers…  Pay careful attention to what is happening around and ahead of you. Remember that innovations like 4WD, ABS and ESP are only there to aid in accident avoidance – they cannot override stupidity.

Be visible. Driving with your headlights on low beam during winter is good practice, particularly in wet, snowy or foggy conditions as well as at dawn and dusk. If nothing else, they alert other drivers to your presence.

And finally… Safety (and Knowledge) in Numbers

Travelling with companions is always a good idea in winter. The combined knowledge and experience of a group will always outweigh that of an individual, plus you’ll have someone to snuggle up to should you break down in the middle of nowhere on a frosty night. Check out to arrange a carpool on your next winter roadie.

24 Hour Breakdown Services
AA: 0800 224 357

24 Hour Road Closure Information
AA Highway Reports: 0900 33 222 Calls cost $1.00 per minute.

Emergency Services in New Zealand
Dial 111

Information for this article was sourced from:,,,,