If you're not used to driving through snow country in winter, you'll find the biggest dangers are unpredictable weather conditions and unprepared vehicles. Road conditions can vary from flat and easy to narrow, winding, steep and slippery.
The main rule for winter driving is to be cautious and alert!
What's the best way to slow down in the snow?
You should use gears instead of brakes to slow down and watch for icy patches on shady parts of the road, through cuttings, on bridges and on winding stretches where ice may have formed over a thin layer of snow.
Should I carry snow chains?
When travelling in the Snowy Mountains National Park and other snow affected areas, snow chains must be carried. Four-wheel drives (including all wheel drive vehicles) are exempt from fitting chains. Authorities require they be fitted when conditions demand, so check chains are not damaged or have parts missing and practise fitting chains before you travel.
It's too late to learn at the roadside in a blizzard or freezing rain. Make sure chains are packed for easy access. You can hire snow chains from various outlets around snowfields. When the chains are on, drive slowly to avoid tyre damage and remove them at the first opportunity but remember, it's better to fit chains too early than too late. NRMA members can receive up to a 10% discount on snow chains at Repco.
How do I fit snow chains?
You only have to fit chains to two driving wheels: front wheel drive vehicles, fit to front wheels; rear wheel drive vehicles, fit to rear wheels; and four wheel drive vehicles if using chains, fit to front wheels. For all wheel drive vehicles refer to the owner's manual. When fitting chains, pull off to the left of the road as far as possible. Use a chain fitting bay or choose a straight, clear stretch of road where you can be seen from a distance.
Never stop on the crest of a hill. Do not use a jack to lift a vehicle to put on snow chains as in icy conditions, your car might slide off the jack. All snow chains can be fitted without the need to lift the vehicle.
Make sure inner and outer hooks are securely fastened. Tie loose ends of the chains down to prevent damage to mudguards.
Which roads have snow-ice risk sections?
Certain areas of the Snowy Mountains are deemed "snow-ice risk sections" between 1 June and 10 October. This means that during this time, you must carry snow chains no matter what the weather is doing. If you don't, you are likely to incur a fine of $200. The following roads are snow-ice risk sections:
Kosciuszko Road from Sawpit Creek to Charlotte Pass and the Island Bend/Guthega road (the former is never cleared of snow beyond Perisher). Winter to Charlotte Pass is by courtesy of oversnow transport only.
The Alpine Way, now fully sealed, is classed as a snow-ice risk section from the park boundary near Little Thredbo River (including roads through Thredbo) as far as Tom Groggin. You cannot take heavy or articulated vehicles on the Alpine Way between Thredbo and Khancoban or between Cabramurra and the Tumut 1 Power Station.
The Cabramurra-Khancoban Road is usually closed from the start of the snow season in June until the end of the October long weekend.
Brakes and steering checks before heading off?
Brakes, steering and suspension are critical for the safe handling of a car in slippery conditions. Check there is ample pad material and beware of uneven braking from side to side or a tendency for the rear wheels to skid. Faulty brakes can easily cause a car to slide off the road or collide with others. If your car is a late model fitted with anti-locking brakes, have the system checked thoroughly and know how they operate.
Do I need special tyres?
Tyres need to have plenty of tread depth to grip the surface and break through any thin ice on the roads. If frequent snow travel is intended, a set of winter tyres with an aggressive tread pattern is a good investment in safety. NRMA members enjoy 10% off all full priced Dunlop, Goodyear and Sava tyres at Beaurepaires.
Check tyres for damage such as cuts, bubbles in the side walls or scuffing. If tread wear is uneven or near the minimum legal limit, have them replaced and the wheel alignment checked. Cars are usually heavily loaded on skiing trips, so increase the tyre pressure to the car manufacturer's recommended maximum, listed on the tyre placard or in the owner's handbook. How do I prevent the windscreen fogging up?
Good vision from the car is paramount, so renew windscreen wipers well in advance to allow them to "bed-in". Check the air conditioning (ac) system is working properly before leaving and use ac to demist the windscreen. Cool air flow to the face helps keep you alert when travelling in a warm car. Do not, however, use the air conditioning to extend your driving times beyond sensible rest periods.
Take a ten minute break every two hours.
How should I prepare the engine?
Make sure the engine is well tuned. Electrical systems are particularly vulnerable in cold conditions, with your chance of breakdown doubling, so have an automotive electrician check the system fully.
You will need anti-freeze in the cooling system. Follow the manufacturer's directions or ask at the retail outlet for advice on mixing techniques and the quantity to use. Coolant should contain corrosion inhibitors as well as anti-freeze compound, as recommended by the car manufacturer.
Some older cooling systems may develop leaks soon after replacement of the coolant due to the penetrating properties of the anti-freeze liquid. Have the anti-freeze treatment done in advance so that any problems can be fixed without ruining your holiday schedule.
If you don't use anti-freeze, you will have to drain the radiator each night and refill it before starting in the morning. Leave the engine running while you empty the radiator to make sure that any water flowing through the engine drains away, but be careful that it doesn't overheat. Cars fitted with heaters that can't be drained will need anti-freeze.
What lights do I need?
Check all lights - low and high beams, tail stop, reversing and driving lights. Yellow tinted fog lights can assist in misty conditions. These should be mounted low, near the road surface and not focussed high. High beam will cause a "white out" effect in fog so use low beam only.
Also check interior and map lights are working and take along a powerful flash light or spot light for reading sign posts and recognising landmarks in unfamiliar territory.
How to avoid damage if leaving car in the open overnight?
Park it in gear with the wheels chocked. Don't use the handbrake as it could freeze in the engaged position. You'll have to use anti-freeze in order to avoid serious damage to the car's engine and cooling system.
You should also lift wipers from the screen. Warm water may be used to remove ice from the windscreen and windows. Never use hot water as it may cause the windscreen to crack.
How can I find out about road conditions?