Many people who come to visit Iceland are concerned at the prospect of driving in the snow. This is a legitimate concern, as driving in the snow can be more difficult and more dangerous, especially for those who have not driven in the snow before. But with the proper precautions, appropriate car and tires, driving in the snow in Iceland can be done in a safe and enjoyable way, so long as you avoid the biggest risks. Here, we provide you with a guide to driving in the snow in Iceland.
Driving in Iceland
There are a lot of tips out there for general driving in Iceland, and you can find more helpful information here. The most important thing is to check the weather conditions and follow safety advice.
Some things to always keep in mind are :
- Drive on the right side of the road.
- Make sure that your headlights are always on, day or night.
- Buy gravel insurance.
- The emergency number is 112
- It is illegal to drive off-road
Driving in Iceland is always something to prepare for as the weather can be exceptionally changeable, even during the summer, but it will also be an exceptional time and you will make memories that you can never forget.
What you don’t have to worry about
There are a lot of posts and people talking about the dangers of driving in the winter, stories about accidents and problems and all sorts, but it’s always the small percentage of people with bad experiences that have the loudest voices. Generally, you need a good heap of common sense, and that’s about it.
You don’t have to worry about getting stranded, especially if you are on the major roads around Iceland. Nearly everyone is incredibly friendly and helpful and will be able to give you advice. The majority of the undrivable roads, like the Highland roads, will be closed during the winter anyway, so it is unlikely that you will be able to drive on Iceland’s most difficult roads at this time of year at all.
Things to keep in mind
Winter is a different beast in Iceland, with variable and often dangerous weather and road conditions. There are many road closures, with the Highlands completely closed off during the winter season, and remain closed until the end of June or early July. The Ring Road is always maintained so it should be accessible throughout the year, but there are certain severe conditions where you would want to avoid even this road.
Winter in Iceland lasts from early November to the end of April, but winter storms may still occur even in May. During this season, there are additional concerns when driving around Iceland. Our top tips for driving in the snow in Iceland include:
- Maximise the hours that you have available, as you will only have a few hours in sunlight. Dr
- Be careful when opening or closing car doors in the wind, as it could slam shut or open quickly and break the hinges.
- Use studded tires to ensure that your car has a grip on the ice and snow.
- Bring gear in case of emergencies, because no matter how much preparation you do, the universe could still cause a bit of problem. Here is our list:
- Spare tire and the gear to change it
- List of important numbers
- Snow and ice scraper
- Flashlight and extra batteries
- Extra phone battery
- Emergency first aid kit
- Emergency blankets (for warmth and also to get out if a tire gets stuck)
- Warning triangle
- Extra drinking water
- Collapsible snow shovel
- Road flares
- Strong rope (it can be used to help pull your car out of snow)
- Emergency beacon (most useful for hikers and solo travellers)
Before you leave
Add more time to your plan. Things will never happen as fast as you plan for them to happen. Before you set off, you’ll need to clear the car of snow and ice, you might want to stop for photos, an endless number of things could delay your journey, so make sure that you aren’t rushing. This also reduces the risk of accidents.
Check your wipers. The auto wiper control should be switched off, but check before turning on the ignition, because if it starts while frozen to the windscreen it could blow the fuse and break.
Do NOT use hot water to de-ice the windscreen. The sudden temperature change could crack the windscreen. Don’t use lukewarm water either, as it’s just adding extra water to freeze on your windscreen. Instead, start the defrosters and get rid of the ice the old fashioned way – with a scraper.
When driving in snowy and icy conditions, pull away in second gear, gently releasing the clutch so your wheels don’t spin on the ice.
Drive slowly. Stopping distances can increase over 10 times on ice and snow, so brake in advance, driving as smoothly as possible.
Accelerate gently, use lower revs and move into higher gears as soon as possible to maintain traction.
When driving uphill, leave plenty of room so you can maintain a constant speed (try to avoid changing the gear) until you reach the top. When driving downhill, use a low gear, drive slowly and try to avoid braking.
If you do have to brake, make sure that it is as smooth as possible. If the car has ABS (anti-lock braking system), it is trying to prevent the brakes from locking up. Don’t let go of the brake until you need to.
When accelerating, make sure that you are gentle and smooth with the changes, taking extra time to reach your wanted speed.
For all of the motions, smoothness is key, otherwise, your wheels could lose traction and you could lose control by either over or under-steering.
Over-steering is when the rear tires lose their grip and start to turn the car. DO NOT slam the brakes or overcompensate. Instead, DO steer into the skid and gently accelerate to regain control.
Under-steering is when the front wheels skid, normally in the direction that you were turning. DO NOT steer harder into the turn or slam onto the brakes. Instead, DO remove your foot from the accelerator and slowly turn your wheel back straight.
In general, the best advice is to drive slowly and maintain awareness of your environment. We’re always happy to answer any questions about driving in winter conditions, so please check with us when you collect your car.