As winter bites, we prepare ourselves for the elements; donning gloves, hats, a warm coat and boots with extra grip. Is your car as prepared for the cold weather as you are? We all need to be more careful on the road when snow and ice are on the ground and winter tyres can help keep motorists safe. But are they right for you?
A quick guide to winter tyres
As their name implies winter tyres excel in wintery conditions, providing extra traction and improved braking. All important factors when the ground is wet, icy or snowy.
The tyres are able to handle extreme conditions with a special tread rubber compound, which has high silica content. This composition allows the tread pattern to stay flexible in temperatures of under 7 degrees Celsius. They are also designed to gather snow ‘in-fill’ in the tread grooves and sipe slits, to assist with grip on loose snow.
You can identify a set of winter tyres by the snow-topped mountain or snowflake symbol marked on the sidewall.
What are the negatives?
Winter tyres may sound perfect, but bear in mind they are made for cold weather and will struggle in the summer. In temperatures above 7 degrees Celsius, grip suffers in dry conditions and this has an adverse effect on braking distance and handling. This is because the soft and squishy nature that makes winter tyres flexible in cold weather makes them less responsive for quick manoeuvres in warm weather. For this reason it is advised that motorists switch back to summer tyres when warmer weather approaches.
Alternatives to winter tyres
Don’t fancy changing your tyres twice a year? There are a few alternatives to winter tyres that might suit your needs:
All season tyres: These tyres have high silica content along with a tread pattern that sits between summer and winter tyres. These can be used all year round, but the lack of specialisation means they don’t perform as well as their summer or winter counterparts.
Tyre socks: Is your drive completely snowed in or iced over? Wheel socks are made of fabric and wrap around the tyre to provide extra grip. Best used for an emergency as they won’t last long on tarmac.
Snow chains: Similar to tyre socks, snow chains can only be used when the roads are covered in a protective layer of ice/snow. Best kept in the boot to be used in extreme weather, they can sometimes be difficult to fit and remove.
Different insurers have different policies on alerting them to switching tyres. If you want to check if your insurer needs to be notified, the Association of British Insurers (ABI) has compiled a list that offers guidance: https://www.abi.org.uk/Insurance-and-savings/Products/Motor-insurance/Winter-tyres
Are winter tyres for you?
Unlike parts of mainland Europe winter tyres aren’t compulsory in the UK, as most areas of the country never/rarely see any extreme weather conditions. Choosing to use them will come down to how likely your part of the country is to experience weather that would warrant them. If you have decided to go for a set of winter tyres, make sure that you have them fitted before the bad weather hits as you may be caught by surprise and unable to drive to a destination to complete the switchover.
Whichever tyres you decide to go with for winter, you’ll increase their performance by ensuring there is at least 3mm of tread over 75% of the tyre width.
For more tips on safe driving over the winter months, take a look at our other helpful blogs:
Author: Joseph Lazare