With weather forecasters predicting the coldest winter for five years and the snowiest conditions for nearly three decades, now is a good time to check out the benefits of fitting winter tyres.
There is a common misconception that winter tyres are only needed in severe conditions such as snow and ice. This is not true. Winter tyres are in fact specially designed to cope with low temperatures. It has been proven that they deliver safety benefits over summer tyres when the mercury drops below 7°C.
And with prices starting at less than £200 for a full set, they are more affordable than you might think.
We have compiled a winter tyre guide to help you decide if they are right for you.
How do winter tyres differ from regular tyres?
Good question. The fact is winter tyres are not just a gimmick dreamed up by tyre manufacturers to boost their sales. As their name suggests, they are designed to cope with the most hazardous conditions such as snow and ice.
However, what is less well known is that they also offer enhanced grip and shorter stopping distances in cold and wet conditions. In fact, independent experts agree that winter tyres come into their own when temperatures drop below 7°C – a common occurrence in the UK.
Now here comes the science bit. Winter tyres are effective because they made using a rubber compound that contains more silica than regular tyres. This gives the tread greater flexibility in low temperatures and lets the rubber warm up faster to aid better traction. In contrast, at lower temperatures, the rubber compound in normal tyres begins to harden, resulting in reduced ability to grip to the road surface.
Another special feature of winter tyres is their ‘sipes’. These tiny slits cut into the tread blocks serve a very valuable purpose during the winter months – dispelling water. This allows the tyre to maintain contact with the road and therefore reduces the risk of aquaplaning. For that reason alone, winter tyres have got to be worth considering.
Are winter tyres worth fitting?
Winter presents a range of hazardous driving conditions, not just snow and ice. Heavy rain, flooding, slippery leaves, fallen trees, fog, pot holes hidden under standing water, reduced vision due to less daylight, the list is endless and your tyres need to be prepared handle everything that is thrown at them.
Extensive research carried out into the effectiveness of winter tyres has revealed that:
- A vehicle travelling at 62mph on winter tyres in temperatures of 7°C will stop 4.8 metres sooner than a car driving on regular tyres if forced to brake on a wet road
- The vehicle fitted with summer tyres will take an alarming 11 extra metres to stop if both cars are travelling at 20mph on an icy road
Should I buy winter tyres?
Ultimately this is a personal choice, since the UK does not have a winter tyre law. It is down to each individual motorist to consider your circumstances and needs when deciding if they are right for you. However, for some motorists winter tyres are a no-brainer. Here are some general rules to help you make up your mind:
- If you live in a part of the UK where temperatures are regularly in single figures or you know that you will be clocking up thousands of miles between now and the spring, then winter tyres will help to keep you mobile and safer, giving you added peace of mind when you venture out on to the roads
- If you need to use your vehicle regardless of the severity of the weather. For example, you may need it in order to earn your living (eg couriers, plumbers, electricians, mobile service providers). Equally, if you are a carer or somebody relies on your support year round, winter tyres help you to fulfil your obligations
- If you live in a rural location or even on the outskirts of town, but need to use your vehicle most days, again winter tyres are a shrewd investment, especially if your local roads are not usually covered by the gritting teams
- If you regularly drive early in the mornings or late at night, when conditions are at their worst, winter tyres will again help you cope with the hazards you face, eg ungritted roads, poor visibility, etc
However, if you live in the centre of town and the roads surrounding your home are regularly treated by the the gritting lorries; if you only use your vehicle once a week to do the shopping and if you can be flexible about when you venture out on to the roads, winter tyres are not such a pressing need.
As long as your current tyres are in a safe and legal condition, with at least the minimum tread depth of 1.6mm across the central three quarters and around the entire circumference, then summer tyres are acceptable even in the winter months. However, during the winter months, motoring and safety experts recommend replacing your tyres when they wear below 3mm.
When should I fit winter tyres?
As a rule of thumb, it is good practice to run on winter tyres from October through to April. This ensures you get maximum wear and value for money from your winter and summer sets. Also, our weather is highly unpredictable and you never know when it is going to take a nasty turn. So hope for the best, plan for the worst and remember it is better to be safe than sorry.
UK winter tyre law
Winter tyres are relative newcomers on the UK tyre scene. As yet, there is no legal requirement to fit them and no sign of that changing. However, their use has been compulsory in some European countries, which experience harsher winters than ours, for many years.
It is therefore important to point out that all British motorists driving abroad must comply with the tyre law not just of the country they are visiting, but also all of those they drive through en route. You could be fined or even have your vehicle impounded as a result of breaking the law.
Do 4×4 vehicles need winter tyres?
All 4×4 vehicles should be fitted with winter tyres so they can deliver maximum safety and driving performance. While their all-wheel drive capability helps perform better in winter conditions than two-wheel drive vehicles, only winter tyres can provide the special tread and soft enough rubber compounds necessary for grip on all road conditions in cold weather.
Do vans need winter tyres?
Winter tyres are essential for businesses that rely on remaining mobile all year round instead of grinding to a halt in bad weather. For this reason many fleet managers and mobile sole traders religiously switch to winter tyres in autumn.
Running vans with summer tyres in winter conditions increases the risk of letting customers down, missing deadlines and losing money. Driver safety is also paramount and fitting winter tyres is a responsible precaution.
Storage and switching made easy
Some motorists keep their winter tyres on all year round and although this is perfectly legal, it is not ideal. Most modern winter tyres will be perfectly fine in the higher temperatures. However, they are likely to wear quicker due to the softer silica content. Equally, they will not offer the same level of safety and performance as a regular tyre during the summer months.
The optimum situation is to alternate between summer and winter tyres, therefore benefitting from maximum value for money and performance from each set. A good set of winter tyres will last two or three cold seasons, depending on your annual mileage and driving habits.
The hassle involved in swapping back and forth is minimal if you use a mobile tyre fitting service. Another advantage is that you can also easily store the set not in use in your garage or shed. The alternative to this is having to pay for a garage to look after them.
Are winter tyres worth the money?
The leading tyre manufactures are all competing in the winter tyre market, which is good news for motorists. It ensures the safety and performance keep improving and helps keep prices in line with standard tyres.
A full set of budget winter tyres can cost less than £200, including fitting and VAT. Tyre safety experts recommend changing all four tyres to winter tyres. Fitting just two will result in unbalanced handling and braking, making driving more dangerous.
Do not think of the cost of fitting winter tyres as doubling your outgoings. You are getting double the amount of tyre wear, if not more in fact. If you plan to swap back and forth between summer and winter tyres, you will arguably gain maximum performance and value for money from both sets. Your summer tyres, which often deteriorate faster in lower temperatures, will last longer. Meanwhile your winter set should last several years depending on their usage.
More information about the benefits of fitting winter tyres
For some motorists the benefits of fitting winter tyres are blatantly clear. In these cases winter tyres are not an expensive extravagance, but an essential safety precaution. For many others they are will be an invaluable extra precaution. Most of all they deliver greater reliability and peace of mind when venturing out onto the roads in hazardous conditions.
To find out more about the benefits of fitting winter tyres read our winter tyres section.