Are Winter Tyres Worth It?

By: Lisa Harper

With Christmas fast-approaching and forecasts already suggesting snow this winter, we thought it was time to take a look at the pros and cons of winter tyres.

What Are Winter Tyres?

Winter tyres are designed to offer optimum traction and grip when the temperature is below seven degrees Celsius.

Winter tyres are specially made from a softer compound which contains more natural rubber. The result is the tyre remains supple in cooler temperatures which helps to improve the tyres performance. 

Winter tyres feature narrow cuts, known as sipes, built into the tread. Sipes help to prevent snow building up and clogging the tread channels. The tread depth of winter tyres is also deeper, usually around 8-9mm compared to a summer tyre which is usually 7-8mm. Both of these features help to disperse water and snow while also improving contact with the road. 

Winter tyres can be easily identified as they are marked with a snowflake symbol.

How Do They Work?

Winter tyres provide better traction, more grip when cornering and can improve braking. The deeper tread pattern helps to disperse surface water and reduces the risk of aquaplaning. This means winter tyres also perform better in wet conditions than summer tyres. 

The tread design gathers a certain amount of snow ‘in fill’ in the tread grooves. This helps to improve grip on packed snow as nothing grips snow better than snow. While the sipes provide extra edges which grip the road as the tyre rotates. 

In addition, the softer compound of winter tyres allows for localised movement of the rubber which helps the tyre cling to the road. 

Tyre manufacturer Michelin claim that the stopping distance at 31mph in snow is 63 metres with summer tyres fitted, while with winter tyres fitted this reduces drastically to 32 metres. This demonstrates just how effective winter tyres are in wintry conditions.

Are They More Expensive?

Just like summer tyres the cost of winter tyres can vary widely depending on the car and the wheel size. However, on average winter tyres are slightly more expensive than summer tyres in the UK.

While the initial cost of purchasing winter tyres may seem expensive, bear in mind that the tyres should last twice as long. That’s because in effect you will only be using the tyres for half the year. In addition, used in the right conditions winter tyres can actually make your vehicle more economical to run so you will make savings in running costs.

In addition, to minimise the long-term cost of winter tyres, it is a good idea to get winter tyres fitted to a second set of wheels. This makes it easier to switch from summer to winter tyres. Buying steel wheels is a good idea as they are cheaper and are more resistant to the effects of salt more prevalent on winter roads due to gritting.

However, there are some less obvious costs to winter tyre ownership. One of these potential additional costs is storage. Tyres need to be kept correctly when not in use and if you do not have somewhere suitable to store the tyres you may have to pay to stow them in a ‘tyre hotel’. 

Another important consideration is your car insurance. While fitting winter tyres to your car should not affect your car insurance or alter your premiums, it is worth checking with your provider, just to make sure.

What If I Have A 4x4?

A common winter driving myth is that having a 4x4 makes you invincible in the snow, however, in reality, four-wheel drive can only help with traction. That is because four-wheel drive uses clever electronics or mechanical differentials to send power to the wheels with most grip, which improves traction and helps you accelerate away more easily.  However, it does not improve other aspects of driving including braking and handling.

What’s more, the car may still struggle with traction in the worst conditions, so fitting winter tyres can still be beneficial. In fact, a 4x4 with winter tyres is the ultimate vehicle for tackling challenging winter weather.

Are They Compulsory?

Winter tyres are not compulsory in the UK. This is because generally in the UK winters are mild with limited snowfall.

Across mainland Europe, especially in countries which get substantial snowfall including Germany, Austria, Finland and Sweden winter tyres are compulsory at certain times of the year or under certain conditions. Failure to comply can result in hefty fines. So if you do regularly travel across Europe by car or are planning a European winter road trip then investing in winter tyres is essential. It is also a good idea to organise a winter car check before making a long journey to make sure your car is in the best possible condition for the trip. 

What About All-Weather Tyres?

All-weather tyres are designed to be effective all-year round. They contain less rubber than winter tyres to ensure they work better in summer conditions. Yet they are still effective down to around minus five degrees Celsius. 

Many all-weather tyres also feature sipes to ensure they offer similar grip as winter tyres.

All-weather tyres do not need switching throughout the year so offer people more convenience. In addition, you do not have the expense of having two sets of tyres or have the bother of storing tyres when not in use.

However, the problem with all-round tyres is that they are neither quite as effective as summer tyres in the summer nor winter tyres in the winter. So the cost of convenience is slightly reduced performance.

Can I Use Winter Tyres All Year Round?

Winter tyres are not suitable for use all year round as they are specifically designed to work best below seven degrees Celsius. 

When the temperature is above seven degrees Celsius the softer compound of a winter tyre results in longer stopping distances and a heightened skid risk when cornering. What’s more, as the rubber moves around more when it is warm the car’s steering feels vaguer. 

On top of this, winter tyres wear down more quickly in higher temperatures, so it would not work out cost-effective to run around on winter tyres year-round.

Can I Just Fit Winter Tyres To The Driving Wheels?

Winter tyres should be fitted to all four wheels. If you just fitted front winter tyres on a front-wheel-drive the rear wheels are at increased risk of skidding, this could result in the car spinning when braking or travelling downhill. Whereas, if you were just to fit winter tyres on the rear wheels of a rear-wheel drive then you increase the risk of skidding straight into a corner or of being unable to stop in time.

Another important consideration when buying winter tyres is the spare tyre. While space-saver tyres are not available as a specific winter version, if you are still lugging a full-size spare around then you should also invest in a specifi winter spare tyre for your vehicle.

Where Can I Buy Winter Tyres?

Winter tyres are available across the Stoneacre network. We can supply or supply and fit a range of popular and hardwearing winter tyres. So what are you waiting for? Book in and get your tyres switched to winter tyres before the worst weather sets in.

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Main header image courtesy of Motor Verso

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