When the temperatures drop, being behind the wheel becomes more challenging for even the most experienced drivers. Snow, sleet, wet and slick roads make staying safe more difficult for motorists. That’s where winter tyres come in handy. While you can’t change the weather, you can be better prepared to handle hazardous road conditions with the right tyres.
Winter tyres are certainly an investment – but is it worth it for you? Read on to find out more about what winter tyres are, how they work and if you need them in these cold and dark months.
What is a winter tyre?
Winter tyres feature specially designed tread patterns and rubber components that perform best when driving in cold weather conditions. Designed for 7 degrees C and below, the grooves in a winter tyre are wider and deeper, forming a larger channel for snow and water to travel through, allowing the vehicle to grip the slick road.
The main difference between winter tyres and regular tyres is the tread depth. A winter tyre starts at 8 to 9mm as opposed to 7 to 8mm on a regular tyre.
Depending on road conditions, inflation pressure and maintenance records, your winter tyres can last you a few years. On average, under typical conditions, winter tyres can maintain performance for around three full winter seasons.
How do winter tyres work?
The narrow grooves in the rubber prevent the snow from building up and clogging the tread channels. With improved grip, these tyres help you to steer and brake on snow with ease.
Winter tyres don’t just grip the road well in slick conditions – they also have an effect on stopping distances. Tyre manufacturer, Continental, says that a vehicle travelling 30pmh fitted with winter tyres will come to a complete stop on a snow-covered road after just 35 meters. With all season tyres on, the braking distance increases significantly to 43 meters – a whole two more car lengths longer.
How do they do this? Well, winter tyres are made from a different compound, which stays softer in cooler conditions, allowing the tyre to perform efficiently. All season tyres tend to harden during the colder months, which results in an increased braking distance.
Do I need winter tyres?
In the UK, winter tyres are not a legal requirement but that doesn’t mean motorists should overlook their benefits. As mentioned, these types of tyres are effective in temperatures below 7 degrees C, which we generally see from October to March.
Snow isn’t the only thing to consider when it comes to winter tyres – think about ice, slush and cold temperatures. Winter tyres are optimised for winter weather and remain pliable in cold temperatures, making them able to handle everything from snow to slush. Even city drivers can benefit from winter tyres when the temperatures drop and black ice forms.
If you live further north where temperatures are often in single figures, or if you know that you will be driving many miles over the winter, then it is worth considering a new set of winter tyres. Every vehicle is safer when equipped with winter tyres for any winter road – city or rural
Where are winter tyres mandatory?
In the UK, winter tyres and snow chains are not mandatory, which means you’re free to make an informed decision. In some European countries, such as Germany, Sweden and Austria, winter tyres are compulsory during wintry conditions. If you’re planning on a winter holiday, be sure you drive your vehicle with winter tyres already fitted or hire a car that has legal tyres.
- Austria – Winter tyres are mandatory. Snow chains should be carried.
- Czech Republic – Winter tyres are mandatory and snow chains are mandatory where instructed.
- France – Winter tyres are not required but snow chains must be fitted to vehicles using snow-covered roads (there’s usually a sign saying “snow chains needed past this point” to guide motorists). In mountainous regions, winter tyres are necessary..
- Germany – Winter tyres and snow chains are compulsory.
- Italy – Winter tyres are recommended but only compulsory on specific roads.
- Sweden – Winter tyres are mandatory, snow chains are recommended.
- Switzerland – Winter tyres are recommended but not compulsory.
If you’re travelling abroad in winter, be sure to do your research beforehand so you don’t get caught out. We strongly recommend investing in a full set of winter tyres because they make driving in cold weather considerably safer.
Can winter tyres be used in summer?
Generally, it is not recommended. Because they’re designed specifically to work in temperatures below 7 degrees C, winter tyres aren’t as effective above that temperature. In fact, the type of rubber that is used will warm up in 7+ degrees C and may move around significantly. The stopping distances will be significantly longer and the soft rubber compound used in winter tyres will wear out in warmer temperatures quicker than a standard type of tyre. To improve your safety and protect your pocket, avoid using winter tyres in warm weather.
It’s best to keep regular tyres on your car until the winter rolls around. Switch them out with the seasons for improved efficiency. Keep in mind that it’s worth thinking about securing your winter tyres in autumn before the weather takes a turn for the worse – and the demand drives the prices up.
How about mixing tyres?
As a general rule, tyres should not be mixed on any vehicle unless specified as acceptable by the tyre or vehicle manufacturer.
You may think that you can get away with two winter tyres at the front and two regular tyres at the rear. While this setup will allow for improved steering, it greatly increases the chances of a rear-end skid and compromises the stopping ability. The safest setup is to use four winter tyres or four all-season tyres.
Can I rent winter tyres?
While some garages allow you to rent winter tyres, you may find that it is more cost-effective to buy tyres and then use them year after year (with proper maintenance and care). They are available to purchase year-round, although you will see a spike in demand as the temperature drops throughout autumn and winter. After purchasing winter tyres, be sure to store them in a safe, dark, and dry location so that you can use them when the cooler months arrive.