Winter tyres can seem like a bit of a mystery. Often it’s unclear what they actually do and if they are any different from summer tyres. Tyres are tyres, right? Truth is that winter tyres are a highly specialised piece of kit. They will help keep your car stable in winter weather. They are, in fact, significantly different from summer tyres.
Summer tyres are fitted as standard to most cars and are the perfect companion to your car for the summer months. And up to a certain point, they work fine in other seasons as well. Their performance, however, rapidly declines as temperatures drop. Summer tyres are made in such a way that they are soft and grip well in normal and warm temperatures. But once temperatures approach 7C and below the summer tyres will start to lose traction with the road surface. Your car will start to feel unstable and it may not be very comfortable to drive. At that point, it is probably worth getting some winter tyres for your car.
Why do winter tyres work better in cold weather?
Winter tyres are made out of a different type of rubber which makes them softer. It ensures they remain supple in cold weather. It helps to make them ‘grippier’ in winter conditions. On top of that, the tyre tread design is deeper and has more sipes (small slits) which help it process water and snow better.
This all contributes to the fact that winter tyres are proven to stop a car better in cold weather than summer tyres. Tyre manufacturer Continental found that winter tyres can help to stop a car traveling at 31mph eight metres before the same car on summer tyres. That might not seem like much, but it can be the difference between crashing into the back of another car or stopping just in time.
Are winter tyres worth it?
Deciding whether winter tyres are worth it is a much-debated topic. Many say it’s a waste of money having them in the UK as it’s never cold enough for them to have any effect. Others find that they are worth it and say that they feel safer driving with winter tyres in winter.
One of the main misconceptions about winter tyres is that they are only useful if it snows. Seeing that there is little snow in the UK it’s easy to dismiss them on that basis. The fact is, though, that they can be useful way before frosty conditions come round. The general rule is that if it’s under 7C degrees, they grip the road better than summer tyres. They will improve handling and braking no matter whether it snows or rains.
Do you need winter tyres?
Winter tyres have clear advantages in some weather conditions. Their design can really help to cope with bad and cold weather. And can help stop your car much sooner if you brake on snow or ice.
That said, it is less clear if you actually need them. Remember, in large parts of the UK it is barely cold enough in winter for winter tyres to have much effect. On top of that snow in most parts of the country is a rare sight. After all, the UK is not quite Austria. It might just be that weather conditions in your area might be so mild that there is not much point getting them.
Consumer advice organisation Which? has suggested that it will depend on where you are whether they would be useful. It would mean that it makes sense to get some if you are in a colder part of the UK. There where bad winter weather conditions are far more likely. If you mostly drive in a city environment where it’s less cold, the tyres may have less use.
When to get winter tyres?
Winter tyres are not compulsory in the winter months in the UK, so it is always a personal choice. Unlike in most other European countries where they are mandatory. If you do decide to have them fitted, then the time most people get them is around October. That way you’re in time for the first bits of cold weather and are all prepared for when it starts freezing.
What to do with your summer tyres?
That leaves you with your summer tyres, though, which have to be stored somewhere. If you have a garage or shed this is no problem. If you haven’t got the space the decision to get some may be a lot more complicated. Many tyre fitters nowadays offer summer tyre storage for a small price.
For any tyre to work well, it needs to be in good condition and inflated to the right level. A winter tyre that is worn and underinflated may work no better in winter than a brand-new summer tyre. On the other hand, a summer tyre that has almost worn beyond the legal limit will be no good even if it is summer. That’s why it’s very important to ensure at any time of the year that the tyre tread depth is well within the legal limit. On top of that, make sure your tyres are inflated to the right level. This will help the tyres perform better, your car will be a safer place to be in and will waste less fuel in the process.