The recent snowy and icy conditions have highlighted just how useless most modern cars are in these conditions. But all over Europe, people drive just the same cars – often in countries that have far more snow and ice than we ever do. How do they manage it?
One of the ways they manage it is by using winter tyres in winter! In many European countries, it’s actually a legal requirement from around October/November through to the spring.
You may not realise it, but the vast majority of tyres fitted to UK road cars are actually summer tyres, designed for use when the temperature is well above freezing and there’s no ice or snow on the ground. Come winter, these summer tyres are useless.
According to tyre maker Continental, winter tyres account for just 0.5% of UK tyre sales – yet they also say that winter tyres perform better whenever temperatures fall below 7 degrees, not just in snow and ice. The main difference is that winter tyres have a slightly blockier tread and are made from slightly softer compound rubber, making them more flexible and grippy in very cold conditions.
In case you aren’t convinced, take a look at this video of a tyre test by Autocar magazine. Even accounting for the difference in cars, it makes a strong argument for the performance of winter tyres.
Update: On a final note, don’t think that because you’ve got four wheel drive you are immune from snow problems. Proper 4WD cars with off road tyres may do much better – think Land Rovers, for instance – but many ‘soft roaders’ like the Honda CR-V don’t do much better at all – because they’ve just got summer road tyres on. Andrew Frankel illustrates this graphically in this blog post!