I’ve written before about the importance of considering using winter tyres or all-season tyres in order to handle winter weather more safely – now the IAM has joined in the debate with its own advice on tyres for winter motoring.
According to the IAM, the biggest obstacles to the adoption of winter tyres in the UK are cost (around £500 for a new set of wheels and tyres) and storage for the second set of wheels. The IAM concludes that there are four options for UK motorists trying to deal with winter conditions.
Although these are the best for all-round winter motoring and provide excellent grip in snow, ice and cold conditions, the IAM’s advice is that winter tyres are not really suitable for year-round use, as in warmer conditions they will wear faster and provide less grip.
All-season tyres provide a compromise that can be used all year but will provide improved grip in winter thanks to the use of the same rubber compound as winter tyres (but with a different tread). All-season tyres are popular in the USA and Canada but less so in Europe. All-season tyres should have a snowflake symbol on the sidewalls and may also have a sun symbol, representing summer use. They can also be marked as M+S (mud and snow) tyres.
Although acceptable and suitable for summer use, they will not provide quite such good performance in summer as dedicated summer tyres (standard fitment on UK cars).
Snow socks are a relatively recent invention that fit over standard tyres and provide good grip in snow and ice. According to the IAM, they won’t damage tarmac and can be used on clear road surfaces for short periods although they will wear fast if used in this way. They are relatively affordable and cost from around £40.
Snow chains are the ultimate solution in heavy snow and ice but cannot be used on clear roads without causing damage and committing an offence. The IAM advises that you should remove them as soon as possible. They also are awkward to fit and increase the width and diameter of your car’s wheels – meaning that cars with large diameter, wide wheels and low profile tyres may experience difficulty using them – consult your owner’s manual or ask a main dealer before using chains, if in any doubt.
The other downside with chains (did I mention they were awkward to fit?) is that they are more expensive. The IAM reckons that a cheap pair for emergencies will be about £50 while a decent quality pair for regular use might cost as much as £200.
Simple Motoring Says
In my opinion, UK conditions rarely justify snow chains and they are not the solution to the problems we see on the roads everytime it snows. What so often causes problems is a very thin layer of slippery snow or ice on which cars using summer (standard) tyres get no traction. The same cars, using winter tyres or even all-season tyres, would have no problem unless the snow got too deep.
At the same time, winter tyres are possibly overkill, especially, as the IAM points out, for people who can choose to avoid driving in bad conditions. My personal belief is that all-season tyres represent the best solution for many UK drivers. They offer a sensible compromise – good performance in moderate winter conditions with an acceptable rate of wear and grip in summer conditions.
Although all-season tyres don’t offer the ultimate performance of dedicated summer tyres, I do not necessarily believe this is a big problem for most cars and drivers. Sports cars and high performance models may be an exception – but for most people, I think they are a good solution. It’s worth remembering that all-season tyres are standard fitment to most cars in the USA and Canada – countries with a wider range of good and bad weather conditions than the UK.
Remember that if you do fit winter or all-season tyres to your car, you must fit them on all four wheels. Fitting them to two wheels only will mean that the front and back ends of your cars have different handling characteristics and grip levels – potentially an accident waiting to happen.