Should You Fit Winter Tyres? (Remember Last Winter…)

We all remember the unusual amounts of snow the UK received last winter – and the road chaos that resulted from it. It seemed as if all road movements had become impossible as cars became stranded on the thinnest layers of snow and ice.

One reason for this is that virtually all cars in the UK use summer tyres all year round. As I’ve discussed before, summer tyres do not work very well when it comes to cold weather and snowy conditions. The rubber used in summer tyres is harder and becomes very stiff when temperatures fall below around 7 degrees C.

This means that summer tyres don’t grip the road as well as they should – even without snow. Use summer tyres in the winter and it will take you longer to stop in an emergency (even in dry conditions) than it would with winter tyres. Winter tyres are made from a different rubber compound that remains flexible and grippy in cold conditions. They also have a slightly different tread that will grip better in snowy conditions.

Close up of winter tyre on snow
A winter tyre - the extra little cuts in the tyre are called sipes and pick up snow when you are driving. This helps to generate extra traction - the snow on the tyre grips the snow on the ground

Some of the UK’s biggest fleets are now starting to use winter tyres in an attempt to avoid the disruption of last winter. The problem, in the UK, is that we rarely have significant amounts of snow and without snow, motorists can get by perfectly well on summer tyres. We therefore have a tradition of using summer tyres all year round. It’s not the same in Europe – in many European countries it is routine – or even a legal requirement – to change to winter tyres from around November – April. Of course, these countries routinely get much more snow than we do – but as we saw last winter, it doesn’t take all that much snow to cause days of chaos, disruption and avoidable accidents.

If you do a lot of driving and need to stay mobile in snowy conditions, I would recommend winter tyres. Although you can fit winter tyres to most alloys, the best plan is probably to buy a set of cheap steel wheels and have winter tyres fitted to them. That way, you car’s expensive alloys won’t be exposed to road salt during the winter and will remain pristine, ready for summer use.

Companies such as offer ready-to-roll packages of steel wheels fitted with winter tyres – or you can buy winter tyres separately and have them fitted to your existing wheels. I’d recommend replacing all four tyres if you do, as using two different types of tyre at the same time is not recommended and could cause your car to handle unpredictably in snowy conditions.

4 thoughts on “Should You Fit Winter Tyres? (Remember Last Winter…)

  • December 7, 2010 at 11:05 am

    We always recommend to customers to use winter tyres. As explained above they are designed to offer better grip for the cold weather. The problem we have as a business is that a large number of people don’t want to spend the money (especially in this economic climate). I have had great feedback from customers who do use winter tyres and they always recommend winter tyres but unfortunately its hard to get this message across to the majority.

    • December 7, 2010 at 11:20 am

      Hi Tom,

      Thanks for your comment. I have heard more talk of winter tyres this year than ever before – even on BBC radio and so on. Perhaps two consecutive bad winters will help to swing the balance towards winter tyres, but I agree that most motorists won’t bother and many don’t even believe that they work.

      What do you reckon to all-season tyres / all-weather tyres as a compromise that you can use all year round? Is their performance good enough in summer?

      Cheers, Roland

  • December 13, 2010 at 3:29 pm

    Hello Roland, the problem is money, not the type of tyres. With our last two winters being very snowy I was hoping for a bit of backing from the government with a road safety campaign and a bit of education on winter tyres to get it into everyones heads. When someone comes into buy tyres the main coversation is normally about the cheapest tyres. If I mention anything else they go right off the conversation. Don’t get me wrong, not everyone comes in with budget in mind and normally the people who don’t(the ones who want a good set of tyres) will listen to my advice, but it’s the majority who we neeed to get a message across to. In Germany over 40% of vehicles are fitted with winter tyres every year. we need this to happen over here.

    • December 14, 2010 at 8:53 pm

      I agree with you Tom, many people seem to think that there is no benefit to better tyres. Funnily enough, the same people often take a different approach when it comes to televisions and designer clothes!



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