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.
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 Blackcircles.com 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.