Should I buy winter tyres for my car?
Bad weather in the winter months can create havoc on the roads. Winter tyres could help you stay mobile, but are they worth it?
Winter tyres are designed with slightly softer rubber compounds, which use more natural rubber than summer or all-season tyres, and remain flexible at low temperatures. They also have different tread patterns, with more small cuts in the rubber (called sipes) that generate more grip on wet or snow-covered roads, and help prevent aquaplaning. As with "normal" tyres, there's a wide range of prices and options for different types of car.
The differences in performance could be life-saving. According to tyre manufacturer Michelin, the stopping distance from 31mph on snow is 63 metres in a car fitted with summer tyres, and 32 metres in an identical car fitted with winter tyres. That could make a lot of difference in an emergency.
As well as that, because they have more grip, a car fitted with winter tyres is more stable and safer, so you’re more likely to make it round a corner.
Don’t confuse winter or cold weather tyres with studded tyres, which can be found in countries that have harsher climates than ours. These have metal or plastic studs built into the rubber, and while they’re essential in the Arctic Circle, they’re not legal on the road in the UK.
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“After experiencing the benefits of winter tyres both on the road and in a testing environment,” he said, “I believe most British drivers would be shocked if they felt the difference.”
Perhaps more of a problem is what to do with the tyres you take off. You must change all four at once – and you need to keep the summer set for when the weather improves – but four tyres take up a lot of space. In some cases, your retailer will keep one set in a ‘tyre hotel’, but you may have to pay for the privilege.
You may also have heard that winter tyres give a less comfortable ride than the summer equivalent, although that hasn’t been the case in our experience – in fact, our tester said his Golf was more comfortable on winter tyres.
If you need to drive in parts of the country where the weather is wintry and cold for long periods, winter tyres probably are worth the hassle and expense; but, if you live somewhere where the temperature rarely drops below 7°C or you simply cut down on driving in the winter, it probably makes more sense to stick with summer tyres all year round.
Our final word of advice is, if you do want a set for winter, it’s best to get them sooner rather than later. Stocks are limited, and they’ll soon run out once the forecasters start warning that poor weather is on the way. We’d recommend planning to run them between October and March.
Be aware though, snow socks are only for use on snow and ice. Use them on the road, and they’ll be torn to shreds very quickly. These are a short-term solution, and if you’re going to be driving for longer periods in such conditions, then winter tyres are a much better option.