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What are winter tyres? Should I fit them?

December 03, 2021 by

Winter tyres are specially designed to maximise grip in cold, slippery conditions. They’ll help make sure you stop safely on ice-covered roads and don’t lose control in snowy corners, but are they worth paying extra for?

What are winter tyres?

Winter tyres use a different type of rubber from conventional summer tyres to help them grip colder, more slippery surfaces. They usually have deeper treads than summer tyres too, to clear the road of thick slush and grip keenly in deep snow.

Unlike summer tyres, they often have plenty of small spidery treads (called sipes, if you were wondering) cut into the tyre’s surface. These allow the tyre treads to flex slightly as you drive along, which warms up the tyre surface and helps maximise grip in cold conditions.

When should I use winter tyres?

In some countries, such as Germany, it’s a legal requirement to fit special tyres during the winter months. This isn’t a law in the UK but many tyre manufacturers recommend fitting winter tyres when the temperature drops below a sustained seven degrees centigrade.

Winter tyres are also more resistant to wear and fatigue than harder summer tyres in cold conditions. As a result, fitting your car with winter tyres in very cold weather will help both your winter and summer tyres last as long as possible.

Which cars need winter tyres?

Most cars are front-wheel drive – meaning the engine’s power goes to the front wheels, which have the weight of the engine pushing them into the road, giving you more grip in slippery conditions.

Rear-wheel-drive cars – such as many sports cars and most BMWs – don’t have the weight of the engine pushing down on the driven wheels, so can sometimes struggle to climb steep hills in icy weather. As a result, you may want to consider a set of winter tyres if you own a rear-wheel-drive car.

Even cars with four-wheel drive can do with an extra helping hand on particularly slippery roads. If you regularly travel off-road or tow heavy trailers, winter tyres will help make sure you can stop safely and won’t get stuck when the going gets tough, too.

How much do winter tyres cost?

Winter tyres typically cost approximately the same as a comparable summer tyre. For a small family car, such as a VW Golf, winter tyres can cost from as little as £50 each – although this’ll depend on the tyre manufacturer and how much a tyre shop charges to fit them.

Once you’ve removed your car’s summer tyres, you’ll need somewhere to store them until you’re ready to have them refitted in spring. Some tyre shops will offer to keep hold of them for you (for a fee) but you’ll probably have to clear some space in the garage to keep them safely stored for the winter.

Winter tyres often cope with mud better than conventional summer tyres

Can I use winter tyres in summer?

Winter tyres don’t offer as much grip as summer tyres in warm and dry conditions. As a result, your car’s stopping distance will usually be greater on winter tyres than on conventional summer tyres in temperatures above 11 degrees.

The softer rubber in winter tyres means they’ll wear more quickly than conventional tyres in hot weather, too. As a result, it’s best to switch back to summer tyres once spring comes back around.

So, should I buy winter tyres?

If you live somewhere prone to particularly harsh winter weather, a set of good winter tyres could make the difference between getting stuck and getting home safely. If, however, you live in a built-up area where heavy snowfall is rare and gritters are common, dedicated winter tyres are probably an expense you can do without.