Whether or not you should get some winter tyres must be a question that is crossing the minds of many a driver at present as the UK once again disappears under a blanket of freezing snow. It’s a fair question, it’s not compulsory in the UK and nor has it even been particularly advised as a ‘must do’ anywhere. So it’s as good a time as any to look this subject square in the eye and ask – are winter tyres worth it?
Winter tyres are compulsory in many parts of the world including parts of Scandinavia. In countries where it is not compulsory, many drivers take it as written that they will have a specific set of tyres for winter use. In Germany the law states that ‘..in the case of motor vehicles the equipment should be adapted to the weather conditions’ and In France while winter tyres are not compulsory, the lack of such precautions can be used as an argument in determining responsibility for a road accident.
Well, we have snow (as you can probably see) so why don’t we have any legislation at all for winter tyres in the UK? The AA give three reasons, which to be honest are rather feeble: many parts of the UK ‘never or rarely experience’ such weather conditions, many drivers choose not to use their cars in bad weather and the prohibitive cost for buying, fitting and storage.
I appreciate these are not the AA’s own arguments, but this does look a little like the traditional British attitude of let’s worry about it when or if it happens rather than being prepared and lo and behold – the country annually grinds to a halt at the first snowflake each year.
But the attitude is changing in the UK, there is a groundswell of opinion from motorists and many in the industry that winter tyres if not being made compulsory, should be elevated to become a higher profile option. Let’s plant the seed of the idea in driver’s heads.
Most cars bought in the UK are fitted with summer tyres (which must surely raise a few questions in itself, due to the fact we have about a month of summer each year) while some are fitted with all-season tyres.
Summer tyres have a harder compound and are suited for gripping warmer surfaces, throw some minus conditions into the mix and your tyre stops working as well as it should – think of it like that old extension cable you used to have for cutting the grass, hard to coil back up when it’s not warmed by the sun.
All-season tyres are a compromise between summer and winter tyres and to my mind will only leave you slightly dissatisfied in summer – and then again in winter.
Winter tyres have a softer compound and a higher percentage of silica and offer improved grip in temperatures at around 7C and below. But it’s not just about the compound, winter tyres have sipes, these are tiny edges on the tread blocks that enables the tyre to grip the road surface while still offering a little give and movement thanks to the softer compound. This in effect, hangs on to the road surface till the last minute rather just roll across it like a cold summer tyre would in wintry conditions.
The configuration of the tread blocks also play their part, the blocks allow themselves to become slightly clogged with impacted snow which also improves the grip in snow as snow essentially sticks to itself. The result of changing to winter tyres should be that grip, cornering and braking are improved, a quick search online of various road tests confirms that winter tyres are not just a marketing ploy.
But let’s not confuse winter tyres with being snow tyres, winter tyres are for cold conditions. Many tyres marked with the ‘mud’ and ‘snow’ label may still be constructed from a harder summer compound that will just get harder as the weather gets colder.
So what are the down sides? Extra cost of course and many drivers also choose to buy a set of steel rims as well to protect their alloys from the ravages of our salty winter roads. The cost can range from £400 up to over £600 or more. And of course there is an argument that you should in fact buy 5 tyres not 4 – one as a spare. But once you’ve got them you essentially increase the distance between your next tyre change as each set of tyres is now only being used for around half the time they normally would each year.
There’s also the minor issue with some winter tyres of decreased fuel efficiency (softer rubber equals more rolling resistance which in turn equals less miles per gallon) but that’s not such an issue with the top brands.
Autocar tested winter tyres a few months ago and concluded that summer tyres were ‘..a liability in snow and inferior in the cold and wet.’ So maybe it’s time to start thinking about improving your car’s safety performance in winter, especially if you have a rear-wheel drive car.
images from roadarbloggers.wordpress.com & alt.coxnewsweb.com