Are Winter Tyres Worth It?
This is where winter tyres enter the fray. Designed to offer extra grip in snowy and icy conditions, winter tyres have become something of a hot (or should we say cold) talking point among motorheads in recent years. This is partly because, unlike in many parts of mainland Europe, they aren’t a legal requirement in the U.K.
In this article, we’re going to outline the pros and cons of winter tyres, how they work and whether they are worth the money.
Ask the average person to picture a ‘winter tyre’ and their first thought might be of a metal-studded wheel with ginormous treads, chugging over thick snow. The reality, however, is far less exciting.
Contrary to popular belief, winter tyres – also referred to as ‘cold weather tyres’ and ‘snow tyres’ – look almost identical to summer tyres. The only major difference is that they are designed to provide optimal performance in temperatures below 7 °C. Unlike summer tyres, they have deeper treads which displace slush more easily and cut into hazardous surfaces.
You can identify a winter tyre by finding the Three Peak Mountain Snow Flake marking (3PMSF) on its sidewall. This is not to be confused with the ‘M+S’ marking, which isn’t always suitable for icy conditions.
Another common myth about winter tyres is that they’re only suitable for significant snowfall. This isn’t true. Snow tyres have deeper grooves (called “sipes”) than regular tyres, which improve traction and braking in snowy, wet, frosty, slushy and icy conditions. The grooves also work to disperse slush and water away from the tread, resulting in better contact with the road.
Where regular tyres begin to harden and lose grip in temperatures below 7 °C, winter tyres use more natural rubber and softer compounds to stay flexible.
Here in the U.K., our weather isn’t considered severe enough to warrant the same kind of tyre legislation as, say, Germany. And it probably wouldn’t make economic sense too. However, that’s not to say you couldn’t benefit from winter tyres – and there are certainly instances where we would consider them a necessity.
While there is no legal obligation to use winter tyres in countries like Denmark and France, there are other regions (such as Germany and Austria) where it is considered a punishable offence.
Many people mistakenly think they should change to winter tyres when we get the first frosts. When, in fact, you don’t need to wait for snow and ice. The time to fit cold weather tyres is when the air temperature consistently drops below 7°C. This can often be in mid-autumn and is the crossover point where summer season tyres become less effective.
As tyre expert Daniel Bezer says, there is a common misconception about winter tyres:
“The UK’s perception that winter weather tyres only support driving on snow or ice is outdated. Modern rubber compound technology and advances in tread pattern design mean that today’s winter weather tyres also provide higher levels of road safety on cold and damp road surfaces, too.”
The easiest rule of thumb to follow is to think of them as cold weather tyres, not winter tyres. But please bear in mind that if you do decide on fitting winter tyres, you will still need to treat them like any other tyre by maintaining sufficient tread depth and correct inflation.
This brings us to the question of whether winter tyres are worth it (*drum roll, please*).
Ultimately, it depends on your circumstances. If you find yourself needing to drive for long periods during the winter, or you regularly visit regions which experience heavy snowfall, then cold weather tyres are probably worth the expense. After all, the benefits of winter tyres are obvious: they offer better grip, smoother cornering and shorter braking distances when exposed to snowfall and ice.
If, however, you live in a part of the U.K. that rarely drops below freezing, you could probably forgo winter tyres. It really comes down to whether you think your vehicle is fit to take on hazardous conditions when they do arise.
Winter tyres offer both “safety and confidence”, says Daniel:
“Independent research commissioned by TyreSafe found that more than half of UK drivers feel less safe when driving in the winter, and their biggest worry is being involved in an accident. Winter weather tyres could mitigate this fear for many drivers by offering additional grip.”
If you’re not convinced by cold weather tyres, or you’re looking for a tyre which combines the characteristics of both winter and summer varieties, you may want to consider all-season tyres. These aren’t designed for any specific weather type, but tend to have better handling than summer tyres when on wintery roads.
Another option is to use snow chains. These are legal in the UK, as long as they aren’t used in a manner which causes damage to road surfaces. Therefore, you should only use chains on snow-covered roads – making sure to remove them when driving on tarmac surfaces. Snow chains can be quite awkward to fit yourself, but they are cheaper than buying winter tyres. They are also ideal in emergencies.
While winter tyres are fine to use on dry surfaces, we wouldn’t recommend using them during the summer. As the natural rubber and soft compound are designed for temperatures under 7°C, cold weather tyres will lose traction on road surfaces when it’s warmer. The pliable rubber of winter tyres is also likely to wear down more quickly as it gets warmer. In contrast, summer and all-season tyres are designed to have a longer wear life in warmer temperatures.
Thinking about buying winter tyres? Want to know which winter tyres are best for your vehicle? Give our customer support team a call on 0333 016 6550 and one of our advisers will be happy to help. Once you’ve found the tyres you want, we’ll then arrange for one of our tyre technicians to come out and fit them for you. No trips to the garage. No need to wait.
Don’t forget, you can also visit our offers page to find cheap winter tyres and discounts on leading brands, such as Dunlop, Bridgestone, Goodyear and more.
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