Winter Tyres: Should I Bother?

Winter tyres are always something that brings up a big debate in this country. Across many parts of Europe in countries like Germany it’s actually the law to have them fitted to your vehicle in the winter months.

When I was looking into getting winter tyres fitted to my car I had some trouble finding the right size tyre for my wheels and wanted to check on an internet forum what size would best fit my car. It was as it turned out like lighting a touch paper and standing back as the arguments for and against winter tyres kicked off.

“We don’t get much snow in this country, so I don’t bother”

The amount of snow we get compared to other European countries is perhaps not the greatest amount depending on where you live, but we’re talking about winter tyres here not snow tyres.

Winter tyres are made of a different compound to that of their summer counterparts; this allows them to remain softer and subsequently grippier in lower temperatures below 7deg. The tread pattern is much better designed for dealing with ice and snow while the depth of the tread pattern does a much better job at dispersing large amounts of water, something you will most definitely see a lot of in a UK winter.

“My car has four-wheel drive so I don’t need to get winter tyres”

Our survey says: EH ERRR. No, just because you have a four wheel drive system on your vehicle does not mean that you will be able to get through snow and ice. Just look at this video of a Range Rover Sport stuck in just a few inches of snow thanks to summer tyres. Look. At. Him. Fail:

Maybe with some simple diff trickery you will be able to get a move on but as I have seen evidenced in ditches on my commute just because you can get moving does not mean that you will be able to go rounds bends or indeed stop any quicker. In fact most 4×4 vehicles will take a lot longer to stop thanks to the extra weight they carry.

“You have to buy new wheels and winter tyres are more expensive”

You don’t have to buy a new set of wheels. I have not done this on my car, I simply get the tyres swapped over in October and March. In some cases you may be able to get cheaper winter tyres on smaller steel wheels and this is often a common practice in some countries. Getting winter tyres for 19in alloys will be astronomically expensive and it’s cheaper to switch to something like 16in steel rims which will not be expensive to purchase.

Another reason for this change over is alloy wheels are much more susceptible to damage and corrosion from the salt on the roads and also the large potholes (Lunar-like surfaces in the UK) that pop up over winter. This means that you could be saving yourself the expense of having alloys repaired or refurbished.

Winter tyres are not more expensive than their summer counterparts unless you are buying some cheapo crap rubber for your car in the summer. The winter tyres can last for more than one season depending on mileage and as you’re spreading out the wear across two sets of tyres it need not be more expensive.

Also remember the fact that these tyres are going to be much safer to have on your car in the winter months so reducing your chance of being involved in some bumper bending is going to save a lot of money on your insurance in the future.

“I have a BMW and as it’s the ultimate driving machine I don’t need winter tyres”

Uh-huh, good luck with that.

“If they’re so great then why don’t we just leave winter tyres on year round?”

As you will see in Formula 1 racing the type of tyre choice is crucial to winning and indeed losing a race and they react differently to changes in conditions. The compound used for winter tyres is much the same, it’s designed to be most effective in cold conditions so using it on hot dry roads it’s not going to perform as well as a set of summer tyres and will have poorer braking distances etc in these conditions. You can get ‘all-season’ tyres but I can’t help but think that this sort of rubber will probably be a jack of all trades, master of none.

“I live in a flat, I have no space to store the alternate set of tyres while not in use”

As part of the encouragement to change over to winter rubber many tyre fitting services offer what they call a ‘tyre hotel’. When you get your winter tyres fitted they will take and store your summer tyres (in some cases for free) and give you a ticket to swap the tyres round when the nice weather comes back.

You can check out these videos below of my experience with winter tyres last year, once they got me out of a tight spot in Coventry past many abandoned cars and a second time they were the reason that I was the only person who could get my car to and from the office.

You can also see this demo from TyreSafe showing highlighing the benefits of winter tyres: