I’d never heard of winter tyres up until a couple of months ago. I do know we used to have winter and summer oil for cars which was superceded by all weather oil when multigrades were developed but tyres? Do we get enough snow in the UK to warrant changing tyres? We did last year and it looks like we will this year too, but is it worth the extra expense? I thought I’d find out. Who to ask? Someone who makes them, I thought. So I asked the largest tyre manufacturer in Europe, Continental Tyres – manufacturer of millions of tyres over the past 140 years and they were good enough to tell me.
What are winter tyres and why use them during the winter months?
Previously, there has been a huge lack of awareness in the UK about winter tyres. Either motorists didn’t know they existed or they thought they could only be used in heavy snow or ice.
In fact, drivers will see benefit from using winter tyres on slush, ice, frost and even wet roads, in fact any time the temperature dips below +7 degrees centigrade.
In some EU countries such as Austria, Germany and Finland winter tyres are legally required. There is however, no legislation or guidance in this country.
2010 has been a turning point in the UK. Demand has increased dramatically as the country is gripped by prolonged periods of snow and motorists realise that winter tyres aren’t only effective in snow and ice but also on wet roads at cold temperatures. Advice for motorists is to talk to their tyre retailers. If they don’t have any stock left this year, talk to them about next year and get your tyres changed in October – along with the rest of Europe – before the weather worsens.
How do they work?
Unlike summer tyres (everyday standard tyres in the UK), winter tyres do not harden at lower temperatures. This means they give you a much better grip on the road and the ability to stop in a shorter distance, increasing your safety on the road.
The rubber compound of a winter tyre is very different, it’s designed specifically to work in temperatures under +7 degrees centigrade. It also has more natural rubber so they don’t harden when it’s cold, which means increased grip on the road and greater safety. What happens to a summer tyre when the temperature drops is that the compound loses its flexibility, making it less grippy in low temperatures.
On ice and snow winter tyres provide grip that no summer tyre can match. A vehicle fitted with winter tyres will come to standstill on a snow-covered road (from a speed of just 30mph) after 35 metres – with normal tyres the braking distance required is a further 8 metres (43 metres); another two car lengths.
What if I don’t want to change my tyres twice a year?
It is recommended that you switch to winter tyres in the UK between October and March and back to summer (or our standard tyres) from April to September. This will give you the best performance in terms of handling and braking distances. Some retailers have been offering tyre hotels to help you store your ‘out-of-season’ wheels. If you are reluctant to change your tyres twice a year, you can use the winter ones all year round. They are as quiet and comfortable as summer tyres and, thanks to advanced compound technology, they don’t wear any more quickly.
There’s a slight trade off with stopping distances as a winter tyre doesn’t stop as quickly in the dry as the standard tyre. However, on balance if it is not possible to switch in the winter, experts say you are better off with winter tyres all year round. This is because the difference in stopping distances of summer tyres in winter is far greater than for winter tyres in the summer.
A big thank you to Conti UK for answering the question that’s been bugging me why not just have winter wheels on all year round if they’re more suited to our climate? The answer is we should. Accidents are six times more likely during the winter months due to road conditions, so if winter tyres improve road grip and can be used all year round, it makes sense to me to use them all year round. Having had a few slides already this year on the rural roads around here, I’ll be swopping to winter tyres from now on – all year round. What about you?