Do I Need Winter Tyres ?
As our tans fade and our daylight hours dwindle - should we be fitting winter tyres on our cars?
The weather in the UK can vary from minute to minute, but our conditions are rarely extreme. Because of our moderate climate there is no law enforcing the use of winter tyres. Which tyres you have fitted on your car is a personal choice.
There are 3 main types of tyre you can choose for your car; winter tyres, summer tyres and all-weather tyres. All are made from slightly different materials to provide optimal performance.
Winter tyres will provide better grip on the road in wet, icy, or snowy conditions and when the temperature has dropped below 7 degrees Celsius. Your stopping distance will be reduced significantly in wintry conditions when you use winter tyres compared to any other type.
There are a few ways a winter tyre achieves this superior cold weather performance;
- Tyre material includes more natural rubber - natural rubber will not harden at low temperatures keeping the tyre surface more flexible in the cold. This helps the tyre surface grip the road more effectively.
- Tread pattern is designed for winter weather - there are more grooves and up to 10 times more sipes (jagged slits that create more edges for grip) on a winter tyre than a summer tyre. This creates a surface which can bite into snow and ice to provide an interlocking grip, reducing the risk of losing control on the road. The tread pattern also allows for a greater amount of water from between the tyre and road surface to be dispersed quickly, reducing the risk of aquaplaning in wet winter months.
Are Winter Tyres a Legal Requirement?
In the UK we rarely experience prolonged periods of extreme cold conditions so there is no law here that makes fitting winter tyres a legal requirement. In other European countries such as Sweden and Austria drivers must legally change to winter tyres at certain times of the year.
The use of winter tyres can be costly, as a driver will need a complete set as changing just the tyres on the driving wheels is not recommended. You will also need somewhere to store your summer tyres while you are not using these. As our winter weather is not extreme most drivers choose not to use winter tyres. Those who do are often those who live in remote areas where bad conditions are likely to be worse for longer, and roads are untreated.
Are there any alternatives to winter tyres?
If you do not want the cost of winter tyres, but would like some extra grip in bad weather conditions there are a few options for you. If the weather has become snowy, you could choose to fit snow chains or snow socks. These are both products you can keep in the boot of your car just in case you need these.
- Snow chains are chains which fit around your tyres and can only be used in deep snow, use at any other time can cause damage to your tyres and the road surface.
- Snow socks are a material which is fitted quickly and easily over your tyre to provide extra grip on snowy roads.
Summer tyres are specially designed to work optimally in temperatures over 7 degrees Celsius on both dry and wet roads. Generally, you will find most cars are fitted with summer tyres as standard.
The following adaptations achieve increased summer performance;
- Soft rubber compound - summer tyres are made from a much softer rubber compound than winter tyres enabling these to provide a much better grip in warm and wet conditions.
- Tread pattern - the tread pattern on a summer tyre is much simpler than that found on a winter tyre. Fewer grooves and sipes optimises contact between the tyres and road surface during the drier summer months.
Alongside increased performance you may notice a few other benefits of summer tyres. The softer nature of summer tyres means these are better at absorbing vibrations from movement on the road, so your journey may seem a little quieter. Summer tyres also have a lower rolling resistance, which can reduce fuel consumption and so provide you with more miles per gallon than a winter tyre.
All Season Tyres/All Weather Tyres
There is a third type of tyre many drivers forget about. All weather tyres are designed specifically for countries like the UK that do not generally experience any extreme weather conditions. These tyres combine elements of both winter and summer tyres to provide a good all year round tyre. They do not perform as well as winter tyres in wintry conditions or as well as summer tyres in warm conditions. All weather tyres provide a good compromise between the two, with better performance than a summer tyre in the winter and better performance than a winter tyre in the summer.
All weather tyres achieve this performance in the following ways;
- Intermediate rubber compound - these tyres are made from a compound somewhere in between those used for winter and summer tyres, providing good grip on warm dry road surfaces without hardening as much as a summer tyre in the winter months and so maintaining grip in colder conditions.
- Unique tread pattern - the tread pattern uses grooves and a high density of sipes to provide the interlocking grip of a winter tyre in icy conditions.
Benefits of an all weather tyre
Many all weather tyres have a 3-peak mountain snowflake marking on the tyre sidewall, which indicates these provide enough of the winter tyre element to be used in European countries where winter tyres are a legal requirement.
Using all weather tyres will avoid the cost and hassle of switching between winter and summer tyres.
Run Flat Tyres
Many new vehicles are now fitted with run flat tyres. These tyres have a strengthened side wall so are able to be driven for a short distance if these are punctured and reduce the risk of a tyre blow out.
If you have run flat tyres it is not generally recommended that you switch to conventional tyres as most vehicles with run flat tyres do not have a spare, or any tools with which to change a tyre. This could mean, in the event of a puncture, you could be left at the roadside with no way of changing the tyre yourself.
If you have conventional tyres it is also not recommended to switch to a run flat tyre without speaking to a professional. The problem here is that a car with run flat tyres will have a tyre pressure monitoring system. This is often the only way a driver will know if they have suffered a puncture to a run flat tyre. Without this system a driver may pick up a puncture and not realise, so continue to drive with the car in an unsafe condition.
No matter which tyre you have on your car - checking the tread depth is above the legal limit of 1.6 mm is vital! Most garages would recommend a tread depth of at least 3 mm to ensure sufficient grip on the winter roads.
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