What’s the difference between winter and regular tyres? We look at the benefits of winter tyres and explain how they might help motorists through UK winters.
Motorists might think winter tyres are only necessary for snowy or sub-zero conditions but with UK winters getting colder by the year they could be the key to safer driving.
So what makes a winter tyre, or cold weather tyres as they’re also known, different to conventional tyres? And how could fitting them save you money?
According to the experts, winter tyres are effective in temperatures below seven degrees Celsius, which we generally see during UK winters.
In countries such as Germany, Sweden and Austria they’re compulsory during winter months.
Chairman of TyreSafe, one of the UK’s leading tyre safety organisations, Stuart Jackson, says: “There is a misconception that cold weather tyres are not appropriate for drivers in the UK.
“However, this couldn't be further from the truth.
“Cold weather tyres provide much better grip in both wet and dry conditions when the temperature falls below seven degrees so they offer extra safety typically from October to March.”
What makes a winter tyre?
The main difference between winter tyres and regular tyres is the tread depth.
On a winter tyre it starts at between 8 and 9mm, as opposed to 7 and 8mm on a regular tyre.
The grooves within the tyre are wider and deeper as well, forming a larger channel for snow and water to travel through, which maintains grip on the road.
More importantly, the rubber used to make winter tyres contains a larger percentage of natural rubber and silica in the compound, which doesn't harden as much as synthetic rubber in cold weather. This also improves the tyre’s grip.
According to a survey from tyre retailer ATS Euromaster, 45 per cent of drivers said their biggest fear about driving in the winter was that they were more likely to have an accident because the roads felt more slippery.
Despite this just 3 per cent said they fitted winter tyres.
As well as enhancing road grip, which is obviously a boost for road safety in wet and icy conditions, winter tyres have an affect on stopping distances.
Tyre manufacturer Continental say that a vehicle fitted with winter tyres will come to a 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). That is another two car lengths.
Last winter, there was debate about whether or not winter tyres are considered a vehicle modification, which could therefore result in a car insurance increase. But the Association of British Insurers (ABI) has confirmed this is not the case, although they recommend that drivers inform their insurer if they fit winter tyres.
An ABI spokesman said: “The major motor insurers have all confirmed that they would not class fitting winter tyres as a material modification and it would not impact on the premium.
“The one condition would be that they would expect such tyres to be fitted by reputable garage/dealer, in accordance with the motor manufacturer's specifications.”
What do winter tyres cost?
Like most tyres the cost varies depending on the vehicle but in general winter tyres start at around £60 each.
A spokesman for tyre manufacturer Falken said: “It’s worth noting that winter tyres can save money. They are usually cheaper to buy than summer tyres and because you are using these, you could save wear on expensive summer tyres, making them last longer.”
Because tyre storage is important to maintain the lifespan of the tyre (tyres should be stored on the rims, avoiding stacking as this can damage the sidewalls and they should be kept in a dark, dry environment) some manufacturers, such as Citroen and Peugeot, offer a tyre storeage service.
They’ll fit your winter tyres and store the old summer tyres until the winter has passed, then swap them back.