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What are winter tyres and are they worth it?

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Winter tyres can offer extra safety during the colder months. We explain how they work and why they might be worth buying.

Winter tyres

In countries such as Germany, Sweden and Austria, winter tyres are, as you may expect, compulsory during winter months.

However, while not mandatory for UK drivers, motorists here may still want to think about investing in some.

We take a look at how winter tyres work and why drivers may benefit from a set when the mercury drops.

What is 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. 

This doesn't harden as much as synthetic rubber in cold weather, which also improves the tyre’s grip.

What are the benefits of 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 says 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 eight metres (43 metres). That's another two car lengths.

Are winter tyres worth it in the UK?

According to experts, winter tyres are effective in temperatures below 7 degrees Celsius, which we generally see during UK winters.

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.”

Freezing conditions motorway sign

Will winter tyres affect my insurance?

There has previously been debate about whether or not winter tyres are considered a car modification, which could therefore result in a car insurance increase.

But the Association of British Insurers (ABI) has confirmed this isn't the case, although it recommends 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 a reputable garage or dealer, in accordance with the motor manufacturer's specifications.”

How much do winter tyres cost?

Like most tyres the cost varies depending on the car, and the quality of tyre, but in general good winter tyres will 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.”

Are there any drawbacks of winter tyres?

As you may expect, winter tyres aren't as effective as summer tyres in temperatures above 7 degrees Celcius.

For example, grip can become impaired and braking distances lengthened when compared with their warm weather counterparts.

Winter tyres can also become worn more easily if used during warmer months.

However, such issues can be overcome by changing tyres when the weather starts to heat up again.

Anything else to consider?

Storage should be on your list of things to think about, as it's an important part of maintaining the lifespan of the tyre.

Tyres should be stored on the rims and stacking should be avoided as this can damage the sidewalls.

They should also ideally be kept in a dark, dry environment.

Some manufacturers, such as Citroen and Peugeot, offer a tyre storage service.

They’ll also fit your winter tyres and store the old summer tyres until the winter has passed, then swap them back.

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