4×4 or Winter Tyres?

Driving in Snow

Winter is set to bare its fangs over much of the UK, likely causing difficulty on the roads should temperatures drop further as predicted. Snow, ice and slippery conditions can be torture for drivers. Slithery road surfaces are tricky enough when there’s not much traffic about, but all the more nerve-wracking in an icy rush-hour with other vehicles in close proximity.

The least any responsible driver, who values their own safety and that of others, should do is clear the windscreen and all the other glass to ensure that a good view out of the car is maintained in all directions. Plus sweep any snow off the bonnet and especially the roof, so it won’t slide off and obscure the screen at a vital moment.

It’s obviously handy to keep an ice-scraper and a brush in the car, in case the weather worsens while you’re out. Some Skodas have a clever feature: they come with an ice-scraper tailored into a little slot inside the fuel filler cap, where it’s always handy should you need it. Other car makers would do well to copy that detail.

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This is the time of year when it is nice to drive a 4×4, with a better chance of maintaining traction when the going is tough. But it doesn’t guarantee that the car will not get stuck in the worst conditions. The vast majority of British motorists drive year-round on what are designed to be all-weather tyres but are basically summer compounds with treads designed to act as rain channels.

In recent years there has been a growing trend, encouraged by some of the more up-market car companies, for some canny drivers to invest in winter tyres. These are designed to cope better with low temperature conditions and have stickier compounds and special designs of sipes – the little grooves in the tyre treads – to deal with snow.

When the ambient temperature drops below 7 deg C, winter tyres do a much better job of maintaining grip and keeping you safer in slippery conditions. Unfortunately, though, they mean the expense of buying a second set of wheels as well as the tyres and also having somewhere to store the set not being used. Plus a small extra cost for having the wheel/tyre combinations switched every spring and autumn, to avoid the hassle of having to do it yourself.

No wonder that it is mostly drivers in Scotland, most at risk of snowy conditions, who go to all the bother and cost involved in having winter tyres. It’s worth considering, though, if our weather is becoming more extreme and you worry about winter driving.

Another aide to reducing the angst of snow driving is to invest in a set of snow-socks. At around £50 a pair, these are a cheaper quick-fix alternative to forking out for winter tyres, and are easy enough to carry with you and fit when you need them.




Sue Baker is a seasoned motoring journalist with a love of all things automotive.

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