What are winter tyres and are they worth buying?

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What are winter tyres?

Car driving in snow

Winter tyres are designed and manufactured to provide improved traction and grip in cold temperatures. Features such as deeper grooves and narrow cuts built into the tread improve contact with the road surface by helping the rubber move around, whilst diffusing surface water and snow.

Winter tyres are marked with either a snowflake or snow-topped mountain symbol, making them easy to distinguish. M+S (mud and snow) tyres are also available, but shouldn’t be mistaken for winter tyres as they have different properties.

What are the benefits of winter tyres?

Country lane in winter rain

Winter tyres are safer when the temperature drops below 7°c due to improved handling and reduced braking distances in cold conditions. The tread is designed to prevent snow getting stuck in-between so there are no blockages, and the rubber manufactured so that it doesn’t harden.

Independent road safety charity, Tyresafe, conducted a study on the braking distances using summer and winter tyres in a variety of conditions. The results can be seen below:

TemperatureSummer tyresWinter tyres
20°c 65.3m 67m
5°c 70.5m 65.7m

What are the drawbacks of winter tyres?

The primary drawback of winter tyres relates to the cost. In Mainland Europe where winter temperatures are lower than in the UK, many drivers have two sets of wheels and tyres which they switch depending on the time of the year. As such, this means purchasing 4 new sets of wheels and tyres, which may become costly.

In addition to the cost of purchasing, you will need to store your winter tyres during the warmer months and vice versa. If you don’t have a garage or shed, you may need to use a local car garage to store the tyres at a set cost. For example, ATS Euromaster charges £7.50 per tyre to store out-of-season tyres at their ‘tyre hotels’.

Read more: The ultimate European Roadtrip

What is the law in the UK?

Police on motorbike

In some European countries such as Germany, Sweden, Finland and Austria, it is compulsory to have winter tyres fitted during certain periods of the year. Failure to comply in these countries is a criminal offence and may land the owner with a fine of up to €5,000.

In the UK, winter tyres aren’t required by law and only a small percentage of drivers make the switch during the colder months. Nevertheless, those who live in more remote areas where roads aren’t as well managed, such as in the Scottish Highlands, may consider using them.

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Will winter tyres affect my insurance?

Car headlight

Your insurance shouldn’t be affected by switching to winter tyres, providing the wheels aren’t being changed. Where you are changing the wheels and tyres, you may need to tell the insurance company if the wheel diameter, width and offset are different from the manufacturer’s standard equipment. Nevertheless, we would always recommend checking with your insurance company before making any changes to your car to ensure it doesn’t affect your policy.

Read more: Car insurance groups explained

Using all-season tyres instead

pickup truck in the snow

All-season tyres are a viable alternative for UK motorists that don’t want the hassle and expense of changing their tyres twice a year. They are designed to give car owners a consistent driving experience all year round. However, the performance won’t be as good as either of the specialist tyres.

All-season tyres are designed to combine the properties of both winter and summer tyres, with a unique tread pattern with grooves that provide grip in both warm and icy conditions. The design allows motorists to get an adequate grip on warm, dry road surfaces, whilst not hardening like summer tyres in cold weather.

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Our top tips for driving in winter

Driving in winter conditions can be a challenge and may result in an accident if you’re not adequately prepared. Therefore, it is crucial to prepare thoroughly before driving in snow and icy conditions - the following tips will help to make your journey safer:

  • Plan your route

     

    It is important to ensure you plan your route to avoid any unexpected delays, especially if you live in an area that is prone to flooding and has poorly maintained roads.
  • Check your tyres

     

    The minimum legal tread depth in the UK is 1.6mm, but you may want to consider higher if you’re driving in poor conditions, such as ice or snow. You may also want to consider winter tyres where the conditions are particularly poor.
  • Check your fuel

     

    Checking you have enough fuel for your journey may sound obvious, but it’s particularly important in winter where you may become stranded and accidents are more likely.
  • Carry a breakdown kit

     

    Breaking down in winter can be more serious than other parts of the year. Therefore having the essentials in your car in the event of an emergency is wise. This may include blankets, jump-start cables, a first-aid kit, de-icer, reflective warning signs and a mobile phone charger.
  • Check visibility

     

    Ensure that you can see clearly out of your windows and windscreen before setting off. You should also de-ice your mirrors and check you have enough windscreen wash.
  • Check your wipers

     

    Both sets of wipers need to be in good condition to ensure you can clear any rain or snow. Wipers that are in poor condition could result in your view being compromised and unable to see the road ahead.
  • Check your lights

     

    You should assess all of your lights are working before beginning a journey, including fog and brake lights, as they’re more likely to be needed in poor visibility.
  • Be cautious

     

    Driving in poor conditions is inevitably more dangerous, therefore it is important to stay aware of other road users and be cautious when driving in winter. Reducing your speed slightly could prevent an accident.

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