What are winter tyres?

Last updated October 28, 2021

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.

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How do winter tyres work?

Winter tyres differ from summer tyres in three ways and these qualities enable them to handle wintery conditions like rain, sleet, and snow.

Firstly, the tread pattern has many more grooves (sipes), which displace water and help the tyre bite into snow and ice. Secondly, winter tyres are made from a compound with more silica, which keeps them soft and supple in freezing temperatures - this is vital because summer tyres harden in the cold, causing the vehicle to drift due to a lack of friction.

Finally, the rubber blocks on winter tyres vibrate when in motion, displacing snow and ice. Conversely, summer tyres are susceptible to snow and ice build-up, causing the tyre to become completely smooth and lose necessary friction.

How much do winter tyres cost?

The cost of winter tyres will depend on your car’s make, model and the tyre’s quality. As a general guide, however, you can expect to pay somewhere around £60 each for standard quality winter tyres, with premium winter tyres commanding a higher price tag.

What are the benefits of winter tyres?

Winter tyres are safer when the temperature drops below 7°c due to improved handling and reduced braking distances in cold conditions. The tread stops snow from getting stuck in between, preventing blockages and the rubber has anti-hardening properties.

Independent road safety charity, Tyresafe, conducted a study on breaking distance using summer and winter tyres in various conditions – the results of which are below:

Temperature Summer tyres Winter 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 Continental 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. This means purchasing four new sets of wheels and tyres, which may become costly.

In addition to purchasing costs, 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’.

What is the law in the UK?

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.

Can I use winter tyres in summer?

It is legal to use winter tyres in summer, but it isn’t generally recommended as winter tyres wear out rapidly in warm weather. This is because they generate less grip and traction in the heat, making them unsuitable in balmy conditions. Therefore, it’s best to remove your winter tyres when temperatures start to increase in late spring-early summer.

Will winter tyres affect my insurance?

Your insurance shouldn’t be affected by switching to winter tyres, providing the wheels aren’t being changed. If 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 recommend checking with your insurance company before making any changes to your car to ensure it doesn’t affect your policy.

Using all-season tyres instead

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 combine the properties of both winter and summer tyres and feature a unique tread pattern that provides 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.

Our top tips for driving in winter

Driving in wintery 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 essential to ensure you plan your route to avoid unexpected delays, especially if you live in an area prone to flooding with 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 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 in poor condition could compromise your view and obscure the road ahead.

  • Check your fuel

    Checking you have enough fuel for your journey may sound obvious, but it’s crucial in winter where you may become stranded and accidents are more likely.

  • Check your lights

    You should ensure all of your lights work before beginning a journey, including fog and brake lights, as you’re more likely to need them when visibility is poor.

  • Carry a breakdown kit

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

  • Be cautious

    Driving in poor conditions is inevitably more dangerous; therefore, it is crucial to stay aware of other road users and be cautious when driving in winter. Also, please remember, reducing your speed could prevent an accident.