Winter Tyres? Are they Worth the Investment?
What are Winter Tyres?
Winter tyres are constructed of a soft rubber compound designed to offer optimum traction and grip in cold conditions. The softer compound entails small slits with deeper grooves and narrow cuts, usually known as snipes. These features are crucial in dispersing water or snow and allow the rubber to move around which in turn improves contact with the road. Once the temperatures go above 7C winter tyres offer a poorer performance, with increased braking distances and poorer performance on bends.
Do I Need Winter Tyres?
In some European countries where weather conditions are more extreme it is mandatory for vehicles to switch to winter tyres. This isn’t the case for the UK but it is worth the investment for those living in more remote or rural areas who may be affected by snow or ice. They might be a sensible investment to protect your standard tyres for the remainder of the year.
Are Winter Tyres Expensive? Can I Save Money?
The cost of winter tyres can vary and is largely dependent on your vehicle and wheel-size. On average a winter tyre is slightly more expensive than an equivalent summer tyre.
However, while the cost of four winter tyres can be costly, remember that your summer tyres will last longer as a result of swapping your wheels over twice a year. Therefore you may have a fairly high initial outlay, the longer-term cost of winter tyres is relatively low.
Five Benefits of Switching to Winter Tyres
If the weather is to drop below 7°C then the rubber in summer tyres can start to harden and drastically reduce their ability to safely grip the road. Winter specific tyres are constructed cleverly to continue to provide flexibility, in sub-zero environments that can dip as low as -30°C.
The thin slits known as sipes cut horizontally across the tread, therefore designed to create more movement and essentially bite into the ice as well as any snow that may be clinging to the road. If the tread is more aggressive, the tread pattern also reduces the chance of snow build-up.
In panic situations some drivers may slam on the brakes. This can be a problem with summer tyres as they are more likely to respond by skidding over a cold, slippery surface. Whereas winter tyres stay soft and have a better chance of helping the vehicle regain composure.
The more traffic that drives over a frozen road or pavement allows ice to melt, which creates a layer of water that a vehicle can potentially slide uncontrollably over. Winter tyres reduce this through the use of speciality grooves that push the water off to the side.
Winter tyres are often offered in slimmer sizing compared to OEM. The narrower the width increases the weight of pressure exerted, resulting in the tyres having an easier time cutting through the snow rather than floating over the top of it.
Are Winter Tyres Beneficial?
If the weather is cold enough then yes, winter tyres do make a difference, they offer increased traction, grip and braking performance in comparison to summer tyres in temperatures below 7°C. Provided the temperature is low enough, their special tread patterns mean they will perform better in the wet, as well as on snow and ice.
The sipes found on winter tyres are key to improved grip on wet and ice-covered surfaces. The sipes help not only because of their edges, but also because they enable localised movement of the rubber as the soft compound clings to the road. Winter tyres are also designed to gather a snowy ‘in-fill’ in the tread grooves and in the sipes to help with grip on packed snow. Afterall nothing grips snow better than snow itself, winter tyres exploit this by gathering and holding as much of it as possible.
The extra-deep tread grooves also help the tyres to disperse surface water and usually increase resistance to aquaplaning - this is where the tyre passes on top of the water rather than through it, and it increases the risk of losing control of the car. When switching from summer tyres to winter tyres drivers may notice an increased road noise and a slight difference in ride quality when switching to winter tyres.
Are there Any Alternatives to Winter Tyres?
If you are concerned about the cost of purchasing winter tyres, then you might want to consider a set of snow socks or snow chains instead.
Snow socks are high-grip fabric covers that fit over the car’s driven wheels they offer more grip on snow and are useful to have in your boot in case you need to drive in:
- Unexpected snow - for instance when taking a back road that hasn't been cleared of snow
- Tackling a snowed in driveway
- They are a cheaper alternative to winter tyres but must be removed when the road is clear again
- They are easier to fit then snow chains are not suitable for very deep snow
Snow chains are hard wearing, yet harder to fit steel alternatives that offer the best grip in snowy conditions.
- They are best suited for deeper snow
- They must be removed when snow clears or when driving on a clear road as they could damage your car and the road
- They are more time consuming to fit than socks
- They are a mandatory requirement in some countries
Neither of the above are a direct substitute for winter tyres as they can’t be used on snow free roads, yet they may offer peace of mind and a way out of a slippery situation.