Cold weather, snow and ice can create hazardous driving conditions. Combine that with shorter daylight hours, and drivers in the UK are six times more likely to have an accident during the winter months than at any other time of year. The more rural the area, the more likely you are to face wet and wintry driving conditions.
Read on to find out more about how winter tyres can help. If you already know you would like some on your vehicle, Which? Trusted Traders has mobile tyre fitters in your area now.
Winter tyres for all cold weather conditions
‘Winter tyres aren’t just for snow and ice,’ says Jeremy Valentine, Operations Manager at etyres. ‘They are specially constructed to remain supple when the temperature drops below 7 degrees centigrade. Made from a special, softer rubber compound that retains its flexibility even in lower temperatures, they have more sipes or grooves in the tyre. These effectively increase movement in its surface, giving you greater purchase on the road. They can also decrease the likelihood of aquaplaning in watery conditions.’
Winter tyres are suitable for all types of vehicles, from a Nissan Micra to a Range Rover. For drivers who face slippery conditions on the early morning commute, or who use un-gritted rural or residential roads, they can be a smart investment.
For essential services that need to keep going, no matter what the weather, winter tyres can be a lifesaver. Northumbria and Durham Police now fit them to all their rapid-response vehicles, following a test a couple of years ago. They tested their vehicles with summer and winter tyres and found that the stopping distance in icy conditions at 30mph varied by more than a bus length.
How do you change to winter tyres?
Changing over to winter tyres is a straightforward process, no different from any other tyre change. Some people will opt to have completely separate wheels, so they can simply jack the car up and change the wheels themselves, but most people will simply change the tyres.
Jeremy strongly recommends changing all four tyres at once. ‘It’s no good having two summer tyres and two winter tyres, because if you’re driving in icy or snowy conditions, the different tyres and grip levels will negatively affect the car’s handling,’ he says.
Make sure you source your winter tyres from a reputable dealer. ‘Winter tyres can be expensive,’ says Jeremy, ‘But even the cheapest winter tyre will outperform premium-range summer tyres in wintry conditions.’ He advises against buying part-worn tyres, as it’s impossible to know their full history. Unless you read the dot information, you will not know how old they are. Old tyres are more likely to lose their flexibility and become brittle, even if they don’t show any external signs of wear.
Who needs winter tyres?
Met Office statistics tell us the UK typically experiences 23.7 days of sleet or snowfall a year, rising to 38.1 days on average in Scotland. These Met Office maps show the areas that experience the heaviest areas of snow falling and snow lying in the UK.
Historically, winter tyres were more prevalent in the north of England and Scotland, reflecting the more severe weather. Jeremy estimates that around 50% of car owners in rural areas of Northumbria will change to winter tyres to keep moving in the winter. However, the uptake nationwide has dramatically increased over the past few years.
In much of northern Europe, such importance is placed on winter tyres that drivers have to switch to winter tyres in October or November by law. The UK’s milder weather and lighter-touch regulatory system means this is not a legal requirement, but interest in winter tyres has been growing steadily among the driving community. This reached a peak in the cold winter of 2013-14, and sales of winter tyres have remained constant ever since.
Storing summer tyres
So once you’ve got your new winter tyres on your vehicle, what do you do with your summer tyres? Jeremy’s recommendation is to put them either in special tyre bags or black bin liners to protect them from UV decay. Then they need to be stored off the ground – maybe on a shelf or a wooden pallet. Removing the tyres from a garage or shed floor protects them from extremes of temperature, which helps keep them in good condition, ready for you to change them back when the temperature rises again in spring.
It’s essential to change back to summer tyres once average temperatures rise above 7 degrees, as winter tyres won’t perform as well in warmer months.