The UK as a rule has mild winters, without the extreme low temperatures and heavy snowfalls experienced in other parts of the world. Changing over to winter tyres for part of the year is not compulsory as it is in some countries, but opinion is divided within the motor trade, and drivers as to whether this is a good idea.
While deep snowfall is rare in the UK, when it does occur, it can throw the road network into chaos. The extra grip and control offered by winter tyres can help new and used car drivers cope with the dangers of slippery surfaces. If you live in a remote area, the chances are that you rely on your car to get around. Hilly regions are also more likely to suffer heavy snow in winter, and the roads in these parts are some of the country’s most dangerous. So, taking every possible precaution to stay safe when driving in winter is a sensible idea. The image conjured up by winter tyres is of a car making its way through a snowdrift, or a 4×4 on trade plates demonstrating its all-terrain capabilities. However, the tyres are in fact designed to perform better in winter conditions when the temperature falls below 7 degrees, and in the rain, which now makes them seem far more relevant for use in the UK.
The main difference in winter tyres is in the rubber compound used to manufacture them, this is softer than the compound used for summer tyres, giving much better grip in low temperatures. Tread patterns are also designed specifically for winter use, tending to be deeper than on a summer tyre. Small slits in the surface of the tyre, called sipes; add to the surface area and grip.
If you decide winter merits some special equipment, you have many options available. A dedicated set of winter tyres is perhaps the most expensive way of getting through the winter, but it offers a significant improvement in safety and performance over standard tyres when weather conditions worsen. Prices starting at around £50 for a basic tyre, with premium brand tyres more expensive. Some drivers invest in a second set of wheel rims, this way wheels can be swapped over between seasons, a quicker job than swapping just the tyres.
In some parts of the world, tyres with metal or plastic studs are used for winter driving, these are not legal for road use in the UK.
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One alternative to winter tyres is to use all season tyres throughout the year. These have a structure and design somewhere in between summer and winter tyres. They provide a good performance across a range of weather conditions, but will obviously not perform as well in winter as a dedicated winter tyre, or as well as a summer tyre in summer. For the occasional snowy day, a set of tyre snow socks might be all you need. These soft coverings wrap around the tyre and provide extra grip. They are useful for getting out of a driveway or uncleared residential street, they cost much less, and don’t take up too much storage, so you can always keep a set in the boot in case you get stuck!
Just as important as the choice of vehicle tyres, is the need to adapt your driving for winter road conditions. Whatever tyres you’re using, driving a vehicle sensibly on wet, icy or snowy roads, whilst increasing braking distance will help to keep you safe. In case you are wondering, fitting different tyres to your vehicle shouldn’t affect your insurance policy, some insurers require you to inform them of any modifications you make, so to be on the safe side, it may be best to let them know.