What are winter tyres and do I need them?

Here in Britain we seem to have two sorts of weather – blisteringly hot or unbelievably wet. As we approach autumn and winter, the latter is becoming the norm, and as temperatures drop and road conditions worsen you may soon be asked whether you want to swap from your normal tyres to winter tyres. For starters, what are winter tyres? Do you really need them? Let Scrap Car Comparison talk you through everything you’ll want to know to be able to keep on rolling this winter.

What are winter tyres?

Winter tyres aren’t just a ploy by tyre manufacturers to get you to buy a new set of rubber every few months. Winter tyres, as the name suggests, are made to perform at their best in adverse conditions most commonly seen in the winter months. A winter tyre is made of a softer compound and has deeper grooves with narrower cuts (known as sipes). When working together, this makeup allows the tyre to disperse more snow and water while also allowing the rubber to move around, giving a better contact point on the road. 

You can easily identify a winter tyre by the snowflake symbol on the sidewall. Some tyres may say M+S (Mud and snow, not an upmarket high street shop), but this does not automatically mean that they are winter tyres.

When are winter tyres needed

Trying to guess what the weather’s going to do is a lottery in itself; even trained weather forecasters don’t always get it right, but it’s generally accepted that autumn and winter are going to endure some of the harshest conditions. Tyre manufacturers recommend that winter tyres are fitted between October and March, when temperatures are traditionally at their lowest and the roads are most likely to be covered in water, ice or snow.

Benefits of Winter Tyres

There are stats to back up why you could make a choice in either direction. Naturally, the winter tyre isn’t going to perform as well in the summer months, with summer tyres having an average stopping distance of 65.3mm with temperatures around 20 celsius, against 67mm for the winter tyres. However, drop the heat down to 5 celsius and the summer tyres’ stopping distance rises to 70.5mm, while the winter tyres actually shortens to 65.7mm.

As a result, the winter tyres perform the same as the summer tyres in their respective months, but the summer tyres perform worse in cold conditions than the winters would in warmer temperatures.

Do you need winter tyres when driving abroad?

Driving abroad comes with a whole host of additional rules and regulations that you may not be used to if you’ve only spent your driving career pootling around British roads. Aside from driving on the other side of the road, should you visit Europe in the winter – such as when going on a skiing holiday – then there are a couple of rules you should be aware of first.

If you’re going to Germany or Austria, then you must ensure that winter tyres are fitted to your car if you’re going to be driving in wintry conditions. In Germany, a law was introduced in 2010 requiring all passenger cars or motorcycles to be fitted with winter or all-season tyres on all axles. Meanwhile, if you’re driving in Austria between 1st November and 15th April, or any time outside these dates where snow is on the road, then you must again be fitted with winter tyres. Similar tyres are recommended to be fitted in a number of other countries but there is no requirement to do so.

Snow chains are also a requirement to be carried in a number of countries and fitted where signalled. The countries that require snow chains to be carried are as follows:

  • Andorra
  • Austria
  • France
  • Germany
  • Italy
  • Switzerland

Can you use winter tyres in the summer?

While there is nothing to say in writing that you can’t use winter tyres in the summer, it’s not advisable for a number of reasons. To begin with, you’ll have worse performance than if you were running with summer tyres, but you’ll also actually be costing yourself more money in the long run.

The greater rolling resistance of a winter tyre means that you’ll not only be using more fuel, but also producing more CO2 emissions as a result. You’ll also find that your car will handle much better if fitted with the correct tyres for the seasons, providing you with additional levels of both comfort and safety.

Can I use winter tyres all year round?

Based on the above, there’s absolutely no reason why you can’t use winter tyres for the entire year, but the question really is should you? The additional resistance that the winter tyres will be subjected to thanks to the warmer tarmac means that you’ll be using more fuel than you would if you were on tyres suited to the conditions. You can also expect a dip in the performance of your handling, mostly due to the fact these tyres would have been on your car for a considerable amount of time, and the tread will start wearing thin.

Difference between summer and winter tyres

If you were to look at summer and winter tyres side by side the differences would be fairly obvious. Winter tyres have more grooves that their summer counterpart, and these grooves are also deeper than you would find on a set of summer boots. Not visible to the naked eye, winter tyres are made of a softer compound of rubber, meaning they are more flexible at lower temperatures. In contrast, summer tyres are more rigid and provide more stability in the warmer weather.

Is it illegal to mix summer and winter tyres?

It is strongly advised by all road safety experts to not mix summer and winter tyres in any combination. The mix of performance can create an unsafe driving environment for you, and could result in an accident, putting not only yourself but all other road users in danger.

It is also important to check what type of design the tyres are built to. In the UK, it is illegal to mix cross-ply and radial tyres, so if you are driving around with a combination of these tyre types, you could find yourself pulled over and handed a penalty there and then.

For more tips on how to keep your car motoring along in all seasons, be sure to visit our Car Care Guide.

If you’ve been caught out and had an accident as a result of having the wrong tyres installed at the wrong time, then Scrap Car Comparison is here to help. No matter the condition of your car, whether it’s accident damaged, suffering from a mechanical fault or simply battered and bruised from a life of service, we’ll be happy to take it from you and provide you with the very best price possible. By using our unrivalled network of scrap and salvage specialists, we’ll be able to get you an unbeatable quote in as little as sixty seconds, and what’s more, with buyers in all four corners of the country, we’ll even come and collect it totally free of charge. Get started today and find out just how much your car could be worth with Scrap Car Comparison.

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