Winter tyres guide

You know how it is; every time a few snowflakes fall, the UK grinds to a halt because we seem to be incapable of preparing for winter.

In some parts of mainland Europe, motorists are compelled by law to switch to winter tyres for several months of the year. In the UK, with its average 33 days of snow and sleet each year, the extra cost and hassle don’t seem worth it.

But if you want to ensure that you can keep driving during the winter, it’s worth fitting your car with some winter tyres. They won’t help in snow drifts three feet deep, but on icy roads they could make all the difference between you getting to your destination safely, and wrecking your car.

How winter tyres work

Winter tyres are made of a softer rubber than conventional tyres; they also feature special tread patterns and a greater tread depth, to make driving in snow far easier. Winter tyres also help greatly in wet weather without massively hindering dry performance.

Because this softer rubber wears more quickly, you should revert to standard tyres when the temperature is consistently above eight degrees or so. If you don’t, you’ll find your tyres wear out much faster than a set of conventional summer tyres. 

On icy roads they could make all the difference between you getting to your destination safely, and wrecking your car

It’s perfectly legal and sensible to drive with standard or all-weather tyres all year round; all-weather tyres provide more grip than regular tyres, but without using the special compounds of winter rubber. All-weather tyres also tend to be noisier and less fuel-efficient than conventional tyres – but the extra grip can more than compensate.

If you do decide to fit winter tyres, you’ll need either a second set of wheels to fit them to (which will need to be stored the rest of the year), or you’ll have to get the tyres fitted to your wheels, then you’ll need to sort out storage for your regular tyres.

Because you’ll probably have your winter rubber fitted for just a few months of the year, you should be able to use it for several years before it has to be replaced.

Also bear in mind that because the demand for winter tyres is seasonal, you need to plan ahead. It’s no good waiting for the first snow of the year to fall; by then your local tyre centre will probably have sold out of the size you need.

Key points: 

  • You ought to invest in five winter tyres, not four – don’t forget the spare.

  • Winter tyres tend to be marginally more expensive than conventional tyres.

  • Instead of investing in winter tyres, you could buy some snow socks instead, for around £50 per pair. But these can be used only on snow and ice; driving on Tarmac will destroy them.

  • The amount of tread on your regular tyres makes all the difference; their performance will never match a set of decent winter tyres when it’s icy, but more tread will help.

  • Whether or not you fit winter tyres, check out our page on preparing for winter driving as well as the one on how to drive in wintry conditions.

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This article was brought to you in association with Nationwide Vehicle Contracts