At Tusker, we include everything you could need with your car. But sometimes people think they need extras. Like winter tyres. If you’re wondering, “should I buy winter tyres”, read on to find out why we think they’re an unnecessary addition to your vehicle.
Which tyres do I need for my car?
2018 was a year of weather extremes with the coldest winter in 27 years and the joint hottest summer on record. Maintenance is key to ensuring your can perform in all temperatures: from screen wash that won’t solidify below freezing to ensuring your tyre tread is legal and safe. But what about winter tyres? Do you need them and do winter tyres work?
Before we answer these questions, let’s take a look at the main tyre types to understand what tyres are best for which conditions:
Summer - these tyres are made from a harder material that softens in warmer temperatures to provide better grip on the road. At temperatures below 20°C they harden up and become less effective which reduces their grip.
Winter - cold weather tyres are made from a softer compound so they grip the road better in winter when the temperature is lower. Their tread pattern features finer grooves that bite into snow and slush.
All-season - this tyre aims to offer the best of both worlds. Manufactured from an intermediate compound, the finer snow-gripping grooves provide added grip down to -5°C.
Do winter tyres work?
While weather extremes might make the headlines, government weather data shows that, between 1981 and 2010, the average UK temperature only fell below 7°C from December to March. Why is this important? Because winter tyres offer better for traction, cornering, grip and braking than summer or all-season tyres solely when the temperature is below 7°C.
With a hotter climate on the cards, and warming winters, March’s average temperature could soon increase past 7°C. Which would reduce the months you’d use winter tyres to just three - December, January and February.
Of course, not every day during the winter months will fall below this magic number. As temperatures fluctuate, you’ll find that summer tyres could be more appropriate as they perform better than winter tyres in dry conditions above 7°C.
This means that, even if you swap to winter tyres, you’ll be trading off worse performance on warmer days against better performance on colder days. Unless you constantly change all four tyres every time the temperature drops. And, realistically, this isn’t going to happen.
Back to the question, do winter tyres work? Perhaps not as well as you might expect. Testing by driving safety charity, Tyresafe, found winter tyres do reduce stopping distances in comparison to summer tyres. However, at 5°C the stopping distance is only reduced from 70.5m on summer tyres to 65.7m on winter tyres - that’s an improvement of just 5.2m.
You could simply leave more distance between you and the car in front to achieve the same safety improvement.
Which tyres are illegal to drive with?
Unlike some other European countries, there’s no legal requirement to drive with winter or summer tyres at specific times of the year in the UK. However, it is illegal to drive with a winter tyre alternative - the studded tyre - that has plastic or metal studs embedded in the rubber.
Should I buy winter tyres?
While there are some benefits of using winter tyres on days when the mercury drops, it’s worth remembering that additional tyres come with added effort and cost. First you need to buy a complete set of four new tyres (that are slightly more expensive than the summer version), then you need to change them over.
This either means a trip to the garage or the added expense of buying another set of wheels so you can switch the entire wheel more easily. Then you’ll also need somewhere to store the set you’re not using or pay out more money for tyre storage.
Is there an alternative to winter tyres?
Instead of changing tyres, some drivers invest in snow chains or snow socks. Snow chains fit over the tyres to provide more traction whereas snow socks are high-grip fabric covers that fit over your tyres. Both items should only be used in snowy conditions.
Snow socks aren’t as effective on ice as snow chains and they’re prone to damage as they’re far less robust. But they are much easier to transport and fit making them a practical alternative.
Both these options provide a great alternative to shelling out for a complete set of winter tyres. Particularly if you want the added security of additional grip in snow and slush. Yes, you could end up taking them on and off for short periods of time. However, it’s much easier to do this with chains and socks than replacing all four wheels with winter tyres.
What tyres are best for you will depend on where you live, how much you drive and the weather patterns in your region.
For most people, who don’t live in remote areas, winter tyres doesn’t really make sense. Particularly if you can use public transport or work from home when the weather’s at its worst.
While winter tyres might be a nice to have, they’re an expensive add-on that means more storage, time and effort for very little benefit.
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