Many drivers think there's not much point switching to seasonal tyres to deal with the British winter. But despite the extra expense, winter tyres can significantly improve your car's safety – and not just in snow and ice…
Many people think that winter tyres are unnecessary because we don't actually have that much snow and ice – unless, of course, you live in Scotland. But winter tyres actually make driving safer in any cold weather.
Here's the how and why…
What's wrong with using summer tyres in winter?
Regular tyres harden when the temperature drops below 7°C, meaning they have less traction on the road. This increases the risk of spinning off the road, and also extends the stopping distance if you have to make an emergency stop.
There are 6,393 more accidents involving cars on UK roads in winter than there are in summer, according to Continental Tyres. While these can't all be put down to frozen summer tyres, there's no doubt that winter tyres reduce the likelihood of an accident and so help keep car insurance premiums down.
So how do winter tyres help?
To minimise the hardening effect at low temperatures, winter tyre rubber compounds contain a higher proportion of natural rubber and silicone content than regular tyres.
They give you better grip in cold conditions because of all the addition of tiny slits in the tread blocks called sipes. The sipes greatly increase the number of lateral edges in your tyres so that when you accelerate or brake, the tyre has more leading edges to bite into the road's surface, improving its ability to grip.
The heavier, deeper tread patterns on winter tyres also help to prevent aquaplaning. Aquaplaning is when the tyre fails to clear the layer of water between road the car, leaving you with no grip and a car that fails to respond to anything you do. This is vital when you consider that the number of accidents caused by wet road conditions increases by 267% in winter, according to the Department of Transport Road Accident Statistics.
Why don't I just fit winter tyres all year round then?
The noise, for one thing. Siping makes your tyres much noisier in dry conditions, which is a good reason to switch back to your regular tyres in summer. There are several major reasons including the issue of increased tyre wear, road noise when driving at higher speeds, fuel economy and the lack of grip in warmer conditions.
Can I just fit winter tyres to the drive axle?
It's tempting just to fit winter tyres to the drive axle, to improve performance when pulling away. But for optimal performance and safety, you're really better off fitting them to all 4 wheels.
What about driving abroad?
In some European countries it’s illegal to drive with regular tyres in the winter, so if you're motoring abroad you need to follow the local law.
To sum it up, in the UK, winter tyres are optional but well worth considering.