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.
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 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 can also help to prevent aquaplaning, which is when the tyre fails to clear the layer of water between it and the road. Aquaplaning can cause you to lose total control of the car.
Why don't I just fit winter tyres all year round then?
Winter tyres simply aren't designed for warmer conditions, meaning the softer tread will wear out much quicker than regular tyres. You'll also suffer from increased road noise and increasingly poor fuel efficiency as the tyre degrades.
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 four 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.