In the UK, unlike parts of Europe, it isn’t a legal requirement for drivers to keep two sets of wheels for summer and winter. As most of us are experiencing the dreaded white stuff that motorists hate, otherwise known as snow, should you buy snow tyres?
Yes, buy winter tyres
Statistics from the Department of Transport state that 48% of accidents are caused by skidding in winter, whereas the figures is 11% compared to dry conditions. This may sound like you should buy some winter tyres but should you?
Some experts say that winter tyres are much better to use as they significantly reduce stopping distances due to the different compound and tread pattern which gives them extra grip. They cope much better than regular tyres in temperatures less than seven degrees. Winter tyres have a tread rubber compound, comprising a high silica content, with a tread pattern that allows the tyres to remain flexible at low temperatures and to give a good braking and traction performance on wet, snow and icy surfaces. The movement of the tread blocks squeezes out the snow so the treads can’t block up. Tiny slits in the trends blocks provide extra edges to improve grip on surfaces and reduce stopping distances considerably.
So, if you live in area that is quite remote or high up and get a lot of snow and ice it may well be worth investing in a set of winter tyres. People who live in remote areas really depend on their cars so it would be useful for these people to fit winter tyres. If you live somewhere that drops below -5 ͦC in winter then you should consider buying them. Remember if you change from alloy to steel wheels you may have to alter the design of the wheel nuts that you use. Also, you need to have four sets fitted otherwise the stability and balance of the car will be impacted. Plus a spare!
You can expect to pay £200 upwards depending on the make and model of your vehicle so do consider if you really need to spend the money. If you do buy winter tyres you need to think about the implications for your insurance. On the whole you don’t need to tell your insurer if you fit winter tyres, but to be on the safe side, you should tell them. So long as the winter tyres are fitted to wheels of the correct specification then all should be well. By ‘correct specification’ we mean that the wheel size; diameter, width and offset confirm to the vehicle manufacturer’s specifications. Some insurers have a different view and there have been reports in the recent past of some insurers increasing or cancelling premiums over winter tyres being fitted. So do check with your insurer before doing anything.
No, you don’t need to buy winter tyres
Depending on where you live you may not need them as some parts of the UK don’t get much snow and ice usually. Winter tyres are not suited to all year round use and summer tyres will perform better when temperatures are higher and roads are drier. So a purchase of winter tyres is only useful for part of the year.
Some people prefer not to drive on snow and ice and this obviously depends on how confident you feel about driving in such weather conditions.
All Season Tyres
You can buy ‘All Season Tyres’ which are a compromise. They have a high silica content for flexibility in low temperatures and a tread pattern that is midway between a summer and winter tyre. Probably, they won’t be as good as winter tyres but if you don’t get the worst of the snow and ice they could be a good compromise, especially for your pocket. So, if you live in an area that gets light snowfall with temperatures rarely below freezing then these could be for you.
Another compromise is to go out and buy some snow chains to use in emergencies. But most people find their use is quite limited since you can only use them on road surfaces that have layers of compacted snow or ice. They can be quite awkward to fit and remove in the cold, and when wheel arches are packed with snow.
One easy thing you can do is to check that your tyres have enough tread, not less than 2 mm and at least 3 mm is recommended for the winter. Check your tyre pressure too but don’t reduce the pressure if snow and ice are around as it won’t help with grip and could impact on handling.
So, should you buy snow tyres? Well, the answer varies according to who you ask. The AA state that it is a good idea for car drivers who live in remote places to buy them but that otherwise it is up to individual preference and circumstance. Which, the consumer group, also sit on the fence a bit and say that location is a key factor. They state that if you live in Scotland or the north of England then winter tyres are more useful. The RAC recommend winter tyres on the grounds of safety but also say that cost and personal choice are important but they would like manufacturers to state the safety case for winter tyres much more strongly. Tyresafe are a not-for-profit tyre safety organisation who campaign and advise on using tyres safely. Their view is that motorists should use winter tyres and on their website they list 147 reasons why. We suggest you do the research, think about your location, car journeys and budget and make the right decision for you.