Your ultimate guide to Winter Tyres

We are all aware that snow, ice and wintry conditions can affect our driving and the safety conditions on our roads.

Winter tyres in the UK: your ultimate guide

 
Snow, ice, and wintery conditions do nobody’s driving any good. Regular tyres have less grip in those conditions, leading to poorer braking, steering and acceleration. In fact, even damp and cold roads dramatically affect the performance and reliability of many regular tyres.
 
Most tyres on British cars are designated “summer tyres” and not many motorists swap them in Autumn. In the south, winter is usually moderate enough for summer tyres, especially on gritted city roads. It takes an icy snap or blizzard for motorists to discover their downside by skidding downhill or slowly sliding into a lamp post.
 

What are winter tyres?

 
Winter tyres are designed for high grip. Their knobbly tread designs bite into snow and mud and their rubber remains flexible at low temperatures. The cavities between the tread blocks quickly fill with ice and snow. This is a good thing, because ice is about the only thing other ice sticks to, so ice-ice and snow-snow bonding adds to the traction.
 
Winter tyres are far safer than regular tyres in those kinds of adverse road condition. In harsher parts of the country where snow and ice are common in winter - like Scotland and the north-west - winter tyres make a lot of sense. Snow and ice are also a bigger problem in the countryside - north or south - because drifts are more likely, gritting less common, and car journeys to reach vital resources unavoidable.
 
In our experience, winter tyres shine whenever the temperature drops below 7 centigrade (about 47 Fahrenheit). That’s quite a few months in much of the UK. All the leading tyre makers - Bridgestone, Pirelli, Goodyear, Falken - offer winter tyres. Popular offerings include the Pirelli Winter Sottozero and Bridgestone Blizzak ranges.
 
Don’t confuse them with all-season tyres. Most all-seasons are optimised for wet roads and standing water rather than ice and snow. They share the cold-resistance of winter tyres so behave better on icy roads, but they are not as specialised as a full winter tyre. Conversely, winter tyres are usually better than summer tyres on a flooded road but not as safe as an all-season. Nevertheless, on a cold wet road at 60mph a car fitted with summer tyres takes 5m further to stop compared to one with winter tyres.
 
These are generalisations, so to find the best winter tyres in the UK for your car always review the full specifications using Protyre’s tyre-finder function.
 

Can you use winter tyres in summer?

 
Manufacturers often recommend that a winter tyre pressure should be about 0.2 bar above the summer tyre recommendation. Bear in mind that cold weather reduces the pressure in the tyre anyway - so that extra 0.2 bar soon disappears when you drive from a warm garage onto a cold street. You don’t usually need higher pressure in summer, but avoid low pressure.
 
The downside of winter tyres (and some all-seasons) is faster wear and more noise on normal road surfaces because of their extra grip. Your fuel economy may also suffer a little. Tyre makers including Pirelli, Bridgestone and Falken recommend replacing winter tyres when their tread is down to 4mm, compared to 3mm on a regular tyre. They remain safe for regular driving below 4mm but no longer provide much benefit on ice and snow.
 
If you have some garage space the ideal solution is to keep a set of extra wheels, one for the summer and the other for winter.
 

Winter tyre storage

 
If you have enough space (and cash) for winter tyre storage, be sure to store them carefully. Stacking them on top of each other is not recommended. If you have no choice, reverse them regularly so that each side and each tyre gets its turn taking weight. When they are sitting upright on the ground they should be rotated often, so the pressure isn’t left in one place.
 
A shed that gets really hot in summer or super cold in winter is not the ideal storage environment, but light can do just as much harm. Leaving any tyre in direct sunshine causes the rubber to age faster. This is also true when they are on your car, so parking in shade helps tyres last longer.
 
It is a good idea to wrap your stored tyres in plastic sacks - but make sure they are bone dry before wrapping them.
 
In conclusion, the ideal tyre always depends on the vehicle, the driver and the driving conditions you expect to encounter. Advice is always free at your local Protyre garage.
 

Buy Your Winter Tyres

About the author

Dean Richardson

Dean is a Regional Director for Protyre who is also responsible for the running of our Protech Academy. The ...

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