Understanding the differences between winter and summer tyres

Understanding the differences between winter and summer tyres

08 Feb

By Tom Boote

If you’ve ever lived in or travelled through any northern European country – like Germany or France – during the winter months, you’ll already be aware of winter tyres. If you’ve not done so, the chances are that winter tyres won’t be on your radar, and as a result you’re less likely to contemplate switching your tyres. After all, why would you? It’s not as if we get that much snowfall in the UK, right, so why should you?

In our latest tyre safety article, the Protyre team will not only explain what winter tyres actually are –  and how they’re different to summer tyres – we also bust open a massive myth about them too.
 

So how are winter tyres different to summer tyres



There are two significant differences, one visible, one not. Take a look at the Continental winter tyre tread on the right, above, closely and you’ll see that they’re cut into the tyre as curved chevron patterns, which contrast to the summer tyres’ more orbital treads. Winter tyres also tend to look ‘chunkier’ too.

And the difference you can’t see? It’s the one that really matters. What is it? Simple. Winter and summer tyres are manufactured from completely different rubber compounds, with each developed and produced to adapt to very different driving conditions.
 

Lucky seven? It depends on the weather…

After a typically long and mostly warm summer, it’s hard to imagine what 7°C feels like, but this temperature is very, very significant when it comes to tyres.


Comparison braking distances using summer, winter and all-season tyres in dry, wet and snow conditions, from a speed of 62mph.
 

Summer tyres provide good driver safety when the weather is warmer

The compounds that are made for summer tyres are designed for use in warmer temperatures –7°C or higher. At this temperature and above your tyres will perform at their best. However, if you use them below this temperature – which most UK drivers do - the compounds harden quickly. As a result the tyre’s driving characteristics diminish, and they don’t grip as well.

 

Winter tyres provide superior driver safety when it’s colder


With winter tyres the reverse is true. They’re designed for use in temperatures of 7°C and below. The compounds used for these tyres respond to the cold so that they can deliver the best possible grip at a much reduced temperature. Compared to using summer tyres in the cold they perform significantly better, providing drivers with a much surer grip.

Premium tyre manufacturers like Continental invest a fortune every year in researching and developing different tyre compounds so that drivers can have the best braking performance in each season.

 

False: winter tyres are just for driving on snow

It’s one of the biggest myths in driving, and it needs to be put to bed. Snow is not the primary reason why millions of European drivers switch to winter tyres every year. While it’s true that they may get a bit more of it than us, the fact is it doesn’t snow round the clock from October to March in northern Europe, right?!

So why do they switch from summer to winter tyres? They do it because the rubber compounds that go into winter tyres make it much safer to driver when it’s 7°C or colder. It’s all about temperature.

That’s not to say that when it does snow, winter tyres are much, much better at coping with it than summer tyres. They are. Just think about what happens in the UK when it snows – there’s travel chaos and the country tends to grind to a halt.

Unfortunately, because we don’t get that much snow in the UK, we as a nation are not switched onto the idea of changing tyres in the winter. We still mistakenly think winter tyres are snow tyres, not cold weather tyres. It’s important to remember this.
 

What about “all season tyres”? Are they a good compromise?


Comparison performance of summer, winter and all-season tyres in a variety of weather and driving conditions.  
You’d think that with a name like “all-season”, tyres of this kind would provide the best of both worlds, right? Unfortunately its just not the case. Tyre experts around the world – including the UK – still recommend switching from summer to winter tyres, and vice versa.

Why? Because all-season tyres aren’t anywhere near as good as summer tyres when it comes to braking when it’s warm – in both wet and dry conditions. And they’re not as good as winter tyres for braking when it’s cold, or in snow. They’re a compromise that don’t compare when it comes to braking. As if this isn’t bad enough, all-season tyres adversely affect fuel economy too, costing you more in petrol and diesel.


If I switch tyres, what do I do with my other set?

Good question. Many homes in northern Europe are built with underground garaging, but if you live in a UK city you’re unlikely to have that option. There is an alternative. With more and more people in the UK realising the benefits of switching to winter tyres, many retailers are offering “tyre hotels” as part of the deal, allowing you to store your ‘second set’ of tyres all year round. They’ll typically fit them for you too when you need to switch.
 

Unsure about winter tyres? Speak with Protyre, your local tyre experts

Get in touch with Protyre today for expert, impartial advice on the best tyres to fit on your car. Our team of experienced tyre professionals offer unrivalled fitting solutions.

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