From winter tyres to summer tyres: When’s the correct moment to switch?

From winter tyres to summer tyres: When’s the correct moment to switch?

21 Mar

By Tom Boote

If you’ve taken the time to read this, the chances are it’s because you drive on winter tyres, and as such that makes you a member of a very small group of drivers who get it. You’re aware that such things as winter and summer tyres exist – different tyres to be driven in different seasons. 

For the uninitiated, our latest tyre safety articles briefly explains what winter tyres are, and how they’re different to summer tyres. And for those of you already in the know, we’ll provide you with our thoughts on the right time to switch from one set to the other.

Knowing your winter tyres from your summer tyres

There are two main differences between winter and summer tyres, one of which is at the heart of why they work so well. The first difference is found in the tread design. Winter tyres have a completely different pattern, designed to work optimally in the winter season. But it’s the second difference that is vital. Winter tyres are made from different compounds. The rubber used for them is designed to bite into the road surface quicker in winter conditions.

Summer tyres, such as the award winning SportContact 6 and ContiPremiumContact 5, are made from a different compound, designed to grip warm road surfaces better and – yes, you’ve guessed it – winter tyres are made from compounds designed to better grip cold ones.

Before we go any further though, it’s crucial to make one thing clear; While they offer superior performance in snowy and icy conditions (compared to summer tyres) winter tyres are not the same as snow tyres.
Yes, drivers on the continent do get significantly more snow than us here in the UK, but at the end of the day it doesn’t snow non-stop from October through March, does it? No, of course not. So why do they switch to winter tyres? Because, just like us here in the UK, they experience cold weather. And we’re not even talking about deep freeze cold, either. By cold we mean just 7°C and below.

They switch from summer tyres because winter tyres are specifically designed to work best at temperatures of 7°C and below. Their special compound means that they perform better than summer tyres in these cold conditions. Knowing this, winter tyres suddenly seem like a good idea for UK drivers – especially given the terrible conditions we all had to endure when The Beast from the East descended upon us earlier this year.
Continental Tyres believe we should rename “winter tyres” as “cold weather tyres”, but so far the industry and public alike haven’t taken to the idea.

We know all about a long cold winter in the UK

This winter’s been pretty cold. And – even though the worst appears to have passed – there still aren’t many signs of spring, and we’re all well aware of what 7°C feels like. In fact there have been weeks when we’ve yearned for it to be even that warm…

Why this is significant though is that – when it comes to tyres at least – 7°C is when the performance characteristics of each tyre crossover and comes in to its own. When the ambient temperature stabilises and gets to around this or below, the time is right to have winter tyres on your car. And as spring approaches and temperatures begin to rise above 7°C, be prepared to make the change back from winter tyres to summer tyres.

But only once temperatures are more or less consistent, and the chances of a late cold blast have finally receded. This is typically at the end of March or the beginning of April, though this depends on where in the UK you live. If you’re a resident of Scotland, spring may take a little longer to arrive…

What happens if you switch from winter to summer tyres too soon or too late?

If, following an early burst of sunshine and warmth, you’re seduced by the upturn in weather and switch back to summer tyres, but then a late, unforeseen winter front descends on the country, your tyres won’t be in such a good position to cope with the cold weather conditions – and this affects your road safety. Why? Because the rubber used for summer tyres are made from a less flexible compound, and, as a result, will not key into the road surface as well in the cold weather temperatures. As a result, their driving characteristics will suffer.

But if you leave it too late to make the change, you’ll have a different problem to deal with. Winter tyres are less capable than summer tyres above 7°C. They are designed to warm up quickly, so that they can provide you with optimal effectiveness in colder conditions. But in warmer conditions this very same attribute negatively affects the tyres’ ability to provide the best performance, resulting in a higher rate of tyre wear, longer stopping distances, poorer handling, and increased fuel consumption.


Want to know more switching tyres? Speak to the experts

If – having read our latest tyre safety article – you’d like to know more about the benefits of switching tyres, or want to learn more about which tyres to switch to as the weather warms up, speak with your local Protyre professionals for impartial advice and expert fitting solutions.

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