How Do Winter Tyres Work?
Winter Tyres Are Said To Give You And Your Car A Definite Edge When It Comes To Driving in Winter Weather. But How Do Winter Tyres Actually Work?
Feb 09, 2015
With freezing temperatures once again hitting the UK in recent weeks, you may well have thought about fitting winter tyres on your car. After several harsh winters in recent years, trade bodies say that the popularity of winter tyres is increasing even if they accounted for just 3 per cent of tyre sales in 2011.
So how do winter tyres work? And will they be of benefit to you? Keep reading for our guide.
The Science Of Winter Tyres
‘Winter tyres’ are not just designed for thick snowfall and ice. In fact, a more accurate name for them is ‘cold weather’ tyres as they are designed to work on both wet and dry roads, just at lower temperatures.
Winter tyres have a higher silica content than regular tyres and are made of a softer compound. This means that as temperatures fall to below 7 degrees centigrade (around 45 Fahrenheit) they stay suppler and maintain a better grip on the road.
The tread on winter tyres is also different to conventional tyres. Standard tyres quickly become clogged with snow and ice in winter, meaning they lose grip and make it more difficult to drive in wet and icy conditions. Winter tyres, however, contain thousands of ‘sipes’ – tiny channels in the rubber which help to displace water – which makes the tyre look more rugged and give the tyre more grip.
If you’re thinking about fitting winter tyres then you will have to change all four tyres. Buying a pair of tyres for the driven wheels will generally do more harm than good as it will unbalance the whole vehicle.
How Can You Benefit From Winter Tyres?
Figures from Santander Car Insurance have revealed that one in four drivers have been involved in a motoring accident in snow and ice as winter conditions can make driving more dangerous. One of the main reasons that winter tyres are popular is because they help to reduce accidents.
Using winter tyres can make driving safer. For example, tyre maker Continental says that a car travelling at 31mph will take 43 metres (141 feet) to stop on snow using standard tyres, but just 35 metres (115 feet) when fitted with winter tyres.
Winter tyres can also help to keep you on the move in wintry conditions. Rather than being stuck and unable to drive to the supermarket, to work or to the doctors, cold weather tyres can keep you mobile.
A spokesman for TyreSafe, of the UK's leading not-for-profit tyre safety and campaigning organisations, said: "We are in favour of winter tyres because they are, without doubt, much safer. But British drivers don't understand how they work because they are simply not on their radar. When Britons even think of winter tyres they think of tyres with studs, which is wrong. There is a lot of misinformation out there and lots of myths around much higher costs and practical issues."
An RAC spokesman said: "There is nothing like a cold snap to make British drivers show an interest in winter tyres, but by then it is too late. We definitely recommend them on safety grounds, but appreciate that with the current high costs of motoring due to punitive fuel prices etc they may not be a priority for everybody.
"At the end of the day, it is a personal decision for an individual to make. But we would like to see tyre manufacturers come forward and make the safety case for them more strongly – perhaps with a dedicated marketing campaign."
Some Factors To Consider
If you’re considering winter tyres then one factor you will need to think about is the cost of fitting cold weather rubber. Winter tyres cost from around £300 for a set of four and so there are financial implications to take into account.
However, as you’ll have two different sets of tyres it does mean that your summer tyres won't be wearing in winter and your cold-weather rubber won't wear in summer. After the initial cost you will end up buying replacement tyres less often.
You will also have to find somewhere to store your summer tyres. If you have a garage then this may not be a huge problem but otherwise you may have to pay a small amount for a service to look after your summer tyres until the weather improves and you want to change your tyres again.