State of Readiness: Are Winter Car Tyres Worth Having?
Great Britain has a temperate climate. That no one seems to have told the climate about this is by the by: the sort of conditions we experience every year are officially classified as being ‘temperate’. Yet facts are facts and like all of us, our car tyres have to cope with markedly different climatic conditions. In high summer, the mercury can hit the 30-degree mark, in midwinter, it can fall well below zero. Can a single set of tyres handle this? Let’s find out.
In winter, accidents increase by a less-than-modest 267 per cent. This begs the question of what is a winter tyre? More appropriately, what is it about winter tyres that make a difference? Car tyres conform to a given set of physical characteristics – they must, to be safe, legal and functional. However certain elements among these characteristics can be ‘tweaked’ and it is these differences that make a winter tyre.
The first tweak is to the tyre’s compound, the mix of rubber used in its construction. Water freezes when the ambient temperature is low. Car tyres don’t freeze but they harden, especially when the temperature falls to under seven degrees Centigrade. Winter tyres have a softer compound through containing more natural rubber than conventional tyres and this improves their grip in cold conditions. This specifically softer tread element gives a significant reduction in stopping distance. It also has a knock-on effect in performance terms. Because winter tyres offer superior grip, your car’s cornering, acceleration and braking benefit, as does your confidence.
The next point contains a paradox. After all, isn’t it true that car tyres with a softer compound will wear faster? In a word, no. In fact, conventional tyres have a particularly hard time in winter, pun intended. In practice, they wear out up to 20 per cent faster in cold conditions, so winter tyres can save you money. Some suggest that winter tyres’ enhanced grip means that your car’s engine has less work to do than with conventional tyres, so that fuel economy is also enhanced. This may be a moot point but a Finnish tyre maker says of its winter product, ‘Lower fuel consumption by lower rolling resistance, shorter braking distance on wet road, stronger aquaplaning protection and better snow grip are its benefits.’
The final point concerns noise. Winter tyres have a more open tread pattern, the better to clear away mud, snow and ice. This might suggest they give increased road noise when in use. However, most manufacturers claim that their winter tyres are as quiet and comfortable as normal tyres. This makes sense, as the tread compound is significantly softer.
So, are winter tyres a worthwhile investment? The above suggests that they are. Ideally, it would be best to have two sets of tyres, one set for summer use and one set for when the climate forgets to be ‘temperate’. The bottom line is still more telling. Given the use of grit and salt on the roads during a UK winter, it would make a lot of sense to acquire not only a set of winter tyres but also a set of ‘winter wheels’!