Winter of Discontent… Beat it with Winter Tyres
Last night’s frost warning was a harbinger of the approach of winter. Here in the UK, we should be used to harsh conditions. However, give us an inch (of snow) and the miles aren’t covered…the country tends to come to a grinding halt. Is there a solution? Well, the increasingly popular winter car tyres may help.
This begs a question: are winter tyres genuinely useful or are they just a way of extracting more money from we motorists? Let’s see.
Recommended in Andorra, Italy, Norway and Switzerland, winter tyres are compulsory in Austria, Germany and Sweden and mandatory in Finland. These rules naturally apply on snow-covered roads and/or during the snow season. Often, there is the distinction that the tyres must be marked ‘M&S’ (no, not Marks and Spencer, the marking stands for ‘Mud and Snow’.) Newer snow tyres may have a symbol of a snowflake in front of a mountain. Currently, the distinction between winter and snow tyres is a touch unclear. A good tyre bay will advise you of the exact designation and specification.
In fact, specification is what winter tyres are all about. Car tyres in general are made in much the same way but the rubber compounds used and the tread patterns vary. Winter tyres are made with a high silica content. The probable tread pattern has two tricks up its sleeve. One is a more aggressive tread pattern than ‘summer’ car tyres. This is present to enhance grip.
The winter car tyre tread’s second line of defence involves a winter tyre key word, flexibility. When ordinary tyres have to work in temperatures below 7 degrees centigrade, they stiffen up in the cold conditions. In winter tyres, the compound and tread pattern both improve flexibility.
The benefit of winter tyres is that they give better grip in cold conditions, in rain as well as when snow and ice are about. There are plenty of subjective reports concerning car tyres and most of those concerning winter tyres are favourable. In some cases, cars found to be pretty hopeless in snow are transformed!
Are winter tyres the car tyres for all seasons? Their name offers a huge clue here. Summer tyres will outperform winter ones on dry roads and in reasonable temperatures, and winter tyres, having a softer compound, will naturally wear faster. This suggests following the lead of many continental drivers. They have two sets of tyres, one for winter, one for summer.
This brings us, in turn, to a potentially superior arrangement, which is also popular on the continent and in some cases is a legal requirement. Generally speaking, car tyres can handle most road conditions. However, in the depths of winter, the environment down at road level can be especially harsh. Car tyres may be able to cope with the salt and grit that gives some winter grip but our alloy wheels can suffer. Many popular cars have base models that wear steel wheels. One solution is to have a set of winter tyres on these. A set of steel wheels, with winter tyres, balanced and ready to roll can be fitted when the thermometer starts to plummet. With these ‘winter wheels’ fitted, your car can take on whatever the season has to throw at it, while your pristine summer wheels can live in cool, dark storage, ready for Spring. Bear in mind that suitable wheel nuts/bolts will have to be factored into the equation.
What’s the bottom line? Assuming you need to use your car in the off season, winter car tyres are worth the investment.