The usual seasonal symptoms are back again. In the UK, winter presents a series of tough tests for car tyres. As well as your tyres, it is you who are on test – drivers, rather than cars, generally cause accidents. Here are some salient points about winter driving…
Snow and Ice
A mountain climber’s crampons, the tracks on a Caterpillar tractor, the toothed drive belt on a snowmobile…certain things are made to grip on snow and ice. Since (with some exceptions) you can’t fit such things on your car, you have to cope, using the tyres your car usually wears. There is, however an option. When the temperature drops, your usual tyres will lose flexibility. Winter car tyres are designed to retain their flexibility at lower temperatures, so it makes sense to invest in a set. Motorists are discovering that such car tyres really do offer significantly enhanced grip and control, and using them on a set of (preferably steel) ‘winter wheels’ will preserve your usual alloy wheels from the ravages of salt and grit.
What are the exceptions? Countries with permafrost can be home to car tyres with studs. In the UK, seriously bad conditions can trigger the use of snow chains. A new item occupies the middle ground. Snow socks are car tyre covers made of a tough, woven material. Easier to fit and quieter than chains, they can be useful when drivers are caught out by unexpected snowfalls. Bear in mind that they will wear out in no time on tarmac.
When it isn’t quite cold enough to snow, rain and sleet present car tyre challenges of their own. Reduced visibility is a foregone conclusion but don’t forget that wet weather compromises grip. Your car tyres will move surface water but a wet surface remains relatively slippery. Remember to leave more room between you and the vehicle in front, to allow for increased braking distances.
Lots of rain can lead to flooding. Standing water can be dangerous. When your car tyres hit it, you’ll feel the steering wheel pulling in response. At worst, your tyres may aquaplane. When the tyres ride on the surface of the water, suspiciously light steering signals radically reduced grip. If you feel this, lift off the throttle and slow down until the grip returns.
If you encounter a flood, remember that negotiating it requires care. Keep to the crown of the road, where the water will be shallower, and look out for the white line. This will help you gauge the depth of the water. While you can trust your tyres, remember that your engine, if it sucks in water, will be wrecked. Keep the engine revs up to help stop the exhaust inhaling water. However, if you are in any doubt whatsoever about the depth of the water, use another route.
In thick fog, you’re bound to suffer loss of visibility. Your car tyres won’t suddenly offer greater grip just because you notice that you’re hurtling towards the back of stationary truck. So drive as fast as you can see, and no faster. Remember to use your windscreen wipers and washers often in fog; your screen can collect water and grime surprisingly quickly, further reducing visibility.
In winter, the watchword is caution. Even on winter car tyres, grip will be compromised to some extent by bad weather. Should the visibility and grip be truly awful, simply put your feet up by the fire and live to drive another day.