Winter tyres are of course a must if you have to drive in snow or on ice. They’re also a good idea for general winter driving, especially in the wet and cold conditions experienced by most parts of the UK in the winter months. In this guide we tell you all you need to know about the different types of winter tyres from all season to studs and nordic tyres...
Why should you fit winter tyres?
Don’t wait until it snows to fit winter tyres on your vehicle! As soon as temperatures drop below 7°C, summer tyres no longer deliver the performance required to guarantee your safety. This is because in cold weather their tread compound hardens leading to a loss of traction and braking performance.
Winter tyres have a tread compound combining rubber and silica to maintain the elasticity of the tyre at low temperatures, and deliver maximum grip. Furthermore, the tread pattern of winter tyres has deeper grooves than those found on summer tyres to disperse water and snow more quickly.
Did you know that a winter tyre can have up to 5 times more sipes than a summer tyre? These sipes help deliver the traction required when driving in snow to shorten braking distances and reduce the risk of skidding or aquaplaning.
There is also an economic argument for fitting winter tyres: by driving on tyres adapted to the weather conditions, you will increase their mileage performance, consuming less fuel and minimizing tyre wear.
To choose the right winter tyres, you just need to consider the weather conditions in your area or the place you’re driving to. There's a winter tyre for every climate...
All season tyres: an alternative for mild winters
If temperatures in your area seldom drop below 7°C then all season tyres might be an option worth considering.
However, bear in mind that all season tyres remain a compromise solution between summer tyres and winter tyres. They will never perform as well as summer tyres in summer or be as effective as winter tyres when driving on snow and ice. What's more, all season tyres are often criticised for having lower braking performance and slightly higher fuel consumption.
Winter (alpine) tyres
If you drive in an area where temperatures drop below 7°C, winter tyres are the best choice for you. Winter tyres are versatile, performing well both in both dry and wet conditions (provided that temperatures are below 7°C), and of course when driving on snow or ice.
The tread compound of winter tyres is more flexible at low temperatures than that of summer tyres, and therefore guarantees better grip on slippery roads. Their deeper tread pattern ensures better traction and safer braking performance, with a lower risk of aquaplaning.
Nordic tyres: for tough winters
As the name suggests, Nordic tyres are designed for regions where temperatures fall below -10°C and roads are covered in snow and ice for several weeks of the year. Their tread compound is specifically designed to withstand low negative temperatures and the heavily siped pattern ensures maximum traction on ice and deep snow.
However, nordic tyres will be less comfortable than winter tyres when driving on normal roads and will consume more fuel. So these tyres are only a good idea in areas where snow and ice are permanent features during the winter season.
Similarly, studded Nordic tyres, equipped with metallic studs, are only used for driving on ice. On roads, they tend to wear very quickly, consume a lot of fuel, have reduced handling capabilities and be noisy. They also damage the road surface, which is why the use of studded tyres has been restricted or even banned altogether in certain countries. In the UK, it is illegal to use studded tyres on clear roads where they could cause damage. In general, Nordic and studded tyres are unlikely to be a suitable option for our (mostly) mild winters.
M+S and 3PMSF: a guarantee for winter tyres?
Most winter tyres carry the M+S (Mud+Snow) and 3PMSF (Alpine) markings, to indicate that they are suitable for snow and slush. The M+S marking is applied by manufacturers and is not subject to any specific tests or criteria. The 3PMSF marking, on the other hand, is only obtained after extensive testing and guarantees the effectiveness of winter tyres, even in heavy snow.
If you have a sports car or powerful vehicle, 'high performance' winter tyres are specifically developed to withstand more weight, higher speeds and a more dynamic drive. As their name suggests, they offer very high performance in terms of road holding, grip and cornering stability.
Summer tyres and snow chains: a solution for your winter holiday?
If you only face winter conditions when you go skiing and are therefore not keen on investing in winter tyres then you can, of course, fit equipment such as snow chains or snow socks to your summer tyres. But, be aware that your speed will be limited to 30 mph and as soon as you remove the equipment, your vehicle will be much more difficult to control. Only winter tyres guarantee the handling and grip required to ensure your safety in mountain areas.
Facts to help you make an informed choice
- In the wet and cold, the braking distance of summer tyres can be twice as long as that of winter tyres.
- On snow or ice, it can be up to 8 times longer.
- Don’t forget to check the pressure of your winter tyres if you have not used them since last year.
- Before travelling abroad, check if there is a legal requirement for winter tyres in the country you’re visiting. Winter tyres (and in particular studded tyres) are subject to various regulations depending on the country. Countries where winter tyres are mandatory include Germany and Italy.