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What is the difference between winter tyres and summer tyres?

Which tyres are best adapted to your vehicle, your use, and the weather conditions you drive in? Should you change your tyres every season or can you use winter tyres in the summer and vice versa? Discover the differences, advantages and disadvantages of summer tyres and winter tyres.
Winter tyres and summer tyres: all you need to know

Winter tyres are used for different purposes than summer tyres © www.istockphoto.com

Why do winter tyres perform better in winter than summer tyres?

In winter your tyres should allow you to keep control of your vehicle regardless of the conditions you encounter on the road: snow, ice, cold, wet and slippery road surfaces. Winter tyres are specifically designed to cope with these types of conditions:

  • The rubber compound is adapted to temperatures below 0°C as it contains both rubber and silica which ensures it remains elastic at low temperatures, offering optimal grip.
  • The tyres’ deep tread rapidly and effectively disperses both water and snow.
  • The numerous sipes act like studs to offer increased traction.

Summer tyres, on the other hand, are optimised for use in positive temperatures. When used in cold temperatures, the rubber hardens reducing grip, braking performance and driveability. Their tread is also shallower and they have fewer sipes than winter tyres making them less effective in the snow.

The facts and figures:

  • On wet and cold surfaces, summer tyres can have a braking distance up to twice that of winter tyres.
  • On snow or ice this can be up to eight times longer.
Braking wet road

© rezulteo

Conclusion: it’s not a good idea to keep your summer tyres in the winter. Opting for winter tyres during the cold weather ensures optimal grip, improved driveability, reduced braking distances and less risk of swerving or aquaplaning.

Why do summer tyres perform better in summer than winter tyres?

The rubber in summer tyres is specifically designed for temperatures above 7°C and the tread is adapted to all kinds of surfaces: sufficiently rigid to grip on the dry, and deep enough to evacuate water on wet surfaces.

What should you do if your winter tyres are coming to the end of their life? Can you "finish them off" over the summer? There is nothing to stop you using your winter tyres in the summer: UK law only requires a minimum tread depth of at least 1.6 mm.

However, you should bear in mind that winter tyres are not as safe as summer tyres in higher temperatures. Braking distances on the dry are longer and there is a greater risk of aquaplaning in the wet. Consequently, if you decide to "finish off" your winter tyres over the summer, adapt your driving behaviour and limit your speed to compensate for the reduced performance.

How do all-season tyres perform in winter and summer?

All-season tyres offer undeniable advantages: you can keep the same tyres all year round so you don't have to remove and fit them again. However, the trade-off is poorer performance: they offer average performance in all weather conditions and are therefore only suitable for mild winters. An all-season tyre remains a compromise between a summer and a winter tyre. It is neither as efficient as a summer tyre in summer nor as good as a winter tyre in the winter.  

According to tests conducted by the TCS (Touring Club Suisse), all-seasons tyres have braking distances which are:

  • longer than summer tyres on dry surfaces in warm weather
  • longer than winter tyres on wet or snow-covered surfaces in the winter

In conclusion, alternating summer tyres and winter tyres is a better solution than using all-season tyres, for both safety and financial reasons. It might seem expensive or inconvenient but at the end of the day, changing your tyres twice a year means you get the best of both worlds!

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