Many people wrongly perceive winter tyres as snow tyres, only good for use in snow conditions. This is only part of what a winter tyre does. The biggest difference between “summer” and “winter” tyres are their effective operating temperature range.
An ordinary tyre starts to see its performance drop off below 45F (7C) as the compound hardens and grip is reduced. When you consider that the majority of morning and evening commutes from late autumn to mid-spring are in temperatures colder than this, the case for specialist winter tyres is compelling.
A recent report from Tyre Safe showed test results comparing summer and winter tyres.
In icy conditions, braking from 20mph, a car shod with winter tyres stopped some 11m sooner. On snowy roads, from 30mph, the difference was 8m.
On the continent, motorists aren’t offered the choice, with winter tyres being a legal requirement for several months of the year. Having tested them, it’s easy to see why; correctly shod, a two- or four-wheel-drive car can drive on ice and snow with ease.
If you want a set of winter tyres shopping early is the key. Ideally a secondary set of steel wheels are purchased allowing higher profile tyres to be fitted onto smaller diameter rims. This allows for a quick swap over once conditions change. On many cars there is the option of buying a set of winters for the existing wheels but this does incur change over costs and it is much less convenient to swap from summers to winters.