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Winter Tyres – Are they worth it?

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Winter Tyres are they worth it?

As we are now entering the winter months it is time to start considering investing in a set of winter tyres.

Winter tyres have been the source of plenty of debate in recent years. First, a series of bitterly cold winters in the UK caused the public to wake up to their existence and start asking whether they should buy a set. However, the warm winters in 2014 and 2015 (so far) caused plenty of people to go back the other way, writing them off as a waste of money and wondering what all the fuss was about in the first place.

First of all, what is a winter tyre? There are three main types of tyre one might consider using on the road in the UK. One is the summer tyre; this is what the majority of British drivers use and what you might think of as a “normal” tyre.

Summer tyres have a relatively hard compound, which means they soften off in milder temperatures to provide lots of grips , most of the time, reckoned to be above 7oC. That, however, makes them less useful when the temperature drops below that figure, when they’re too hard and can’t provide enough grip.

Winter tyres, more accurately called “cold weather” tyres, feature a snowflake symbol on the side and are made from a softer compound. That means they’re still soft enough to provide the grip you need in temperatures below 7oC.  They also have a different tread pattern, with fine grooves or “sipes” cut into each tread block that bites into the snow better.

Fitting winter tyres make it much easier to get around if snow does fall. However, it is worth pointing out that these tyres are different to studded tyres, which feature plastic or metal studs embedded in the rubber, a bit like a football boot. These are not legal for use on the road in the UK.

Between winter and summer tyres sits a third way: the all-season tyre. The aim of this tyre is to offer the best of both worlds; a softer compound than a winter tyre so that it can be used in both cold and mild temperatures, but still featuring sipes to help with grip in snow and slush. These tyres are reckoned to be useful down to -5oC.

On the face of it, the all-season tyre should be best-suited for use in the UK, as it is rated best for use in the sorts of temperatures we face throughout the vast majority of the year.

However, many experts consider there to be a “jack of all trades, master of none” aspect to the all-season tyre; while it’s better in cold temperatures than a summer tyre, and vice versa, it isn’t as good as keeping two specialist tyres and switching between them from season to season.

The question of whether we need to use winter tyres in the UK is the most hotly debated. It all centres around how much of the season you think you’ll spend below 7oC. If you find yourself below that temperature for most of the winter, then buying a separate set of winter tyres and changing them over every October and March is the optimum solution.

Current research suggests winter tyres are better than summer tyres any time the temperature drops below 7oC. That means a car fitted with winter tyres should stop more quickly and be less prone to skidding in any weather conditions if the temperature drops below this mark.

Winter tyres are often slightly more expensive than summer tyres to buy, but having an extra set is quite a significant expense – especially if you team them with an extra set of wheels to make switching over even easier, just like they do in some European countries.

However, it’s worth bearing in mind that although you have to pay for two sets of tyres, they also last twice as long; in other words, much of the extra cost of the winter set is mitigated by the fact that they take the load off your summer set for half the year.

And as for the spare set of wheels, you can always sell them on when the time comes to part ways with your car, and recoup a chunk of your outlay.


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