Winter tyres are made from a different mixture of rubber than summer tyres and use more silica, which helps the tread remain more flexible in cold conditions. This allows the tyre to generate more heat and bite into low-grip surfaces like snow, ice and cold tarmac.
Even though they are designed to work in cold conditions, winter tyres are still safe to use on your car in warmer weather. They can easily deal with ambient temperatures of up to 20°C, so you don’t have to fret about changing tyres the moment it begins to thaw out in the spring.
Picking the winter tyre that’s right for you and your car comes down a number of factors. That includes the car you drive, cost, type of driving conditions you encounter and tyre size. Cars that run on larger wheels as standard might require a slightly smaller wheel so you have a choice of winter tyres to fit. Don’t worry, the taller side profile of the winter tyre means the overall radius of the tyre is the same as your summer ones.
If you’re going to be driving in lots of snow or up and down motorways, different winter tyres will be better suited to these different environments. For really deep snow and poor winter conditions, a dedicated snow and ice tyre will see you through thanks to its more open tread pattern. For most drivers, a less aggressive winter tyre will be ideal for dealing with mixed conditions.
When it comes to budget, more expensive tyres generally have more silica in their construction to give better grip. They also tend to have the latest tread pattern technology. As with all-season tyres, larger and high-performance winter tyres will cost more, but that shouldn’t rule out budget options as many offer excellent grip and low wear rates.
The design of a winter tyre’s treads uses more ‘sipes’, which are the small extra zig-zag grooves you can see in the tread blocks. They let the blocks move more to find grip and warm up the tyre quickly to help with traction. It’s this extra heat that creates the added grip from winter tyres, while an open tread pattern helps disperse water and slush more effectively as you drive along.
It’s best to fit winter tyres to all four wheels rather than just the driven ones on a front- or rear-wheel drive car. Using winter tyres all round maximises grip for steering, acceleration and braking, and it means the car will have the same balance you are used to when driving on summer tyres.
If you drive regularly throughout winter or live in a remote part of the country, winter tyres will offer more grip for pulling away, cornering and braking. Winter tyres work best at temperatures of 7 °C or lower, but they also keep working fine up to 20°C, so you don’t have keep swapping during autumn and spring.
To give you an idea of how effective winter tyres are, they reduce the stopping distance on a cold, wet road at 60mph from 70.5-metres on summer tyres to 65.7-metres. That’s the length of a large family car and could make all the difference between coming to a safe halt or being in a collision.
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