January 28, 2013 11:37 AM  |  Posted By: Stephen Dobie
Rated 3.5 out of 5.0 by 4 members  |  13 Comments  |  8767 Views
Related Categories: Winter tyres

Winter tyres – good or evil? I don’t want to take a tin opener to one of the biggest cans of worms in motoring, but after three days of completely changeable weather, it’s an apt discussion.  

Last winter I ran a Mini John Cooper Works, which arrived before Christmas 2011 wearing Bridgestone Blizzak winter boots. In the month of mild weather that followed, I was far from convinced. It varied between reluctant to turn in to performing small-scale four-wheel drifts at low speeds. The cold-weather rubber turned a normally alert little car into one with unpredictable levels of grip.  

Then one weekend in February 2012, the snow fell. The little Mini cut through it all like a stripy Ski-Doo, and was as driveable in snow as it proved to be on its normal Continental tyres in the damp. Everything suddenly made sense.


Yet the majority of Britain gets a serious dumping of snow one or two weeks a year. The rest of our winter – at the moment, at least – tends to be a mixture of rain, fog and relatively mild temperatures, conditions in which a winter tyre falls behind a regular, ‘summer’ tyre. And when the snow does come, the fact most of our country’s cars ride on summers means that traffic is incredibly slow-moving anyway.  

Is there an argument for eschewing winter tyres and just working from home – where possible – on the days the weather is really heavy? Or spending the hefty fee you can end up paying on a set of winter wheels and new rims on a rough and ready old off-roader that you can sell on come spring (or keep tucked away for future winters)?  

Or is it time to join Europe and make fitting winter tyres law? It certainly makes sense for those with important and mobile professions – nurses, police, etc.  Let me know your thoughts below…

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Rotrexman at 10:16 AM February 17, 2013

As I live in the north of Scotland & the temps in Winter are regularly below 7 deg C, decent tyres are a must for good grip. I will admit that I only normally use them on the front axle & many will scream out loud & say 'No, that's so wrong !' Well, rightly or wrongly Winter tyres have got me through some very cold, wet weather & up hills on snow when other cars were sliding off the road. As far as I'm concerned it's as much your attitude to how you drive in these conditions as the tyres. If you leave more time & space when driving in poor conditions, that can help just as much as the tyres ! After using 'winters' for the last 3 years, I honestly believe they're worth the money & I know they grip better in the snow with certainty.

Avanzato at 11:23 AM February 13, 2013

The main benefit is when the weather, is damp, wet, cold, sleet or a combination. They cut through pools of water on the road as if it isn't there, I haven't aquaplaned once and the steering never tugs one side or other when hitting unforeseen pools of water. When the temperature is below 5'c my braking distance is at least a third of that than with summer times, I know I have tested it out of curiosity. These tires are for the whole winter period, not just for the snow. Their tread is different, it does flex and it does fidget and squirm when pushed hard on a drier road I just live with it. I have found there are big differences between makes and models of winter tires, just like summer tires you have to shop around to get the ones that you prefer and suit your driving style. BTW snow socks are actually snow pants when compared ?

Smarty at 10:19 AM February 2, 2013

I really need to stop mincing around and put some on the family Galaxy...!

nellie116 at 11:17 AM January 31, 2013

Unless you have tries winter tyres, especially in snow, then you would never believe how good they are. The previous comment from bromers in his ferrari with winters on not being as good as a 4x4 on summers is wrong. I have a pair of steel rims with cheap as chips winter tyres which I fit when there is a chance of snow, all for under £100. The feeling of smugness ascending hills when all around is grinding to a halt is immense!

Bromers at 8:49 PM January 29, 2013

There's a few videos under my YouTube account of the car out in the snow.

Bromers at 8:47 PM January 29, 2013

I've had some winter tyres fitted to my Ferrari - just thought I'd try them out on a RWD car. The snow that came down last Friday night was a perfect opportunity to fully try them. They worked perfectly - Ok probably not as good as a4x4 running normal road tyres but well enough to get me up some pretty steep inclines. The feel was very predictable and you can push them quite hard. In the snow they were great but on the ice obviously not so great. Used them briefly in normal conditions but cold and they gave lots of confidence in heavy rain. They are very noisy on the dry roads. Enjoy having them on but can't wait to get Supersports or Corsa's back on and nice warmer weather :)

claus at 1:57 AM January 29, 2013

There is a general misunderstanding in the UK about "winter tyres" and the validity of their use in our coldest and wettest season. It is apparent that for most of the population, it is a fundamental lack of knowledge and an incorrect association of the term "winter tyres" and the very infrequent nationwide phenomena we call snow. Winter tyres are exactly "what it says on the tin" and are designed specifically for use throughout the whole season, not just when snow is falling. It could be said that the design of a winter tyre is even more complex than that of a summer tyre (what most Brits consider the norm), because of the design parameters needed to optimise a tyres performance in conditions of lower temperatures, increased volumes of water and its presence in a multitude of forms, whether it be rain, snow, slush or ice. In brief, it is the norm for a winter tyre's tread to be made of a rubber compound that remains soft in cold temperatures and hence can be made to 'work' in an environment where a summer tyre compound would have hardened and lost its compliance and hence "grippyness". People will be familiar with F1 tricky sticky compounds that have a specific operating temperature range, it is exactly the same for summer tyres. Below about 7-8deg C they "drop off the cliff". So in the UK it is likely that a winter tyre will work better from October though to March. Quite often a winter tyre will be of an asymetric design, with the inner most tread block being termed a "slush edge". This will plough through the precipitation, forcing the volume away from between the tyre and road. Whether this be slush, snow or standing water it is equally effective. Whilst in the UK we may only get the white stuff for a couple of weeks, with no shortage of rain and associated standing water, a winter tyre will hence massively reduce the risk of aqua planing compared to that of a summer tyre that cannot shift the water away from the contact patch. When the white stuff does come, The advantages of winter tyres really become apparent because of a design feature known as sipes. A winter tyre tread block incorporates numerous "sipes" in its design. Under load these open, and actually allow snow "into" the tyre. The effect is almost like the tyre holding on to the snow, the effect being a huge increase in grip. More "movement" in the tyre and wear can be experienced, but this is mainly due to pressure not being checked and properly maintained which allows more sidewall movement because of the softer compounds used. With regard cost, I've fitted 4No. Nokian WR G2 215/45/17 91W for under £500. They have done 3 seasons so far. In the same 3 year period, I haven't paid out for any summer tyres. It's cost £200 to swap between the two using one set of rims. I've done 60000 miles between the two types. My collegue has just paid out for rear n/s wheel tyre and wishbone damage on his Honda. I haven't suffered the same. To me it's a no brainier and the continental law absolute sense. Maybe the Scoobie will do another 200k?

Erwin1978 at 4:48 PM January 28, 2013

John999s, fully agree and regarding costs this is only the initial spend. In the end you pay only extra for the rims. And what is a couple of hundred compared to your- and others life? grisewos, careful right foot is only needed when your alone on the road. If the guy in front of you brakes-, swerves- or if you need to react unexpectedly otherwise you'll be without a chance on summer tires but with winter tires you'll stand a chance. Not having winter tires but calling yourself a petrol head means your a cheapo willing to risk other persons lives. Again, what is a couple of hundred compared to your- and others lives? PS: after having had winter tires on my company car for the 1st time, I immediately purchased a set for my wife's car. The difference in the snow is that big that lil' discomforts during the rest of the winter are easily forgotten.

damo.666 at 4:25 PM January 28, 2013

I put Dunlop winters on my sharan, the first winters I've ever used. I have never crashed in snow or ice before but I won't be without them again. I don't need accurate turn in on the bus, sorry sharan..... Its not just for the week of snow that we get, all through the winter they offer more security. Security for my family and my no claims / excess.

mickey_g at 4:14 PM January 28, 2013

I think they're worth the money. I bought a set last winter and couldn't believe the difference in adverse conditions. Compared to the cost of my insurance excess or repairing car myself if I have an off, I think they're a worthwhile investment.

Mr Pisch at 1:48 PM January 28, 2013

I bit the bullet this year as the conti sports on my car turn into oiled blocks of rubber when its below zero and wont stop ...Ironically I got conti winter tyres as they seamed to get very good reviews. 5" of snow last week was like driving on a greasy wet road. Compacted snow, ice, slush all no issues at all.It's witchcraft I say!

john999s at 12:49 PM January 28, 2013

As a Brit living in Germany I did wonder a first but after 5 winters I have to say I think they are invaluable. The small trade off in ride comfort, precision and noise for a few months per year is more than offset by the fact that the whole country keeps moving and the security you have in foul wet weather let alone snow and ice. The cost is somewhat offset by the reduced wear on summer tyres, the fact you can sell them when you change cars and often the higher profile/smaller wheel size helps avoid damage on potholes etc. The main downside I see is that if the guy behind isn't on them he will probably hit you when you stop in a hurry in an emergency.

grisewos at 12:32 PM January 28, 2013

The freezing temperatures and snow are never around for more than a few days at a time (in the East Midlands anyway) so it doesn't seem worth the hassle and expense. A careful right foot and set of snow socks in the boot just in case is all that's required at this latitude. If I lived further north I may have a different viewpoint.

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