In the harsh conditions of UK roads, whatever we can do to make the drive safer is a good thing.
When winter rolls around and temperatures drop, it’s even more important to pay attention to our wheels and tyres to make sure they’re equipped for these unique conditions and fitted with the right gear.
Are winter tyres and wheels really necessary? If you live in conditions where even a modest amount of snowfall occurs or temperatures drop to 7 degrees Celsius or lower, having winter tyres and wheels is a smart idea.
These wheels are designed to give greater traction and grip in all conditions and they can make driving during these colder months a whole lot safer.
If you’ve always wondered about the worth of equipping your car with winter gear, you can wonder no more.
In this guide to winter tyres and wheels, you’ll learn how they work, the legalities behind them, and how to find the right set for your vehicle so you can drive safely and steadily in the cold.
What Are Winter Tyres?
You might have heard people talk about winter tyres and assumed they were something to be used in the snow or ice, but that’s not entirely true.
A set of winter tyres look just like regular ones and they’re designed to work on the road during colder weather, even when there’s no snow or ice present.
A winter tyre doesn’t feature anything like spikes or studs that help it stay put but they do provide greater traction.
Even when the road is dry, they’ll be able to grip better, as winter and cold weather commonly turn even the safest road into slippery chaos.
Some people might even choose to use a winter tyre in the summer when it’s been raining excessively as they’re capable of clearing standing water, so as far as safety goes, they’re a popular choice.
Most cars are fitted with these tyres during winter or around the start of December through to March, but there’s no set time when you have to use them and it depends on the conditions around you.
The design and construction of winter tyres make them different to a regular summer tyre in more ways than one.
These differences are what helps them grip and gain traction in cold conditioners, when the road is slippery, or even covered with snow, thus making driving in winter safer.
First, the tread pattern features more sipes or grooves, and this helps to move the water out of the way so that the tyre can get a good grip on the snow and ice underneath it.
Secondly, they feature rubber blocks that are laid out so they can vibrate and quickly disperse any snow they did pick up on their journey.
Finally, a winter tyre is constructed from an entirely different compound than a summer tyre.
They feature a larger ratio of silica which makes them soft and more flexible, even when the temperature drops to freezing. When you drive with a summer tyre in winter, it can easily become frozen and rigid which makes it useless for helping you grip the road.
Are There Downsides?
As with anything, there are some potential drawbacks to using winter tyres, but they by no means negate their usefulness.
Here are a few negatives you’ll want to keep in mind before fitting them onto your car:
- They can be more fragile when compared to other tyres and might not last as long, even if they’re designed to be more flexible.
- Having to purchase an additional set of tyres to use during winter is costly, and usually costs around $500 for an entire set, and sometimes more.
- You might find it easier to drive with summer tyres on and there’ll be an adjustment period as you get used to using them.
- Even though they’re only worn for one season each year, you’ll probably only get about four seasons out of a set of good winter tyres, depending on how much you use them.
The Law Surrounding Winter Tyres
Winter tyres are a feature that helps everyone stay safe on the road, and in some countries, they’re even required by law.
Many European countries have strict regulations that state winter tyres are obligatory and must be visible with markings “M+S” or “3PMSF” to indicate their type.
In the UK, winter tyres are merely a recommendation but not enforced, so if you don’t want to equip your car with them you don’t have to.
However, given the cold temperatures during winter and the likelihood for roads to get slippery, experience snowfall, or get ice coverage, it’s a good idea to have them ready.
Other types of winter driving gear like studded tyres might also be recommended in certain countries.
In Luxembourg and France, for example, studded tyres must be fitted during specific dates during winter before you can drive on the road, and this is an obligatory law.
Finally, there are laws governing the tread depth required for tyres, with all new tyres required between 7mm and 9.5mm depth.
In Europe, the minimal depth allowed is 1.6mm and the wear limit for a winter tyre is 4mm, so make sure you check the local laws to make sure your tyres are permitted and haven’t be worn down past the recommended point.
Chains and Winter Tyres
The use of snow chains might seem excessive to some, but if you’re driving on a snowy or icy road during winter, they can be a lifesaver.
Fitting these to your winter tyres can give you an added level of traction and grip, but they come with some stipulations if you’re to use them safely.
Snow chains are legal to drive with in the UK but only when used on snow or ice-covered road. As soon as you reach the tarmac that’s safe to drive on, they must be removed.
If you’re travelling elsewhere, check to see what their laws are, as some countries stipulate that they have to be fitted and others have banned them entirely.
It’s essential to get familiar with chains on your winter tyres as issues from improper use lead to breakages and wheels spinning or locking up during braking.
Since you’re already driving in uncertain conditions, you want to be confident using winter tyres so you can be prepared for anything.
The Best Winter Tyres and Wheels in the UK
For the latest in tyre technology and a product from a reputable brand, some do it better than others.
We’ve compiled a list of some of the latest and greatest options in winter tyres for UK roads so you can sure you’re onto a winner:
- Goodyear UltraGrip Performance +: This tyre consistently rates above the rest during testing and is one of the safest options for snow tyres. With the Performance +, you’ll get superb handling and braking, both of which are crucial when you’re driving in winter and the roads are uncertain.
- Michelin Alpin 6: The Aplin 6 does well on wet and dry conditions and has some of the smallest tread depth while still being effective. This is a good all-rounder and one that can handle any type of winter road.
- Dunlop Winter Sports 5: The Winter Sports 5 tyre from Dunlop is one of the slightly cheaper options but still performs great in the wet. This is a tyre suited to shallow wet and cold conditions, like melted snow, so consider equipping your car with it if this sounds like where you drive.
- Continental Winter Contact TS 860: The TS 860 from Continental is a winter tyre that does just as well wet as it does dry. If you regularly drive in dry winter conditions, it’s one of the better options and is known for being the best in the show when it comes to braking performance.
Choosing Custom Winter Tyres For Your Car
Before winter comes around, you want to be prepared with a set of winter tyres you can rely on.
To make sure you’ve got the right tyres that are suited to the needs of your car and driving habits, consider checking off these features:
- Owner’s manual: Before you head off to buy a set of winter tyres, refer to your car owner’s manual. This should specify exactly what’s needed from these tyres so you choose the right size and tread depth, and a tyre that suits your maximum load rating and other specifics it might require.
- Symbols: There are usually two different symbols you’ll find on a winter tyre: “M+S” which stands for mud and snow, or the snowflake symbol denoting that they’re safe for driving on snow and ice.
- Driving conditions: The driving conditions you experience will determine what the best tyres are, so if you drive in ice, you’ll need something specific, whereas driving in snowy and muddy conditions require another type altogether. If it varies, think about an all-rounder winter tyre.
- Width: Each tyre has a width measurement and the number refers to how many millimetres it is. You’ll need to match this to your car’s wheels to make sure it’s a good fit.
- Tread depth: The depth of a tyre’s treads is important for giving you grip and when they wear down, the tyre becomes dangerous. In winter tyres, this depth is usually around 8mm or 9mm but it can vary depending on the model.
Cost: Winter tyres aren’t something you want to skimp on and if you get a good set, you’ll find they last around four or five seasons. You can expect to pay between £100 to £150 per tyre for a quality product from one of the leading brands.
Keeping Safe in the Cold
A good set of winter tyres and wheels isn’t just a necessity for staying safe while driving in the snow and ice, but all kinds of cold weather.
With this one simple investment, you’ll be equipped for whenever winter or cold days roll around and ensure nothing keeps you from getting where you need to go safely.
Driving during winter means paying closer attention to the road and doing whatever you can to bring your car up to the safety standards required.
Winter tyres and wheels are just one way of doing this but one of the most effective, so if you have more questions about how they work, read on to see our expert answers.
Can You Use Just Two Winter Tyres?
You should never install just two winter or snow tyres on your car as the imbalance it causes can be more dangerous than now using them at all.
This is true for the rear, front, and all-wheel drive vehicles and should not be attempted. For the safest practice, have winter tyres installed on all wheels of the car.
Is It Worth Buying Winter Tyres in the UK?
Winter tyres are most effective in temperatures below seven degrees Celsius so they can be useful in most parts of the UK during the colder season.
Whether or not your car could benefit from winter tyres depends on your individual location and climate, so it should be assessed on an individual basis.
What Are Studded Tyres?
Studded tyres are a type of winter-specific tyre that feature small, metal studs embedded into the tread on the surface.
The purpose of these studs is to give a better grip on icy roads but thanks to the advancements that many rubber tyres have made, they might not always be necessary as long as you have a good set of winter tyres.