Should I buy winter tyres for my car?

Winter tyres

Some drivers may view winter tyres as an unnecessary expense. But those that have tried them will testify to the sure-footed feel they give cars on roads that are cold and damp as well as icy or snow covered. But as with anything, it pays to know what you’re looking for before you set about buying.

How are winter tyres different to normal tyres?

Winter or cold weather tyres are designed to work best once the temperature falls below 7 degrees C. They offer a better hold on the road through bends and shorter stopping distances. A car travelling at just 20mph with winter tyres typically takes 35 metres to stop on snow; the same car fitted with normal or summer tyres takes around 43m. That’s a distance of nearly two car lengths, sufficient to prevent an awful lot of damage and save lives.

Why do winter tyres offer more grip?

Tyres are made of a mixture of ingredients called a compound. Winter tyres use a compound that features more silica. This helps to keep them flexible in cold conditions. Normal tyres become brittle when the temperature drops, skating over rather than gripping onto the road surface.

Winter tyres also have a different tread with thousands of tiny grooves or sipes cut into the tread blocks of the tyre. These grip the road better by displacing water faster and biting into snow more effectively.

How much do winter tyres cost?

Let’s take the Ford Fiesta, the UK’s best-selling car, as an example. One of the most common tyre sizes for the Fiesta is 195/55 R15. Winter tyres in that size range from around £42 to £74, before fitting. That is broadly the same cost as normal tyres.

Winter rubber for a 215/60 R17 tyre that will fit a larger popular model such as the Volkswagen Golf will range from £44 to £148, unfitted. Summer tyres for that same car will range from £61 to about £112.

Which winter tyres are the best?

Before you start looking at the price of tyres, find out which performs best for your requirements. That way, you may prefer to pay a little more ‑ or less ‑ if you know one tyre is better than another.

Auto Express conducted a comprehensive comparison test of cold weather tyres in 2018, assessing them back to back. It rates the Bridgestone Blizzak, Continental WinterContact TS 860 and Dunlop Winter Sport 5 as its top three.

Mercedes-AMG GLC in snow

Twice the mileage or spending twice as much?

If you go for winter tyres, think of it as getting twice the mileage out of your tyres rather than spending twice as much on tyres. That’s because all the time your car is fitted with winter tyres, your summer tyres aren’t covering any miles and vice versa. Alternatively, there’s nothing to stop you running winter tyres all year round. They will wear more in summer’s higher temperatures, but the trade-off is you’ll know your car will have the right rubber when the weather turns colder.

Two sets of wheels?

You don’t need to get two sets of wheels. Some garages will swap tyres on your wheels. But it’ll cost you around £60 every time you swap from summer to winter and vice versa. You could always buy a second set of wheels. You can frequently find good quality replacement alloy wheels at breakers’ yards.

Should you tell your motor insurer when fitting winter tyres?

As cold weather tyres are gradually becoming more popular, so insurers are becoming less suspicious of them. The Association of British Insurers (ABI) doesn’t show any of its members charging a greater premium, provided: ‘The tyres are roadworthy and have been fitted in accordance with the manufacturer’s instructions.’

The vast majority of insurers don’t even require you to tell them you’ve had winter tyres fitted. A few want to be informed but won’t charge any extra. Here you can read the ABI’s latest A to Z list of insurers and their position on winter tyres.