Should I buy winter tyres?

As the temperature has started to drop, you may be left wondering as to what the benefits to swapping your summer tyres to a winter set and if it is worth it. Here is our guide that explains how they work and why they are worth the buy.

As soon as the first signs of snow and ice start to show - which officially marks the beginning of winter - the roads become a struggle of maintaining control for drivers. The main solutions available to improve traction and safety in the winter conditions are winter tyres and snow socks. Tyre retailers and fitters heavily promote winter tyres as they are proved to be a significant investment for the preparation of what may only be a short spell of bad weather.

What is a winter tyre?

Most UK cars are fitted with summer tyres and some with all-season tyres. Summer tyres are made from a hard compound which means that they soften in warmer temperatures to provide optimal grip. When the temperature drops - from 7C - they become too hard and will not provide enough grip. Winter tyres are made from a softer compound which means that in temperatures below 7C the tyre is able to remain soft enough to provide extra grip - which is needed in the colder, wetter weather. The main difference is the surface of the tread blocks are covered with little jagged slits called sipes which have deeper tread grooves that 'bite' the snow more effectively. Braking distances change even in the wet and damp conditions.

Why do I need them?

Winter tyres are good at gripping in cold, damp conditions below 7C and offer an improved traction on slippery surfaces. So you don't need to be surrounded by snow to get your use out of them. Not only will they provide you with a better grip but they help your car to stop quicker and are less prone to skidding. The key to their improved grip is the sipes - which provide hundreds of small extra 'edges' to grip the road as the tyre rotates. Winter tyres will aid your cornering performance, which enables you to turn your car around corners and tight spaces with ease where you may skid.

Can I buy a winter set and keep them on all year round?

Yes you can, but we wouldn't recommend it. You will find that your summer tyres provide a better grip and have the optimum tread - when the weather is warmer. That is why we recommend you to fit your winter tyres when the temperature drops below 7C.

Are there any other alternatives to winter tyres?

All-season tyres are a halfway house between winter and summer tyres - they can be left on all year around but generally don't perform as well as the summer or the winter tyres. Tyre socks are a quick fix to get you off a slippery, snowy drive or ungritted road. These fabric socks wrap around the tire and give an extra grip on the snow and ice.

When should I fit the tyres?

They need to be fitted before the bad weather strikes so we recommend changing them October and replacing them with the summer tyres in March - when the worst of the cold weather has passed. The tread depth should be checked to ensure that it is above the legal minimum of 1.6mm across the central 3/4 of the tyre circumference. You should also check the tyre pressure at least once a month before a long journey. It is best to check the tyres when they are cold - when they have travelled for less than two miles - against the recommended levels in the vehicles handbook.

How to drive in winter:

Good driving techniques are just as important as the tyres fitted to your car. They are not complicated and don't cost any money - the secret is simply to employ a calm, balance approach. After all it is all about safety.

- Use higher gears: pull away in the second gear rather than the first as this will help to reduce the chances of spinning wheels and digging yourself into a rut.

- Be very gentle with the clutch and throttle: again this will reduce the chances of wheel-spin.

- Apply the brakes as if they are made of glass: sharp application of the brakes can lead to a skid, at which point you have lost control of the car.

- Be very gentle with your steering: any tyres ability to offer grip is reduced so the faster you travel the more you need to turn, the less sideways grip the tyre will offer. Once you are sliding sideways it is even harder to recover control.

- Use major routes where possible: these are much more likely to have been gritted and usually the higher traffic volumes help to prevent the snow from settling. Also leave a much bigger stopping distance - up to ten-times greater - between your vehicle and whatever is in front of you.

- Above all, reduce your speed. The car will be much easier to control and you'll have much more time to react to developing/ potential dangerous situations.

Be prepared

Whether you choose to use winter tyres, snow socks or neither it is always worth preparing your vehicle for winter travel. Let someone know where you are heading, what route you are planning to take and the time you hope to arrive by. It is recommended to carry a snow shovel and an old rug in the boot and a fully charged mobile phone with you. If you do get stuck in the snow, digging away the snow from your wheels can potentially get yourself out of trouble. The rugs can provide a friction surface if tucked in front of a driven wheel to allow you to move. If you get completely stuck call for help and keep warm. Make sure that the exhaust is clear of snow as blocking the flow of the exhaust gases can divert them into the cabin where carbon monoxide could endanger the occupants. If the journey is not necessary or don't need to make it in the extreme weather it would be sensible to simply stay at home.

To enquire about winter tyres for your vehicle click here.