In many parts of mainland Europe it is common, or even a legal requirement, for drivers to keep two sets of wheels and tyres – a set of ‘summer’ tyres and a set of specialist ‘winter’ tyres.
Winter tyres use a tread rubber compound (high silica content) and tread pattern specifically designed to retain flexibility in low temperatures (below +7C) and give good braking/traction performance on snow/ice as well as on wet roads in cold conditions.
The sidewall of a winter tyre will be marked with a symbol showing a snowflake or snow-topped mountains.
Winter tyres are not really suited to all year round use though – summer tyres will give better performance when temperatures are higher and roads dry – so you’ll need two sets of tyres if you’re going to choose specialist tyres for winter.
Why are winter tyres not compulsory in the UK?
There are several practical and economic reasons:
- many parts of the country never or only rarely experience weather conditions that would justify use of winter tyres
- many drivers choose not to use the car when snow or ice are around
- assuming that the industry could supply tyres in sufficient volume, the overall cost would be prohibitive – estimated at £500/car x 30million cars = £15billion for wheels/tyres plus storage and fitting costs
Should you buy winter tyres?
Winter tyres make sense if you live in a remote area where winter conditions are likely to be worse for longer. Elsewhere it may be harder to justify the cost, though this has to be a personal decision depending on the risk of bad weather, your confidence when driving and how much you have to drive when snow and ice are around.
Winter tyres are made by most of the main manufacturers. Some suppliers will provide these pre-fitted to a set of steel wheels too. If changing from alloy wheels to steel wheels you may have to change the design of wheel nuts used too. Ask the wheel supplier or car manufacturer for advice.
Winter tyres must be fitted in sets of four. Fitting only one pair will affect the balance and stability of the car.
All Season Tyres
As an alternative you could consider buying ‘All Season Tyres’ which also have a high silica content for low temperature flexibility and a tread pattern somewhere between a normal summer tyre and an out-and-out winter tyre. Like all compromises they’re unlikely to be as good as the best specialist tyre but can be expected to work better on wintry roads than a summer tyre and you will avoid the hassle and cost of swapping wheels/tyres twice a year.