There can be some confusion over fitting different tyres for winter. That’s to say choosing tyres that are designed to provide grip in colder conditions when regular ‘summer’ tyres struggle to give any traction.
Can I fit winter tyres with summer tyres?
It’s a very tempting prospect to fit winter tyres on drive wheels only. Tyres are expensive and why shouldn’t having cold weather products on the driving wheels and summer tyres on the non-driving wheels provide the ultimate money-saving solution? In fact, mixing winter and summer is a really bad idea.
Why mixing tyres is such a bad idea
The best winters are designed to provide grip when the temperature drops lower than 7 degrees C. This is when the compound – the mix of ingredients – in regular tyres ceases to bond with the road’s surface. Do winter tyres make a difference? Yes, and so by putting them on one axle and not another, you’re giving that axle grip when the other axle may not have any.
Winter tyres on front-wheel drive cars
Most cars are driven by the front wheels. If you want the power from the engine to be applied to the road surface via tyre grip when the weather’s cold, you need to put the winters on the front axle.
Trouble is, you will then have a car with a loose rear end in very cold weather. And unless you’re an expert driver or were brought up in Finland where they’re used to driving on ice, you’ll find your car constantly trying to oversteer or spin (where the rear end over takes the front end).
Winter tyres on rear-wheel drive cars
Some cars, frequently either premium German models or electric cars have driven rear wheels. In order to go anywhere when the road’s icy, you should put winter tyres on the rear axle for the back wheels. The trouble is, you’ll then be using all that rear-end grip to drive straight to the scene of the accident.
If you have summer tyres on the front axle, when you arrive at a bend, you’ll find the steering at worst won’t work, at best will be impaired. The front of the car will wash wide and you’ll probably lose control.
What’s the answer?
There are three ways forwards. You either forget about changing altogether. You go for a complete cold weather set-up, that’s to say winter tyres across both axles. Or – and this would be our preferred option – you choose all-season tyres.
The benefit of all season tyres
Are winter tyres necessary in the UK? Or is there another way? All season tyres are designed, engineered and built to have the properties of winter and summer tyres. You put all season tyres on and don’t have to swap them twice a year for the changing seasons.
That means you just need one set of tyres. And for a country like ours where the temperature is frequently below 7 degrees C in the winter but it rarely snows, and we certainly don’t have compacted ice on the roads like in Finland, they’re more than capable enough.
I’ve been writing about cars and motoring for more than 25 years. My career started on a long-departed classic car weekly magazine called AutoClassic. I’ve since pitched up at Autosport, Auto Express, the News of the World, Sunday Times and most recently the Daily Telegraph. When I’m not writing about cars and motoring, I’m probably doing some kind of sport or working in my garden.