Guide to winter tyres: should I buy winter tyres for my car?

Winter tyres

Winter tyres are specially designed to work better than regular ‘summer’ tyres at lower temperatures. Anyone who has 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.

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 have a special blend of ingredients – called a compound – and a different, more complicated looking tread pattern. As a result they offer a better hold on the road through bends and shorter stopping distances in colder conditions.

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.

It’s worth noting that snow tyres are different to winter rubber. Snow tyres have small studs in them to bite into the snow.

Why do winter tyres offer more grip?

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 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 £50 to £130, before fitting. Normal ‘summer’ tyres are in the range of £35 to £120.

Winter rubber for a 215/60 R17 tyre that will fit a larger popular model such as the Volkswagen Golf will cost from £75 to £135, unfitted. Summer tyres for that same car will be from £60 to about £120 (all prices 2024).

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 winter tyres in 2023, assessing them back to back. It rates the Continental WinterContact TS 870 as best followed by the Bridgestone Blizzak LM005 and Goodyear UltraGrip Performance 3 in its top three.

Mercedes-AMG GLC in snow

Twice the mileage or spending twice as much?

If you go for special cold-weather 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 them, your summer tyres aren’t covering any miles and vice versa. Alternatively, there’s nothing to stop you running winters all year round. They will wear more in summer’s higher temperatures and won’t perform as well, but the trade-off is you’ll know your car will have the right rubber when the weather turns colder.

Should you tell your motor insurer when fitting winter tyres?

As winter 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 cold-weather 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 winters.

image showing winter tyre sipes
Winter tyres have a special tread pattern to give grip in cold slippery conditions

Can you mix winter and summer tyres?

It’s a very tempting prospect. Tyres are expensive and why shouldn’t having special tyres for cold weather on the driving wheels and summer tyres on the non-driving wheels provide the ultimate money-saving solution? In fact, mixing winter and summer tyres is a really bad idea.

By putting winters on one axle and not another, you’re giving that axle grip when the other axle may not have any. Cold-weather tyres on the front axle alone will make the rear of the car feel very loose in freezing conditions. Put them on the rear axle only and the car will struggle to steer.

If you’re going to go for winter rubber, unfortunately you have to go all in with the cold weather tyres across both axles.

The benefit of all season tyres

These are tyres that are designed, engineered and built to have the best properties of winter and summer tyres. You put them on and don’t have to swap them twice a year for the changing seasons. We look into all-season tyres in depth in this post.

They do mean you just need one set of tyres all year round. 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.

Is it worth getting winter tyres on a 4×4 or SUV?

If you’re just driving on regular roads and you don’t need extra ground clearance, winter rubber will see you through snow as well, if not better than four-wheel drive. And a set of winter tyres will be a lot cheaper than buying a car with four-wheel drive. Put winters on a 4×4 and you should be almost unstoppable.

use winter tyres in summer. image showing mclaren on a snowy road
Winter tyres come for all shapes and sizes of car

Can you run winter tyres in the summer?

In the UK, we don’t generally have super-hot summers, although who knows if and by how much that is going to change? Even so, the average high between June and September is just under 20 degrees C, so not superhot. And there’s nothing in the law to stop you running winter tyres in summer.

That said, no quality tyre maker will recommend you run winter tyres in the summer. Winter rubber is designed to give more grip than summer tyres when the weather’s cold. But in warmer temperatures, summer tyres are better at stopping on a wet surface than winter tyres.

Summer tyres will also provide better handling than winter tyres in warmer weather. This is because the construction tends to be harder, the tread blocks move less and they offer more control in warmer weather.

Do winter tyres wear more in the summer?

Winter tyres are made from a softer compound of ingredients than their summer equivalents. They also tend to have more tread in contact with the road for more grip in slippery conditions.

This means two things: when the weather’s hot, winter tyres can wear more than their summer equivalents. And because winter tyres have more rolling resistance than summer tyres, you’ll use more fuel.

What about winter vs budget tyres in summer?

When buying tyres, you should be looking to buy the safest you can get for your money. That means tyres that will hold the road well and stop smartly in wet conditions.

Neither cheap winter, nor budget tyres will offer optimum safety in warmer conditions. In fact, a pair of cheap budget tyres may have worse performance than premium winter tyres in warm weather.

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