The one thing we know about the seasons is that they are seasonal, correct? Which means it’ll be winter before we know it again soon, and the questions about winter tyres will once again arise in the minds of the everyday motorist.
Such as: are winter tyres worth what they cost, do they really make a difference compared with summer tyres when the roads turn greasy, should they be made compulsory in the UK (as they are in many other "cold" European countries at certain times of the year), and which are the best ones to buy; and where are the best places to go to find the best deals?
Until last year I was sceptical about the whole business of winter tyres. I thought they were a ruse quite frankly, a conspiracy designed by the car and tyre manufacturers to get us to part with our hard earned folding for something that we don’t strictly need. But then I tried some, at which point my opinion on the subject changed completely.
I was running a long term BMW 1M at the time, and at BMW’s insistence the car was fitted with a set of Michelin Alpin winter tyres. And when it came back I was stunned by how different it felt to drive; how much more comfortably it rode, how much sweeter it steered, how less fidgety it felt on badly surfaced roads, and how much more grip it had everywhere in the wet.
The whole car felt as if it had been unlocked somehow, and there was also an amusing little sticker that had appeared in the top right-hand side of the windscreen, warning me not to drive above 149mph. As if BMW GB was saying: ‘Because we know what sort of larks you normally get up to in our 1M…’
There were some other qualities about the car on winter tyres that were less desirable, true. I noticed, for instance, that the speedo had become wildly ambitious; at a true 70mph it was reading almost 80mph, which meant the fuel range indicator was similarly off-piste. And the car’s traction control also become neurotic, killing the power at the merest whiff of throttle, even on bone dry roads.
But when eventually it snowed – albeit only a bit – the tyres were an absolute revelation. The 1M was not rendered useless, as I’m no doubt it would have been on its original 19in summer tyres. Instead, it could go pretty much anywhere because it could stop, steer and accelerate, almost as if the roads were merely wet rather than covered in snow.
And having subsequently tried Michelin’s latest Pilot Alpin 2 tyres in Latvia recently – on anything from the new 911 to a Range Rover Evoque – it’s equally clear that winter tyres aren’t just here to stay but are getting better, year-on-year. Winter tyres are now big business for the tyre companies pf Europe, even if we in the UK have yet to embrace them like most other countries in the Union. But my guess, my hope indeed, is that this attitude will change in the near future.
What’s the point in spending upwards of a thousand pounds on winter tyres in the UK when we don’t have the weather to justify such extra cost, I hear you cry. Put it this way, next time it snows – and they say it might do properly again in the UK this winter – and our nation grinds to a halt once more (which it will) just think how much money will go up in smoke in the resulting mayhem. And think how much more efficient it would be if, as they do in Latvia when it snows (which means most of the year), we all continued to get around in our cars, vans, lorries and buses, virtually as if nothing had happened.
That’s how much of a difference winter tyres can make. And the sooner we realise it, the less carnage there will be next time our beloved weather forcasters warn us there’s a “cold snap” heading our way.
Winter tyres vs 4x4
Winter tyres FAQs
Can I drive on winter tyres in summer?
Yes, but the best thing to do is store them in the summer otherwise they’ll wear out quite quickly.
What are the biggest benefits of winter tyres compared with normal tyres?
On rear-wheel-drive cars in particular, they improve all areas of performance. But the biggest differences are in braking and traction, and the differences are monumental, as in more than 50 per cent.
Do I really need winter tyres on a front-wheel-drive car?
Yes, because although the improvements aren’t as great as they are on rear drive cars, they are still very significant indeed, especially in braking performance.
How much do winter tyres cost?
About the same as summer tyres, depending on size, style and make.
Where’s the best place to buy them?
Always check for deals on the internet (with companies such as blackcircles.com) but check with your car manufacturer first to get the recommended sizes.
Do winter tyres make any difference in the rain?
Yes, a huge difference. In fact, they will improve the braking, traction and overall grip of your car at pretty much any temperature below 5-7 degrees C – even in the dry. And in the wet, in those sorts of temperatures the difference is chalk and cheese.
Is it worth putting winter tyres on a tired old banger?
If you value the front and rear bumpers of your tired old banger and don’t fancy the idea of ruining your no claims bonus, yes. If not, no. And good luck.
Can I get 20in winter tyres that look the same as 20in high performance summer tyres?
Yes. Most of the major tyre companies now make 20in winter tyres.
What’s wrong with carrying a set of snow chains instead?
Best of luck fitting a set of those once you’ve slid to a halt on the hard shoulder on the uphill section of a busy motorway.
Are winter tyres worth it?
In our humble opinion, yes. With extra cheese and chilli sauce on top.