Winter tyres explained
What are winter tyres?
Winter tyres combine a tread pattern and softer rubber compound designed for colder weather conditions, typically under seven degrees Celsius. They are not just designed for driving in snow, the tread patterns used have been developed to disperse water more effectively and the softer rubber compound should grip better in cold conditions, whether it is wet or dry.
You can spot a winter tyre by the snowflake symbol shown on the sidewall of the tyre. You might also see an ‘M+S’ symbol which stands for mud and snow, thought these aren’t technically winter tyres (and aren’t legal during the winter in some European countries).
Are winter tyres a legal requirement?
In the UK, winter tyres aren’t mandatory and not that many drivers will change up their tyres for the winter. It really depends on where you live in the UK, the weather and the road conditions. If you live in more remote or rural areas, winter tyres might be a good idea.
Mainland Europe on the other hand, is a different story. Winter tyres are compulsory in some countries from November/December through to April/March, so make sure you check the guidelines before driving abroad during the winter.
Will changing tyres affect my insurance?
While changing to winter tyres may be seen as a modification, it is unlikely to affect your insurance. Nevertheless, the Association of British Insurers (ABI) advises people to check and to notify their insurer, click here for more.
Winter tyres Vs all season tyres
While a winter tyre is designed specifically for the coldest months of the year, all season tyres can (unsurprisingly!) be worn all year round. Winter tyres reduce your stopping distance in snow, but are not usually as effective in the summer. All season tyres give a good compromise for all seasons and conditions.
It’s worth bearing in mind that leaving your winter tyres on during the summer can cause them to wear more quickly and can damage the tyre - all seasons are also a good option if you don’t want the hassle of changing your tyres every season.
In the UK all tyres must have a minimum of 1.6mm tread around three-quarters of the tyre. This is just the minimum requirement though, and more tread equals more grip. Don’t leave tyre changing to the last minute!
As well as tread, look out for any cracking in the tyre walls and other damage – if in doubt get your tyres checked by a professional.
Finally and very importantly - winter tyres should never be seen as a substitute for safe driving. Drive to the road conditions and speed limits at all times and leave plenty of space for braking.