Winter, not ‘snow’ tyres

Posted on October 19th, 2011 by Rob Marshall

Winter, not ‘snow’ tyresTo be frank, I am fed-up to the back teeth with politicians possessing neither the wit nor wisdom to comprehend an on-going safety argument in favour of winter tyres. Understanding what winter tyres are and what they do is central to adopting the principles of applying them to your vehicle. However, do not follow the politicians’ lead and believe that we do not endure heavy enough snowfalls to contemplate their fitment.

In truth, winter tyres should, perhaps, be better described as ‘low temperature covers’. As soon as the air temperature drops below eight degrees Centigrade, the rubber and silicon compounds that make up a typical summer (or an ‘All Weather type of) tyre become less flexible and resilient and, therefore, provide reduced grip and less effective traction. Winter tyres become more effective at temperatures below that line.

Safety becomes the precursor. Stopping in an emergency situation on a cold surface can demand several metres extra, when compared with dry weather braking distances. Introduce some slush, ice, frost and even snow and it is little wonder that so many motor related accidents occur between October and March.

Your key to survival must be to ensure that you do not figure in those statistics. The beauty of winter tyres is that stopping distances are reduced significantly, the feedback to the driver’s fingers is enhanced and there is less possibility of clattering into an unforgiving kerb, the side of another vehicle, or worse, a pedestrian.

Yet, while winter tyres will provide extra traction in snowy conditions, they are emphatically NOT ‘snow tyres’. Adopting a more judicious view of one’s surroundings is essential and attempting to drive at normal dry weather speeds is simply not on. Caution needs to be exercised.

Tread depth is also an issue. If your vehicle wears part-worn tyres, you can automatically expect reduced levels of grip in wet, let alone lower temperature conditions, especially once the level falls to 2mm depth. Even if you are digging out a set of winter tyres from last year to re-use, bear in mind that the tread depth and condition may play against your expectations. Of course, if you already have a set, you will be aware that the life of your summer tyres has been extended somewhat and that winter covers are not so soft and ‘sticky’ that they wear quicker than chocolate brake pads.

Of course, while awareness of winter tyres in the UK has increased, thanks to two consecutively grim winter seasons, we do not yet possess the northern European mindset. At this time of the year, German, Scandinavian, Italian and even French motorists will head for their local tyre centre or vehicle safety centre to have winter tyres fitted.

What helps in several countries and regions of Europe, is that fitting winter tyres is a compulsory requirement. If you happen to be travelling to those countries, in pursuit of winter sports, you may be required to fit the appropriate seasonal tyres, so do check the legal situation before you depart. Not to do so could result in a fine of 5,000 Euros and your vehicle being impounded, while a bump during the winter season could render a vehicle insurance policy as null and void. As stated earlier, it is in the mindset.

My plaudits go to several car companies, most notably Audi, which is actively promoting convenient winter tyre swaps at each of its dealerships. However, BMW and Saab are carrying out similar exercises. If they all play ball, what may seem like an odd requirement will become customary and the broader benefits will be felt by all. Yet, somebody ought to tell the tyre manufacturers, many of which that I have spoken to had no supply stocks.