Are winter tyres worth it?

Posted on November 21st, 2014 by Rob Marshall

changeSeveral years ago, when we shivered under a couple of consecutive cold winters, winter tyres (or, more accurately, cold-weather tyres) became buzz-words in the media. Since then, new research has found that a quarter of polled motorists view them as too expensive and almost a fifth view cold weather covers as too much of a hassle to change, with the same percentage believing that the British winter is simply too mild.

While cold weather tyres are a legal requirement in certain European countries (be wary of this, should you be driving there to visit relatives, or to ski), their fitment is still optional in Great Britain. Yet, while many drivers in the UK modify their driving styles, when ice and snow is on the ground, very few do so, when temperatures outside fall below seven degrees Celsius, especially when they are ensconced within a warm cabin.

It is under these cold and damp conditions, when cold weather tyres come into their own, because not only is their tread compound designed to disperse water, slush and snow more effectively but the higher percentage of natural rubber in the tyre’s make-up is also more flexible, critically as the mercury falls, unlike the construction of summer-type tyres. After all, every tyre has an ideal temperature operational range and cold weather covers are optimised for those cooler conditions, ideal when most of your driving involves commuting early in the morning, or late in the evening.

To find out whether, or not, cold weather tyres are worth it and if public perceptions of them being too expensive, too much hassle and inappropriate for UK conditions are true, I have equipped my own car with a set of second-hand wheel rims, equipped with new Continental ContiWinterContact TS850, a tyre that has performed very strongly in independent cold-weather testing, and I shall report back on the findings. In my particular West Midlands locale, average temperatures have not dipped below double figures, until recently, therefore, I delayed fitting the cold weather covers until early November.

My initial assessment of these tyres will follow next month.