Winter Tyres Explained for 2019

Confused about winter tyres and whether it's worth fitting them? While the tyre manufacturers are obviously keen for you to invest in another set of nice shiny new tyres (and possibly wheels) we bring you the answers to the most common questions we get asked about winter tyres so you can decided whether they're a worthwhile investment.

What are winter tyres?

Winter tyres are made from a different compound of rubber that uses more silica and they have extra ‘sipes’ - the tiny grooves that also assist the tyre’s tread to deflect.

This makes the tread blocks softer so they can move around more in low temperature conditions than summer tyres. As a result, winter tyres generate more heat in cold weather and it’s this that gives them more grip on chilly tarmac and icy roads.

Why should I fit winter tyres?

In cold condition where the thermometer reads 7°C or less, winter tyres will help you stop in shorter distances than summer rubber. From 60mph to a stop on a cold, wet road will take 70.5 metres on summer tyres, whereas a car equipped with winters will come to a halt in 65.7 metres.

That’s the length of a large family car and can make the difference between stopping and being involved in a collision. Winter tyres also offer more grip for cornering and pulling away on slippery surfaces, so they give better control when it’s cold.

Do winter tyres wear out more quickly?

Winter tyres work at their best at temperatures of 7°C and below and they will wear out at the same rate at summer tyres do in warmer weather. If you leave winter tyres on your car, they can still cope easily with ambient temperatures of 20°C, so you don’t have to worry about a loss of grip or the tyres wearing out rapidly.

Although you have to pay for two sets of tyres, the cost and wear is averaged out over twice the distance one set of tyres will cover, so you spend no more over the course of two or three years.

How do winter tyres work?

By using different compounds to create a softer, more malleable rubber, winter tyres tread patterns can move more in cold conditions than a summer tyre’s. Extra grooves in the tread, called ‘sipes’, also help and the easier movement generates heat.

It’s this warmer tyre temperature that deliver grip and traction when the temperature drops below 7°C. Winter tyres also have a more open tread design that allows them to bite into snow and slush more easily and disperse these chilly road coverings effectively.

You should always fit winter tyres as a set of four. While you might think they will only work on the driven wheels, using only two cold weather tyres can destabilise your car in difficult conditions.

This can cause the car to lose traction and reduce braking just when you need them the most.

How much do winter tyres cost?

Below, we have gathered indicative costs from major retailers for winter tyres made by Continental, Pirelli, Goodyear, Bridgestone, Michelin and Nokian. As ever, our advice for winter tyres is the same as tyres in general - buy the best that you can afford. Cheap tyres may look appealling, but are often less safe and wear out faseter than those made by the more well-known manufacturers.

Continental Winter Tyres Continental Logo (1)

Continental has a range of winter tyres sold under the WinterContact and ContiWinterContact brand names and designed to appeal to a wide spread of makes and models.

The ContiWinterContact TS800 claims to be tailor-made for compact cars and is said to offer superb cornering stability and grip, excellent performance on snow and ice and outstanding protection against aquaplaning. 

ContiWinterContact TS810 is for mid-sized and luxury cars and adds better ride comfort to the attributes above, while the ContiWinterContact TS830 is the one that's been designed for mid-size cars. Sports car owners should look for the ContiWinterContact TS810 sport.

Other options from Continental include the ContiWinterContact TS830 P for specialist vehicles, WinterContact TS850, TS850P and TS 860.

How much do Continental winter tyres cost?

Below we have sourced some indicative pricing of Continental winter tyres to give you an idea of outline costs. We suggest that you visit Blackcircles*, Tyre-shopper.co.uk* and Tyresonthedrive.com for price comparison on the specific tyres for your car.

 Tyre size Price

Continental VanContact Winter 175/65 R14C 90/88T

£76.80

Continental WinterContact TS 860 185/55 R15 86V

£86.30

Continental Wintercontact TS 860 185/50 RR16 T

£70.90

Continental WintercontactTS 860 225/45 R17 94H

£113.70

Continental Wintercontact TS 850 P 225/40 R18 92V

£115.60

*Prices are per tyre and include VAT, but not fitting.

Pirelli Winter Tyres Pirelli -logo

Pirelli offers two winter tyre brands for cars and SUVs - Cinturato and Winter Sottozero

Cinturato is the general all-round winter tyre that's suitable for most models. Pirelli says that it offers excellent performance in winter conditions.

Winter Sottozero is the one to go for if you've got a sports car or something high-end. This is a tyre that gives better balance of performance and safety.

How much do Pirelli winter tyres cost?

Below we have sourced some indicative pricing of Continental winter tyres to give you an idea of outline costs. We suggest that you visit Blackcircles*, Tyre-shopper.co.uk* and Tyresonthedrive.com for price comparison on the specific tyres for your car.

 Tyre Size Price

Pirelli Carrier Winter 175/65 R14C 90/88T

£76.50

Pirelli Cinturato Winter 185/55 R15 86H

£85.90

Pirelli Winter Sottozero 3 205/55 R16 91H

£74.10
Pirelli W 240 Sottozero S2 225/45 R17 94V £99

Pirelli Winter Sottozero 3 225/40 R18 92V

£107.60
Pirelli W 240 SottoZero S2 225/40 R18 92V £126.10

*Prices are per tyre and include VAT, but not fitting.

Goodyear Winter Tyres Download (2)

Goodyear Winter Tyres are sold uner the Ultragrip brand and come in a wide variety of sizes. Different specialist versions of the Ultragrip tyre cater for SUVs, performance cars and improved passenger comfort.

How much do Goodyear winter tyres cost?

Below we have sourced some indicative pricing of Continental winter tyres to give you an idea of outline costs. We suggest that you visit Blackcircles*, Tyre-shopper.co.uk* and Tyresonthedrive.com for price comparison on the specific tyres for your car.

Tyre Size Price

Goodyear Ultragrip 9 MS 175/65 R14C 90/88T

£91.10

Goodyear 185/55 R15

 N/A
Goodyear Ultragriup 9 MS 205/55 R16 94H £75.20
Goodyear Ultragrip Performance Gen 1 225/45 R17 94V £103.40 

Goodyear Ultragrip Performance Gen 1 225/40 R18 92V

£115.10
Goodyear UltraGrip 8 Performance 225/40 R18 92V £126.70

*Prices are per tyre and include VAT, but not fitting.

Michelin Winter Tyres Michelin

The Winter tyre from Michelin is the Alpin. The latest incarnations of the Alpin have been improved to the extend that Alpin now starts 10% easier, stops 5% shorter and will drive for one extra winter.

How much do Michelin winter tyres cost?

Below we have sourced some indicative pricing of Continental winter tyres to give you an idea of outline costs. We suggest that you visit Blackcircles*, Tyre-shopper.co.uk* and Tyresonthedrive.com for price comparison on the specific tyres for your car.

 Tyre size Price

Michelin Alpin A4 185/55 R15 86H

£93.10

Michelin Alpin 4 185/55 R15 86H

£87.30
Michelin Alpin 5 205/55 R16 91H £74.30
Michelin Alpin 5 225/45 R17 94H £101.30 

Michelin Pilot Alpin PA4 225/40 R18 92W

£122.80
Michelin Pilot Alpin PA4 225/40 R18 92V £138

 *Prices are per tyre and include VAT, but not fitting.

Will I need another set of wheels if I fit winter tyres?

Some cars with very large alloy wheels and low profile summer tyres will need a second set of wheels for winter tyres. This is because most winter tyres have a taller side profile, so they won’t fit over the larger types of wheel.

However, smaller wheels are readily available and quite cheap - and they make fitting winter tyres even easier as you don’t have to visit a tyre fitter to have them swapped over. Just make sure the winter wheels have sufficient clearance for the brakes.

Will winter tyres affect my car’s economy and performance?

Even if you fit smaller wheels with winter tyres to your car, the performance and economy should remain the same because the rolling circumference will remain the same.

This is because the winter tyre has a taller side profile that accounts for the difference between a larger alloy wheel and smaller wheel for winter use. The only difference you might notice is a small reduction in cornering grip on winter tyres, but then you should also be driving with added caution in cold conditions to allow for lower traction on slippery roads.

What are the alternatives to winter tyres?

Snow Socks 81Vtlz YF3o L._SL1500_ Copy

A further option is snow socks, which can be fitted to standard relatively deep profile tyres. Autosocks work by using fibres to pick up soft snow that itself provides traction against the snow you are driving over. This is much the same as good winter tyres, the sipes of which pick up snow to use against the snow on the ground to provide traction,

But these need to be removed as soon as you get to snow-free gritted roads, particularly Autosocks.

Prices for snow socks start from around £40 from Amazon* and £50 from Halfords.*

Snow Chains 71d UQ1K8dj L._SL1500_ Copy (1)

Snow chains can be used in the United Kingdom in conditions where there's heavy snow of thick ice.

They're far more common in Europe, particularly in ski resorts, where there's often regular snow to contend with. You should bear this in mind if you're driving to Europe during the Winter. France, Germany and Sweden make it mandatory to carry snow chains and if visiting Switzerland, Norway, Italy, Austria, and Andorra, you should have some in the boot just in case.

Prices start at £18 on Amazon*, while you can expect to pay from £70 at Halfords.*

Do I need to tell my insurance company?

Some insurers are happy for you to fit winter tyres without telling them so long as the cold weather rubber is of the correct size and rating. You can check the rating on the sidewall of the tyre or ask your fitter. If you’re uncertain, it’s wise to check with your insurance company.

If they try to charge an additional fee, ask for this to be explained and accounted for. Another legal point to remember is if you travel abroad in winter but still on summer tyres, some European countries require winter tyres between October and March. If your car’s on the wrong rubber, you could risk a fine.

So I can now drive normally in winter conditions?

You shouldn’t need to adjust your driving to account for winter tyres, but it’s always wise to think about your driving when the roads are icy. Stopping distance can quadruple on ice-bound roads and you’re six times more likely to be involved in a collision in winter than in summer.

021110-a-tyr

So, leave more space between you and the car in front. It’s also good practice to ease off the throttle earlier as you approach a corner so you don’t have to suddenly jab the brakes and unsettle the car. Winter tyres give the car more grip, but you still have to drive safely to the conditions.

What happens when spring arrives?

The first warm day of spring doesn’t mean you have to rush out and change back to summer tyres. Even at temperatures up to 20°C, winter tyres are still perfectly safe and capable. They will wear out more quickly in warm weather, but reckon on swapping back to summer tyres in March or April.

Some garages will store your extra set of tyres for a fee (probably not in an actual hotel like above...) or you can take them home and stash the set in the garage. Make sure the tyres are dry and clean, and store up to four stacked upright or on their sides in a dry environment away from direct sunlight.

 

What is the legislation regarding winter tyres in the UK?

Well, the short answer is there’s not any. However, there are still legal pitfalls that could trip up any driver fitting cold weather rubber to their car.

The most important point to remember is to inform your insurance company you have switched from summer to winter tyres - and back again when spring arrives.

Some insurers may try to charge an additional fee for the swap, but most now don’t so long as the winter tyres are the right size and speed rating for the vehicle. If your insurer does try to charge, demand clarification and a breakdown of the cost.

The tyre’s rating can lead to the other legal problem for drivers in the UK. Every new car is fitted with tyres appropriate to its weight, use and maximum speed. When you replace the tyres, you must ensure they have an equal or better rating. If you’re uncertain, ask a professional tyre fitter for advice.

One further area that can lead to a legal conflict is if you drive in other European countries that require drivers to fit winter tyres and your car is still on summer rubber. If stopped by the police, you could be fined or even have your car impounded, so check before leaving home.

We may not have heavy snowfall, but winter tyres still make sense as they are designed to cope with low temperatures...

Many continental countries demand fitting winter tyres as a legal requirement due to the severe weather conditions and low temperatures in the colder half of the year. In regions of Germany, for instance, you risk being uninsured if you fail to fit winter tyres as it’s viewed as negligence on the part of the driver not to account for the conditions.

Here in the UK, we rarely see such extreme weather for any length of time, so winter tyres are not so popular. However, the number of drivers swapping from summer to winter rubber has increased from around 1 percent in 2010 to about 5 percent in 2015.

It’s good practice to change from summer to winter tyres around the same time as the Europeans, so reckon on fitting winters in October and swapping back to summer tyres in April. 

It may cost around £500 for a decent set of winter tyres for the average family car, but this is offset by reduced wear and prolonged life for your summer tyres. A set of winter tyres will also last two or three cold seasons for those covering a typical annual mileage, so it ends up costing no more over three or four years.

We may not have heavy snowfall, but winter tyres still make sense as they are designed to cope with low temperatures. This is because the rubber compound of winter tyres uses more silica, so the tread has greater flexibility.

This isn’t to allow the pattern itself to offer better grip. Instead, combined with a more open tread design, it lets the rubber warm up more quickly to give improved traction.

To help with this, winter tyres, have ‘sipes’ cut into the tread blocks, which are tiny gaps that let the treads move a little more to generate heat and grip. As a result, winter tyres come into their own at temperatures below 7 °C when summer tyres begin to lose their effectiveness.

Don’t confuse winter tyres with off-road ‘mud and snow’ types, which are aimed at driving in the sort of conditions you would not want to subject the average family car to.

Ask HJ

Is it worth buying a different set if wheels for winter tyres rather than swapping them over?

I have a one year old Audi and am considering winter tyres. Do I have to buy additional rims or can I replace the tyres with winter tyres and then have the 'summer' tyres refitted next spring?
Yes you can swap over every November and March. But, of course, it's expensive and risks rim and tyre bead damage every time. If buying an additional set of rims, go for the smallest size for the car so you can fit the deepest profile tyres. But you will also need to buy a full set of TPMS valve sensors for the new wheels and tyres which gets expensive.
Answered by Honest John
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Ask HJ

Why aren't people encouraged more to switch to winter tyres?

Despite having specialist winter tyres fitted for the last few winters, the recent cold snap has been the first real test of them in proper winter conditions. I can't speak highly enough of them (Nokian - but I'm sure others are just as good). They've got me up steep slopes when I've seen cars struggling to get out of tiny inclines on junctions and offered excellent handing and braking on snow-covered roads. After seeing footage of cars and vans sliding around and struggling to get up (or not) what look like gentle slopes, shouldn't there be some form of campaign to promote their virtues and how much money could be saved in the economy if people were made or encouraged more to switch to winter rubber?
Nokian tyres are developed in the Arctic Circle. If anyone knows how to make cold weather tyres, Nokian does. But for the UK, that rarely gets snow like we have now, an all-weather tyre such as Michelin Cross Climate or Goodyear Vector 4 Seasons or, indeed, Nokian Weatherproof, is the most practical solution.
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