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Your full guide to winter tyres

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.

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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.


David Skinner    on 26 January 2017

Only trouble is, your car will have to be re-programmed so that the speedometer reads correctly - tried this with my Mondeo Estate only to be told by the Ford dealer that it would cost £75 for reprogramming - a procedure that would have to be repeated (at a cost of £75) when I change back to summer tyres.

Andrew Penny    on 26 January 2017

David, they are having a laugh at your expense!
As long as you have the right combination of wheel diameter/width/aspect ratio you will end up with the same /very close to the same running diameter. My Audi Q3 runs on 235/50/R18 Summer tyres and 235/55/R17 Winter tyres. Here's the maths:-
(235 x 50% x 2) + (18 x 25.4)mm = 692.2mm - Summer
(235 x 55% x 2) + (17 x 25.4)mm = 690.3mm - Winter
1.9mm difference is well within acceptable tolerances.
You can feel/tell a marked difference on braking in the wet and one glance in your mirror will show you the extra water they are shifting in heavy rain.
Make sure you look for the M+S and/or the 3 peaks symbol which denote winter tyres. Make sure any rims you buy are a suitable width ie 7J (inches)and have the same offset/ ET in mm.
Audi also spec 215/60/R17 for my car (Try the maths yourself).

sixcylinder    on 26 January 2017

Although close, the comprison between tyres should be on rolling circumference not diameter. Whilst there is a link between calculated diameters that is not accurate and you should ask the tyre manufacturer for the rolling circumference figures. These are measured by moving a vehicle forward on a smooth road surface and measuring the linear distance moved over, say 10 rotations of the wheels. From that the true distance moved through one rotation can be calculated. That's what's termed "rolling circumference".

As far as the difference in behaviour is concerned, having lived in a country that had mountains and snowy winters, the difference is unbelievable. You first of all think you are just driving on dry roads, however there are still limits to driving on snow and ice. "Summer" tyres in the same conditions are not in the same league.

NOTE. I do not use the terms "safe" or "dangerous" because there is no clear definition where the borderline lies between the two.

Andrew Penny    on 2 August 2017

Impericall figures established in the way you decribe will undoubtedly be more accurate. However, if the tyres are inflated correctly then the nominal rolling circumference will alwaysl be, thanks to our old friend Pythagoras, 3.142 times the calculated diameter!

Of course wear,, over the lifetime of any tyres, will have the effect of reducing the rolling circumference. In the case of summer tyres that is approximately 4cms and 2.5cms for winter tyres, which are recommended to be changedat 4mm depth remaining. All these variables are within the tolerances specified by the manufacturers' .

   on 29 January 2017

I have fitted Michelin Cross Climate tyres which work all year round and are legal in European countries where winter tyres are mandatory.


Slobodan    on 22 December 2017

Problem with all weather tyres in Serbia is that you can not drive with them in winter if the thread is below 4mm. In other seasons you can drive with them untill they go below 1,6mm. But sice they are meant to be used all year round, we can only use like half the lifespan of the tyre here. :/

Bryan Watts    on 18 December 2017

Working in a rural situation on high ground we suffer the extremes of local weather and I fitted the cheapest winter tyres I could find, the results were astounding! My car could go across challenging terrain up hill and down dale in deep snow . Now keep a full set of winter wheels.

Isa Beck    on 19 December 2017

Several years ago when I had a rear wheel drive car which was a great handling car, but as much use as a chocolate teapot in snow. There only had to be a light snow covering and I couldnt get the thing off my drive. After spending time in Germany for work where it was mandatory to have snow tyres in the winter, I decided to invest in some winter tyres myself. My golly, what a difference that made. My car just changed personality and could tackle both light and thicker snow without any problem. The first time I took my car out in the snow, my neighbour who also had a rear wheel drive saw me leave and though it was safe enough for him to to the same. Needless to say he barely made 5 metres before his car was slipping and rotating on the spot and my wife had to help him push the car. Now even though I drive a car with four-wheel drive, I still put winter tyres on the car every winter. No point having four-wheel drive if you lose traction on all four wheels.

Grumpy2    on 20 December 2017

It makes a lot of sense to purchase an additional set of wheels fitted with winter tyres. The key is to check the car makers brochure to see what size they fit to the basic model of your car - and that will be the right size tyre/wheel combination for winter, particularly if the tyre width is narrower than your present one (easier to go through snow). Recently purchasing four wheels from a third party specialist fitted with the best tyres in the recent Autoexpress winter tyre survey, I paid £550 all in. The Audi wheels on my car with summer tyres cost £610 EACH! I now get a softer and more secure ride - and my summer tyre/wheel combination will last twice as long with 6 monthly wheel swops.

Slobodan    on 22 December 2017

"In cold condition where the thermometer reads 7°C or less, winter tyres will help you stop in shorter distances than summer rubber"

Well, this seems debunked:


Engineer Andy    on 10 January 2018

I don't agree that the cost of buying and using winter tyres (in addition to running 'summer' tyres) even if you DON'T need to buy different size (smaller) alloys or steel wheel, is lower than if you just ran summer tyres all year round. It will inevitably depend on factors such as:

1. Your location - some areas/countries always have snow and ice for several months, whilst in many parts of the UK we're lucky to get a week's worth that would require them over the year. Even the terrain you live in (town, city or countryside in the same region) makes a huge difference, due to the traction you can get on winding country lanes that aren't gritted vs. urban areas and trunk roads that are. As such, the risk of an accident due to losing control varies a great deal over that year due to differing weather conditions, just by itself;

2. Your use pattern - someone who rarely uses their car, or who has another with, say, 4WD and winter/all-season tyres can often leave the other car, swap over if possible/required or get a lift from a friend/neighbour/relative/colleague on the odd occasion they cannot use their car, especially if they contributed towards the fuel cost (far cheaper than buying a set of extra tyres and wheels) over 5-10 days.

3. The type of car you own. FDW cars with already higher-profile tyres (even if 'summer' ones) can be driven safely in moderate amounts of snow, and to a lesser extent, ice, than RWD cars with low profile tyres, especially if these cars are also very different in performance. How often have we seen RWD performance BMW saloons etc finding it nigh on impossible to negotiate a gentle slope on such conditions when a Fiesta or suchlike manages the same perfectly ok?

4. Driving style and ability. A 'boy racer' (or similar) who likes driving fast and taking (often uneccessary) risks or someone who has lower driving skills (for whatever reason - age, disability, blase opinion about driving/safety, lack of common sense, etc etc) even in relatively benign conditions/driving a car the works better in them, may come acropper, and so would benefit from tyres that gave better levels of traction unless having an accident (a minor one) cause them to change their minds.

5. The cost of winter tyres, even when they are exactly the same width, profile and diameter as summer equivalents and in respect of general make/quality, is almost always significantly higher, often between 50% and 100% more expensive. An that is without having to shell out for new alloys or steel wheels if that's the only way to get such rubber on you car.

Whilst they may wear at the same rate as summer tyres outside of the winter, summer tyres then would wear at a lower rate in winter and therefore last longer. Additionally, if you don't have space at home (as I don't - I live in a flat with no space for 4 tyres, never mind if I were either elderly on live in a high-rise) you have to, as the report says, pay a garage to store your non-used set for the year - that would NOT be cheap. As long as the risk of crashing/getting stuck was low (see above), then the cost of having winter tyres (cost-benefit analysis, including that of actual life safety and of lost working time, especially if you're self-employed etc) would certainly NOT be worth it.

Speaking personally, especially as (the best) all-season tyres have come a long way in recent years, are 'only' about 20% more than summer tyres with comparable summer performance and near on wear, I'd rather have the peace of mind, even though I don't live in an out-of-the way (non-gritted) rural area, of having better grip in winter months, even though I live in the relatively mild climate of Eastern England, drive a moderately powered FWD car and reasonably know what I'm doing driving in snow and ice (and when not to). I currently drive on summer tyres, but will likely (unless the price difference rises a lot or I get a brand new car and cannot afford to swap out the tyres) get all-seasons as my next set.

Alex Walker    on 8 December 2018

Obviously your not an experienced driver we have variable winters in the UK or haven't you noticed safety first cold and wet winter tyres beat summer ones hands down try it.9

rogerzilla1    on 6 February 2018

I'm a big fan after first buying a cheap set of Nankang winter tyres for an MX-5 in 2010. They make a RWD car driveable in the snow; grip is not normal so you have to be careful with the throttle and (especially) steering lock to avoid facing the wrong way, but once you get the hang of it, you should never get stuck. I got up a multi-storey ramp in a BMW 320 - normally useless in snow - with winter tyres when the FWD Corsa in front just kept sliding back.

Even the cheap ones work fine but they will probably be heavier and require more balance weight due to unevenness in manufacture.

A FWD car with winter tyres is far more effective in snow than a 4WD car with summer tyres, for hill climbing as well as for braking.

Get a cheap set of winter wheels - steelies can be as little a £5 for four, secondhand - and keep the set not being used in the shed or garage.

The only car on which they're not particularly useful is a 4WD with some kind of off-road tyres. My Jimny with its standard Bridgestone Dueler H/T tyres ("Highway Terrain" - mainly for road use but slightly more gnarly than your usual summer tyres) was quite happy in the snow with 4WD engaged. A soft-roader like a BMW X3 or Nissan Qashquai, which come with summer road tyres as standard, would benefit from proper winter tyres.

Phil of Cilcain    on 3 March 2018

2 years ago I fitted Goodyear Vector 4 Seasons to replace the Dunlop SPs my Honda Accord was supplied with. This cold spell is the first real trial on snow and what a difference. Snow covered rural roads tackled with significantly more confidence and I've found no problem using them throughout the year.

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