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Choosing the right time to change back to summer tyres

Kwik Fit | Thursday 22nd March 2018 3:12pm

winter and summer tyre with seasonal background

Many British drivers don’t realise there are different tyres designed to be used in different seasons, much less actually switch between summer and winter tyres between the cold and warmer weather. If you lived in more or less any other northern European country, such as Germany, you’d be in a minority if you didn’t know there are different tyres, and that’s because over there pretty much everyone changes their tyres. It’s as normal to them as eating Bratwurst. 

In this article we not only provide a refresher on what winter tyres are, how they’re different to summer tyres, and how to identify which type of tyres you have. We’ll also give you some important information about the right time to switch from one set of tyres to the other.

Winter tyres, summer tyres – what’s the difference?

So, briefly, the principle difference between winter and summer tyres is that they are constructed from completely different rubber compounds. Summer tyres, like the ContiPremiumContact 5 and SportContact 6, offer optimal grip on warm roads, and – yes, that’s right – winter tyres are better when it comes to gripping cold ones. The easiest way to spot a winter tyre is by looking at the tread pattern. Winter tyres feature ‘sipes’, additional smaller tread grooves on the surface of the tyre that help to bite into snow and ice. Note the difference between the winter tyre on the left and the summer tyre on the right.

winter and summer tyre tread differences

At this point we should point out that winter tyres – which perform much better in snowy and icy conditions –  are not snow tyres. It’s not the main reason for driving on them. If you think about it, snow is not the primary reason why millions of drivers across northern Europe switch to winter tyres. And though it’s true that our European cousins do typically get more of it than us in the UK, it doesn’t snow non-stop during the winter months in Belgium or Germany. They switch because winter tyres perform at their best at 7°C and below, and work much better than summer tyres when the temperature has dropped. 

Given the recent cold, snowy and icy weather conditions we’ve experienced in the UK, fitting tyres that perform better at below 7°C is certainly something we can all appreciate. As such, you could say that a more accurate name for “winter tyres” should be “cold weather tyres”.

view of traffic in car wing mirror

Surviving the long dark cold winter

For the majority of people in the UK, winter 2017/18 has undoubtedly been the coldest one for a few years. And while everyone is sick of “The Beast from the East” and the disruption it caused, it seems that Spring may finally be on the way.

But a word of warning. Timing is crucial. You don’t want to make the switch until it’s conclusive that the weather has definitely changed, and warmer climes are upon us. When it comes to tyres, 7°C is the vital point when winter and summer tyres perform better or worse, depending on whether the right tyre type is fitted. 

We all know from experience that a sudden, unexpected late cold snap can easily occur in the UK, and if this happens you may find that you’ve switched tyres prematurely. When the temperature consistently gets to 7°C or below, it’s a good idea to have winter tyres fitted on your car. Conversely, as Spring approaches and temperatures start to rise beyond 7°C, switching back to summer tyres from winter tyres should be uppermost on your mind.

Typically, barring any unforeseen sudden cold blast, the time to switch is normally at the end of March or beginning of April, depending on where in Britain you are.

What happens if you get the switch wrong?

If, after a burst of enthusiastic warm weather, you switch back to summer tyres too soon, but then a nasty, northerly late winter blast arrives, your tyres won’t be in the optimum condition to provide you with maximum safety. This is because the rubber compounds that your summer tyres are constructed with will be less flexible, and, as a result, not key into the road surface very well, compared to how winter tyres perform in the cold.

And if you leave the switch too late you’ll have to deal with a another kind of issue. Winter tyres do not perform as well as summer tyres in temperatures above 7°C. Winter tyres are specifically designed to warm up faster, so as to provide the most effective performance in colder conditions. However, in warmer weather this very same characteristic has a negative impact on several important aspects of how your tyres perform, including their braking performance, handling attributes, tyre wear rate, and fuel consumption efficiency.

braking distance table

Tyre storage and “tyre hotels”

So you’ve had the good sense to own a separate set of summer and winter tyres, but what exactly do you do with the ones you’re not using for six months at a time? Most homes in northern Europe are built with underground garaging, so storage isn’t a problem. But if you live in a UK city, you’re not likely to have this option, so what can you do? 

Kwik Fit can store your spare set for just £20 per tyre at our national distribution centre (that’s just £80 for a set of four). We’ll store the tyres for up to six months, and then contact you when the time is right to swap tyres. You can then decide whether to put your swapped tyres back into storage, or take them away with you. Already using our Tyre Hotel? We’ll be in touch soon to arrange your switch.

Ask the experts. Ask Kwik Fit

If you have any questions you’d like to ask about switching tyres, or storing your spare set at our “tyre hotel”, get in touch with your local Kwik Fit tyre professionals. They’ll provide you with impartial advice, expert fitting solutions, and tyre storage options. You can find your local Kwik Fit centre here.


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