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What's the difference between summer and winter tyres?

Bradley Jando | Thursday 17th June 2021 11:00am

Continental tyre on wet and snowy road

Whether itís to go skiing or on a business trip, anyone who has ever travelled to northern European countries such as Germany, Austria or anywhere in Scandinavia during the winter and has driven a car while they were out there, will probably know all about winter tyres.

For the rest of us, you may never have driven on winter tyres and even less likely that you've considered changing your normal summer tyres to winter tyres as the cold months approach.  After all, in the past few years we havenít had too much snow in the UK - with the exception of some areas of high elevation and remote parts of Scotland. So why should you even give winter tyres a second thought?

In our latest tyre safety advice article weíll not only explain what winter tyres are and how theyíre different to summer tyres, weíll also blow apart one huge myth about them too.

Summer tyres, winter tyres Ė whatís the difference?

Some of the differences between summer tyres and winter tyres are clear to see if you know what youíre looking for. Take a look at these Continental tyre treads; notice how on the winter tyre to the right, the tread cuts into the tyre in curved chevron patterns, while in contrast the summer tyre on the left has a more orbital tread? Once you start looking closely, the differences become much clearer, with another being that winter tyres also appear to be chunkier.

summer tread versus winter tread

While tyre treads are clearly important, itís the less obvious, invisible difference that really matters. In fact winter and summer tyres are made from different rubber compounds, with each compound designed, developed and manufactured to adapt to and work effectively in very different driving conditions.

'Unlucky seven' for some

After a long and mostly warm summer, itís hard to think about what 7įC feels like, but this temperature is incredibly significant when it comes to tyres, and how they perform.

summer and winter comparison graph

Comparison performance of summer, winter and all-season tyres in a variety of weather and driving conditions.  

Your summer tyres are much safer when itís warm

Why? Because summer tyres are made with compounds which are specifically designed for use in temperatures above 7įC. However, if you use them below this temperature Ė which most drivers do Ė they quickly harden. As a result, their driving properties diminish rapidly.

Using winter tyres is much safer when itís cold

Itís the other way around for winter tyres if you were to use them in summer. This is because winter tyres are designed for use in temperatures below 7įC. In summer itís typically too warm, so they heat up too fast, and this significantly impacts their rate of wear. More importantly for driver safety, theyíre also not as effective at braking in warm summer weather conditions. Itís the reason why premium tyre manufacturers like Continental invest so much money in researching and developing tyre compounds for dedicated winter tyres. The result of this investment is winter tyres designed to deliver optimum performance in cold weather conditions, and summer tyres that perform at their best throughout the rest of the year.

Busting the myth that winter tyres are for driving on snow

When you think about it properly, it suddenly makes sense. Snow is not the main reason why millions of drivers across northern Europe change to winter tyres every year. Sure, while in some instances they might get more of it, it doesnít snow continuously from October to March in Holland, Germany, or Belgium either.

driving snow on road

So why do they change to winter tyres? They do it because the rubber compounds used for winter tyres make driving safer when the temperature is 7įC or colder. And in the instance that it does snow, winter tyres are much better at helping you cope with adverse weather conditions than summer tyres ever can be, allowing you to continue to drive safely, or at least to safety. Itís no coincidence that with so many drivers using summer tyres in winter time, the UK grinds to a halt.

Unfortunately, because we donít get heavy snow fall that often in the UK, we as a nation are simply not switched on to the idea of changing tyres in the winter. We mistakenly think winter tyres are snow tyres, sometimes to our cost.

Want to learn more? Speak with our tyre experts

If you would like to hear expert advice on the benefits of winter tyres, and which ones are best for your car, SUV or 4x4, speak to a Kwik Fit tyre professional now. We offer impartial, expert advice, fitting services and tyre storage options. You can locate your nearest Kwik Fit centre here.

Tags : Tips Tyres

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