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Everything You Need to Know about Winter Tyres

Kwik Fit | Friday 9th February 2018 4:14pm

Continental tyre on wet and snowy road

Do you use winter tyres? The chances are – as a British motorist – you don’t. Why? Typically, it’s because the majority of drivers (out of those who have even heard of winter tyres) mistakenly believe they’re just for driving when it snows, and we don’t get much of that in this country, right?

Would you be surprised to learn that safely negotiating snowy roads is not the primary reason to fit winter tyres? Think about it. Our northern European cousins fully embrace winter tyres, and while it’s true they do get more snow than us, it doesn’t fall all the time, right? So why do they drive on winter tyres?

In our latest tyre safety article, we not only explain exactly what winter tyres are – and how they differ from the summer tyres you typically have fitted to your vehicle – we also set out why switching to them in the winter months not only makes sense and could save your life.

But first, let’s start by blowing apart a long-standing, incorrect myth about winter tyres...

They’re called winter tyres, not snow tyres

Not so long ago, premium tyre manufacturer Continental conducted a driver survey which revealed that almost half of UK motorists didn’t know that winter tyres even existed, or that if they had heard of them assumed they’re only necessary for when snow or persistent ice has settled.

Quite simply, this assumption is completely wrong.

Of course while winter tyres are much better for driving in snowy conditions compared to normal summer tyres (significantly better as it happens) this isn’t their primary function. The actual purpose of winter tyres (and where they come into their own) is for all-round general driving in winter – when it’s cold

Winter tyres are all about temperature.

Ask yourself this: It doesn’t snow non-stop from October to March in France, Belgium, the Netherlands, or Germany, right? So why do drivers from these countries – and elsewhere in Europe – change to winter tyres?

The answer is because winter tyres are significantly safer than summer tyres when the temperature gets to 7°C and below. And when you realise this and consider how cold the weather gets during the winter months in the UK, suddenly winter tyres begin to make sense.

7°C and below is the key takeaway for winter tyres. As such, many experts in the tyre industry (including Continental) believe that they should really be called “cold weather tyres” – not “winter tyres” – to help get the message across to UK drivers.

In fact, winter tyres in cold weather conditions make such a difference to driver safety – helping to reduce accidents, injuries, and fatalities on Europe’s roads – that they’re mandatory in many countries. Drivers in France, Germany, and other European countries need to have them fitted by law – it’s a standard legal requirement in the winter months. And remember, if UK drivers happen to be travelling through countries like these between October and March, the same laws apply.

So what happens at 7°C and below that makes winter tyres so much safer?

To the casual observer, summer and winter tyres may look similar, but there are in fact significant differences. At a glance, you can tell if it’s a winter tyre if you see a snowflake symbol on the sidewall. They also have a subtle (but significant) difference in tread pattern, which includes the addition of fine grooves – known as “sipes" – cut into the treads, designed to better remove water, slush, and snow.

3 peak mountain snow flake tyre symbol

But what really makes them different and really matters is what you can’t see: the make-up of the rubber compound itself. Winter tyres are made from a much softer compound that enables the tyres to better grip the road when the temperature is cold. It’s the reason why winter tyres work best at 7°C and below. Summer tyres by comparison are made from a compound that enables them to provide better grip in warm weather conditions, but not as well in the cold.

And it’s because of reasons like this that Continental’s WinterContact™ TS 860 tyre has been awarded the much-coveted title of Winter Tyre Test Winner 2017 by leading UK car magazine, Auto Express.

Auto Express - winter tyre winner 2017 Continental

Continental’s WinterContact™ TS 860 winter tyre

Winter tyres deliver shorter stopping distances in cold weather conditions

Snow braking - braking distance infographic

It’s a fact. Summer tyres, with their harder compounds, don’t work as well as winter tyres when the weather gets cold – 7°C and lower – because they’re comparably less flexible. As a result, they generate less grip in the cold and wet.

Thanks to their softer compounds, in cold conditions like this, winter tyres don’t harden like summer tyres, and so they can grip the road much better, helping drivers to stop quickly and safely when they need to. And it’s not just shorter, safer stopping distances. With winter tyres, cornering is much safer in cold weather conditions too. They enable drivers to turn their vehicle more accurately, minimising the chances of skidding straight on, or drifting into on-coming traffic.

And then there’s snow to bear in mind. Sure, we don’t get too much of it here in the UK, but when it does fall we always seem to end up with travel chaos. Winter tyres are vastly superior at coping with snow than summer or even all-season tyres, allowing you to continue driving safely, or at least to safety. In snowy conditions, stopping distances compared to summer tyres are halved, reducing the chances of having an accident.


Winter tyres – not just for cars

Winter tyres aren’t just for ordinary cars. Premium tyre manufacturers like Continental produce winter tyres for a wide variety of vehicles, including:

4x4s, SUVs and Crossovers

4x4s, SUVs and Crossovers typically provide drivers with better traction in snow and ice, so many people simply assume that they don’t require winter tyres. If you drive one of these vehicles with summer tyres fitted you would certainly fare better than most other drivers when it comes to getting your vehicle started, and driving in a straight line. The added traction these vehicles offer might also help you get up an incline or two.

But when it comes to cornering – particularly when braking – that advantage ends. Why? Because summer tyres struggle to grip the cold surface as well as winter tyres. As such, switching to winter tyres is a much safer choice, even with 4x4, SUV and Crossover vehicles. If you drive one of these vehicles you could consider Continental winter tyres, like the Conti4x4WinterContact or new WinterContact™ TS 860 S.

Vans and light trucks

Safety has been the primary focus of this article so far, and while this is also a significant consideration for light commercial vehicle owners and drivers too, it’s not the only one when it comes to fitting winter tyres in the colder months. There’s another factor that’s important to these drivers: productivity. If your business depends on mobility, then winter tyres will help keep your business on the road during the colder months. If you drive a van or light truck you could consider fitting Continental winter tyres, such as the VanContact Winter or Vanco™ Winter 2

Winter driving in snow

Speak to Kwik Fit about the benefits of winter tyres

If you’re still unsure about whether your vehicle needs to have winter tyres fitted, or if you have any other tyre enquiries, don’t hesitate to get in touch with your local Kwik Fit tyre professionals. They’ll provide you with impartial, expert advice about tyre safety, which tyres are best for your vehicle, expert fitting solutions, and more.

Tags : Tyres

Any facts, figures and prices shown in our blog articles are correct at time of publication.

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