People often talk about the benefits of using winter tyres in winter conditions and then switching back over to summer tyres once the worst of the weather has passed. But is this the best approach? Or is there a better alternative available on the market? If you're struggling to make up your mind about the best way to prepare your car for winter, BookMyGarage is here to help! We'll explore the options available to you and then give you our recommendation about the best tyre option to help your car survive winter.
How Do Winter Tyres Work?
The industry's recommended option is a good place to start. Winter tyres are made of a softer rubber compound to help them cope with difficult surfaces. They utilise small jagged slits called sipes and deeper tread depth to increase their performance. They work best when the roads have a temperature of less than 7 degrees Celsius, which is what makes them so beneficial over winter. However, they're not without their drawbacks.
Pros of Winter Tyres:
Increased grip and traction
The deeper tread of a winter tyre collects snow, compacts it and then drives over it to keep you moving. Those of you who have made a snowman will know just how easy snow sticks to itself once you start moulding it, and it's this principle that winter tyres draw upon. The sipes increase the surface area of the tyre to distribute your car's weight more evenly across the snow. In fact, winter tyres are a much better option than four-wheel drive, a popular extra fitted to off-road vehicles.
Why are they better than four-wheel drive?
Four-wheel drive increases grip and traction on slippery surfaces where normal tyres would struggle. If the surface has no grip or traction to begin with, your car won't perform any better as it can't create its own grip. This is where winter tyres come into their own. They can create grip on surfaces with little to no traction, giving you the go forward in places you might once have struggled.
They're safer for driving through snow
The ability to compact the snow into the deep tyre tread and then drive across it is the pièce de résistance of a set of winter tyres. In a test carried out by the industry experts at Auto Express, winter tyres considerably outperformed their summer counterparts on both snow and ice. They reduced the braking distance and increased the grip on both surfaces - two significant benefits if you expect to encounter a lot of snow this winter.
They can help keep you moving if you live in a more rural area
The Great British countryside can look beautiful over the winter. However, while frosted fields and snow-covered hills can make for a picture-postcard landscape, they're an inconvenience for some. Country roads are almost impassable if they're buried under a layer of snow and ice, especially if you've got the wrong tyres fitted. If you live out in the sticks, a set of winter tyres might save you from being cut off. While it's nice to gaze at the picturesque countryside views, you don't want to be doing so while stranded in a snowdrift.
It's clear that winter tyres a pretty impressive, right? Well, don't rush out to buy a set just yet because there are still a few things to consider.
Cons Of Winter Tyres:
You'll need to find somewhere to store your summer tyres
As you might have guessed, winter tyres don't really work during the summer, so you're going to need another set to fit on your car when the spring rolls around. Where are you going to store them this winter? A garage with a lot of space is the perfect place to keep a set of tyres. If not, make sure you store them somewhere cool and dry, such as a tyre hotel. These will give your tyres the care they need, such as turning them every month to maintain their shape and rigidity, for a fee. If neither option is convenient for you, you might be faced with a problem.
Winter tyres bring extra expense and hassle
Storing another set of tyres is enough hassle, but it's not the only thing worth considering. For starters, you'll need to part with a few hundred pounds and have a professional mechanic fit them for you. Now double this fitting cost for putting your summer tyres on next spring and the price starts to rack up. We're not made of money, are we? Even if you invest in a set of steel wheels, fit the tyres to these and change the wheels every winter, the cost and hassle are still considerable.
It's worth telling your insurer every time you change your tyres as well. Despite the fact that winter tyres increase your safety, they could be considered an after-market modification. Just double-check with your provider before you fit a set. Don't invalidate your insurance in the pursuit of safety.
You don't get as many benefits if you live near well-maintained roads
Winter tyres don't work for everyone. If you live in a town or city, putting up with the hassle of fitting a set of winter tyres could be a waste of time. Winter tyres work best in a rural environment, where cold temperatures and poor weather can disrupt travel the most. Consider your daily commute. Do you drive down a high proportion of roads that a gritter would have already have salted? If the answer is yes, then you probably don't need winter tyres. They're not as effective on wet or dry roads or in warmer temperatures.
Unless you're expecting a lot of snowfall where you live this winter, a set of winter tyres might not be your best course of action. You won't see nearly enough benefits in an urban environment to justify the cost and hassle of fitting a set. So, what other options are there to help you stay safe this winter?
Alternatives to Winter Tyres
There is a range of options available to drivers but we believe the best two are snow socks and all-season tyres. But what are they and why are they good options to consider?
What are Snow Socks?
Snow socks are stretchy pieces of fabric which dry snow and ice sticks to and creates friction. They reduce your risk of slipping and are useful for delivering small boosts of grip and traction in the worst situations. If you get stuck without a car emergency kit, a pair of snow socks can pull you free. Here's why it's worth looking into them.
Pros of Snow Socks:
They're cheaper than a set of winter tyres
A full set of snow socks costs around £50 and are much easier to store than a set of tyres. They're small enough to live in your boot all year! The cost isn't just monetary either - snow socks will save you time and effort as well.
They're unbelievably easy to use
We can all get caught out by unexpected snowfall, no matter how cautious we are during winter. Having snow socks to hand can be great if you get stuck in a snowdrift. Dig yourself out as best you can and then slide a snow sock over each driving wheel. They'll stretch out most of the way but you might have to rock the car gently to get them on fully. Even on your own, you can fit a set of snow socks in minutes. After that, you can get free of the snow or pull away onto a gritted surface where there's more grip.
Snows socks are cheap and easy to use, delivering great boosts of performance when you need it the most. However, their biggest downfall is that they're certainly a short term option.
Cons of Snow Socks
You can only use them over short distances
Yep, every time you get yourself out of a hole, you'll need to stop and take them off again. Snow socks work to help get you going but can't keep you moving. While it's still less hassle than having to book an appointment with a garage twice a year to change your tyres, frequent stopping and starting can soon become annoying and time-consuming.
It has to be really snowy for them to work at all
If you try and use snow socks on tarmac, you will rip them to shreds in minutes. They're not designed to work on anything except snow - and a fairly hefty amount of it at that. This means that they could sit in your boot for weeks or even months at a time, unused. Could you part with £50 knowing that?
Snow socks certainly have their advantages as an alternative to winter tyres. However, they're only good for giving short bursts of grip. If you're looking for a long-distance alternative, snow socks are not the way to go but if you need help getting off your driveway during winter, they're a perfect purchase. For some, they may not pay back their cost over the course of one winter but they certainly will over their lifetime.
How Do All-Season Tyres Work?
A set of all-season tyres gives the best of both worlds. You get grip and comfort on all road surfaces, both during summer and winter. How? Well, an all-season tyre has the sipes and deep tread on its inside half, (like a winter tyre), and shallow tread on the outside half, (like a summer tyre). This design provides really good benefits all year long.
Pros of All-Season Tyres:
No hassle of switching between tyres with the seasons
Hurrah, an option that doesn't need any fiddling with, no matter the weather! If you treat them well, all-season tyres won't cost you anything other than the upfront purchase and fitting costs. What's more, all-season tyres are considerably cheaper than a set of winter tyres, so you could save a couple of hundred pounds.
They work on all surfaces
No matter if the road surface is wet, bone dry or covered with snow and ice, you'll always have a decent level of grip and traction. They're by no means a specialist tyre, but they work better than summer tyres in winter conditions and vice versa. As such, you can be confident in the grip of a set of all-season tyres throughout the year.
It's no wonder that so many people have turned to all-season tyres as their tyre of choice. They're a really solid option, no matter the weather or the condition of the road. However, this flexibility isn't always a good thing.
Cons of All-Season Tyres:
They can't withstand really cold weather as well as winter tyres
All-season tyres work best after light snowfall or if the road is covered in a thin layer of ice. Heavy snowfall can leave the summer half of the tyre vulnerable and out of its depth in unfamiliar conditions. It isn't able to compact snow as well as the deeper tread on a winter tyre, which will reduce your level of grip. What's more, freezing temperatures can wreak havoc with the shallow tread depth. It can harden in sub-zero conditions, reducing your traction. If you're likely to drive over heavy snow or in freezing temperatures this winter, all-season tyres might not be best for you.
They're not the strongest performing tyre on any surface
Competence doesn't equate to expertise. Summer tyres are far better than all-season tyres during the summer and winter tyres far superior in the winter. As reported by Car Finance 24/7, the all-season tyre was firmly in the middle of the three options. The test, carried out by Auto Bild, a German car magazine, measured braking distance and handling in all types of weather. All season tyres performed well across the board, but choosing this option means you'll never have the absolute best tyre for any road. If you want to be as safe as possible all year long, all-season tyres might not be the right option.
Nevertheless, all-season tyres are certainly a strong option, especially if you're only expecting light snowfall this winter. But are they better than winter tyres? Could the tried and tested option still be the best option?
Each option certainly has its place. Even though more and more drivers are turning to all-season tyres, we recommend that you invest in a set of winter tyres if you live in a rural village or expect to drive long distances this winter. For short, urban drives this winter, all-season tyres are a great cost-effective option. As for snow socks? Well, if you don't anticipate much snowfall but a lot of ice, they could be the perfect option for you.
However, we feel that nothing can beat winter tyres for sheer performance in the winter. Not only that, they're the safest option by far. Even though there's a lot of logistics involved, especially surrounding storage and fitting, a little bit of planning can go a long way. Consider any problems you might have had in the past. Can you avoid them this winter by investing in a set of winter tyres?
If you still have any questions about whether winter tyres are a good fit for you, check out Autocar's FAQ section on the topic. If you're still unsure, just drop us a comment and one of our industry experts will try and answer it!