/ Motoring

How we test winter tyres

How Which? tests winter tyres

The car slews violently as the tyres scrabble for traction on hard-packed snow. On the inside of the bend, the headlights reflect a wall of solid ice, the glare as white as my knuckles…

A few battered marker posts are all that lies between us and a 200-metre drop. Oh, and did I mention that it’s midnight and my driver is a 65-year-old German with no fear? But, despite our high speeds, this is no rally car – it’s a Skoda Octavia. And my driver, fearless Felix, will tackle this same mountain pass three times for every winter tyre we test.

Testing winter tyres in the Alps

Every January we travel to the Swiss Alps to assess the latest tyres on snow and ice. We work at night when the temperature is more constant (usually -15°C).

In addition to timed runs up the mountain pass, we test braking ability on snow by slowing from 19mph to 3mph. And we calculate traction by measuring the degree of wheel-slip as speeds increase. On ice, we brake from 16mph to 3mph and measure how far the car travels. Felix and his team then complete laps of a circular ice track as fast as they can.

Dry and wet road testing takes place at a test track. On dry land, we measure braking distance from 62mph to zero, then assess stability on a high-speed handling course, with sudden lane changes thrown in to upset the car’s balance. On wet road, we test braking from 50mph to 12mph in continuous-rain conditions, plus there’s another tricky handling course to complete. The tyres’ ability to disperse water is assessed as well, both in a straight line and when cornering on a circular track.

Our noise rating is based on subjective assessments from inside the car and trackside measurements while coasting with the engine off at 50mph. Fuel economy is calculated at 62mph over 1.25-miles. We measure the wear on each tyre after 3,100 miles, then extrapolate the results to predict which will last the longest.

So, that’s how we test winter tyres. Did you go and buy a set this year? Last year in our poll of 1,653, just 31% said they’d be fitting winter tyres. The majority (42%) said they would be keeping their summer tyres, 15% using all-season tyres, and 6% snow socks. What about you?


I have never fitted winter tyres and have no intention of doing so. I do my best to avoid driving in poor conditions. I am able to leave the car at home and walk or use the bus/train, just like those who don’t have a car. It frightens me to see people driving fast in poor weather, even when the there are warnings to keep off the roads.

I bought the Conti 850’s last winter when many reviews rated them as the No 1 winter tyre, it was a pity “Which?” is a year late in testing them.

The cost of fitting good winter tyres is nothing compared to the cost of an accident, it is the resposibility of every car user to ensure that the only contact a car has with the road is suited for the conditions. Often the most dangerous roads in the snow and ice are the uncleared residential roads a lot of us live on, and not the cleared motorways and trunk roads, therefor short journeys can be more of a risk than long ones.

“Which?” should perhaps follow the examples of other magazines and include a Best Buy summer tyre in their comparison tests to show the difference a winter tyre makes.

I bought another set of wheels onto which the winter tyres are fitted and swap the wheels over, not difficult, or a low cost if you chose to pay for the wheel change. The summer tyres (in my case Dunlop Blurespose) are not used, so the “extra” cost is not great compared to the saftey..

Neil V says:
3 January 2014

I bought a set of Vredestein Wintrac’s for my BMW for the winter and I am a little disaappointed that there hasn’t been any snow to try them in. However, in very wet conditions, the car passes through standing water without the usual fight with the steering wheel, so that is much appreciated.

As I cover about 35k per annum, it will be interesting to see how they have lasted by the time spring arrives.

Certainly seem like a good choice so far.

The phrasing of the poll last year did not allow for those who had already fitted winter tyres so perhaps understates the position. Mine I have had on since October 2010 and they are due to be replaced in 2014 June.

In some media there is also an unhelpful concentration on snow ability ; rather making light of the more relevant feature of improved grip for both with and dry roads below the 7C mark were summer tyres become hard and no longer work as effectively in removing water – the main feature of our climate!

I support Ian’s request for Which? to actually compare tyre types in different temperatures to truly reveal how ineffective summer tyres are in poorer weather. Added to that a chart showing the average amd min/max temperatures for towns in the UK would allow everyone to see the facts for themselves. : )

I have a set of winter tyres on steel wheels which I swap over every year; dont use the car much bur with little public transport up here in rural Cumbria a car is essential.

I do wonder whether the testing methods used by Which and the Car Mags are relevant to UK conditions though ?
With our temperatures we rarely get the sticky snow found iat the low temperatures of Scandinavia or the Swiss Alps.
Maybe performance in slush , snow at -5C and black ice would be more relevant to the UK ?

wendy says:
5 January 2014

My husband bought winter tyres 3 years ago in Switzerland. He was visiting our daughter who lives there. A heavy dump of snow and a long trip home made him go to enquire about winter tyres. The mechanics laughed when they saw the tyres he had on the car. They were quite expensive as most things are in Switzerland but they are still going strong and have been a real bonus ib the bad weather we have had in the uk these past winters. They do make a significant difference.

Winter tyres are not really necessary in most parts of Britain as we don’t really get a lot of snow and when we do it rarely lasts for more than a week. If I’m out and it snows I carry Michelin snow grips which would get me home. I don’t see a need to spend £600 on another set of tyres.

Winter tyres are not snow tyres. Winter tyres perform markedly better than “summer” tyres when temperatures drop to 7c and below. The reasons are a softer more pliable rubber, more sipes and channels in the tyre around 200% more AFAIR. Shifting rain from the road service effectively is perhaps the most important function of a tyre in our climate and when it gets cold summer tyres cannot deliver.

Reveals that low temperatures are a fact of life in the UK. Summer tyres are fitted because they are the cheapest type of tyre to make and for the car manufacturer to fit.

Phil says:
5 January 2014

This will be my third year with the winter tyres, bought a set on steel rims so I can do the swap myself (got it down to an hour with the help of the trolley jack). Can’t say I’ve ever been able to go where others haven’t but I have noticed other cars slip-sliding about whilst I’ve been quite stable.

Glad to see that Which? have, for once, responded to subscribers and overcome its initial scepticism about winter tyres, it was once victim to the same winter tyres/snow tyres confusion shown above but aren’t all the “we”s and “our”s in the article misleading? Which no longer has the facilities to do its own testing and this tyre test was done by ADAC, the German equivalent of the AA.

The cost of winter tyres ( mine cost ~£500 inc steel wheels) is offset by the reduced wear on your normal tyres.
I get my local tyre outlet to do the swap and have difficulty in getting them to take any payment.

Dave says:
9 January 2014

In 20 years of driving, I have never needed winter tyres.

If you can’t drive according to the conditions, then you shouldn’t be on the roads, like Wavechange. It’s better for all of us that you are on the bus, as it is poor drivers that cause accidents in poor conditions.

I can imagine many thinking “I have winter tyres so I will stop in time”.

What would be interesting to find out is if people who bought winter tyres actually have less or more accidents than they had before

It is possible that this conversation is bedevilled by the different vehicles people drive aswell as lifestyles. My car has 225mm and bigger tyres which really really are great if you think you are a sled. They share these overwidth tyres with a lot of BMW’s which also perform very badly in snow.

I am willing to bet a dollar or two that wide tyres when they harden- up at low temperatures are significantly less efficient in clearing water off the road. SO for me winter tyres are very important. If I drive a Micra the distance the narrow tyre needs to throw the water is significantly less AND I suspect that the weight is over the front tyres which I think enhances grip.

I subscribe to a couple of tyre sites, some US auto sites, and have watched many many videos on tyres in wet weather, snow and on ice, and I used to be a subscriber to European Rubber Journal [!]. None of them has a particular interest in discussing whether wide tyres are a poor fashion statement though my feeling is it is. So perhaps the EU consumer movement can actually look , not at the tyres on offer, but at the mechanics behind grip offered by tyres in normal driving rather than g-forces in bends etc.

All-season tyres that operate to 0C. would appear to be highly desirable for the UK and perhaps legislation is the answer thtat all new cars come fitted with them.

It seems fairly well established that RWD vehicles don’t perform very well in snow, but what I would like to know if there is any significant differences between FWD and RWD cars regarding braking, cornering and general driving safety at modest speeds in winter conditions without snow.

I’m thinking of buying winter tyres for my BMW 3 Series saloon,which has runflat tyres.

My local BMW dealership is recommending that I get a second set of wheels for the winter tyres, leaving the summer tyres on the original set of wheels.They say this is because removing and re-fitting runflat tyres to a single set of wheels may result in damage to the tyre wall.Does this sound likely or is this suggestion more likely to be just a way of generating extra revenue for the dealer ?

Fairly standard advice. Get steel rims to save your expensive alloys from salt and sliding into kerbs etc.

I drive a limited mileage and keep winter tyres on all year. Possibly because if I am travelling a distance I would normally start at around 6 am. I see next week is a litany of of 8,7,6,6,5 for the days low for my area..

Incidentally I notice that yet again we do not have summer tyres tested at low temperatures aginst the winter tyres. Even more laughably the All- Seasons [ according to the magazine] were tested at 30C and juxtaposed with winter tyres.

Of course 30C is a very common temperature in the UK and therefore highly relevant if you are comparing winter tyres and All- seasons. Or to put in another way when we hit 30C in July this year in some parts of the country ” July was the 27th hottest summer month since records began in 1659.”

As people are buying tyres throughout the year I thought it useful if I mentioned what is happening in the tyre market and how effects the winter season.

Since last year at least two manufacturers have introduced tyres to the UK market where the hardening off point of the rubber has been reduced to zero degrees. This is a significant improvement on the summer tyres most cars come fitted with and reflects the type of climate we have in the UK.

Some regions and some drivers may still be better advised to continue with winter tyres but for the majority All-Season tyres make good sense. However in marketing talk it is the CrossClimate for Michelin!

” Pitched as the first summer car tyres to be certified for winter use, ATS Euromaster says the tyres will be “ideally suited to the UK fleet sector, where unexpected weather changes and occasional snowfall can cause havoc for company car drivers – resulting in costly business interruption, reduced mobility, plus an increased risk of accidents.” [May 2015]

“Sumitomo global brand Falken is recommending its Euroall AS200 all-season tyre to UK drivers reticent to invest in specialist winter products. While the manufacturer noted the widely accepted safety benefits full winter tyres can offer UK drivers, a recent Falken survey of 2,674 people suggested that motorists are reluctant to commit to the perceived high cost.” [Nov 2014]

“Strategically the most significant detail about the Cinturato All-Season launch is the fact that a premium manufacturer such as Pirelli is launching an all-season tyre at this time [Feb 2015]”

I do hope that Which? can get its head around tyre testing so that testing is done in a logical way with say all three tyre types all tested at say 1 degree which is the February average low for the UK.
And then representatives of all three types at at 20C as it is the average high for the three summer months.