/ Motoring

Are we being pressured into buying winter tyres?

Which? winter tyre test

Three or four years ago, did you even consider buying winter tyres? Since the cold snaps of ‘09 and ‘10, they’ve become more commonplace, increasingly advertised and recommended. But do you really need them?

Winter tyres are one of the hottest motoring topics here on Which? Conversation, and it’s one that’s close to the Which? Car team’s hearts.

We’ve tried them, we’ve tested them, and we’ve also put alternative products like snow socks through their paces. And while we’re happy to recommend winter tyres to those living in remote or rural areas, we don’t think the expense associated with them is justified for many UK dwellers. And I believe the industry is pushing winter tyres on consumers with more vigour than I think is required. One example of this appeared in my inbox last month.

Reasons to buy winter tyres

The press release, headlined ‘147 reasons to consider winter tyres’, draws on Met Office figures for the five months from October 2011 to the end of March 2012. It suggests that for 147 days in that period the average temperature was below seven degrees (the maximum temperature at which winter tyres are claimed to out-perform summer tyres) during prime commuting hours.

However, when I looked at the Met Office’s monthly summaries of those same months, I was less convinced by the argument. According to the statistics, October 2011 was the eighth warmest October of the last 100 years, November 2011 the second warmest, December 2011 was five degrees warmer than 2010 and the mildest since 2006, January 2012 was ‘significantly milder’ than those of 2009 to 2011, and so on.

In conclusion, last winter was exceptionally mild. And when I look at this information and take into account that I’ve been able to drive safely and comfortably where I live without winter tyres for the past 10 years, I don’t see these 147 reasons as a compelling argument for me personally to buy winter tyres.

Winter tyres vs snow socks vs summer tyres

Of course, that doesn’t mean you should discount them altogether. Winter tyres do offer better grip in cold conditions, not just on snow and ice. When we did test the braking distance of winter tyres, snow socks and summer tyres on compacted snow, the results were quite telling:

Winter tyres vs summer tyres vs snow socks braking distance test

Still, I would urge you to really think about whether you need winter tyres. For a lot of people, their profession and/or surrounding area makes winter tyres a logical, safe and cost-effective purchase. And if you can afford the added expense, they are a worthwhile investment – especially for drivers in Scotland and more mountainous areas.

However, for those living in towns and cities spending around £200 on four Best Buy winter tyres is an expense they probably don’t need.

What measures are you taking for driving this winter?

I'll be keeping my summer tyres (42%, 697 Votes)

I'll be fitting winter tyres (31%, 513 Votes)

I'll be fitting/keeping all-season tyres (15%, 247 Votes)

I'll be using snow socks (6%, 91 Votes)

I'm not sure yet (5%, 80 Votes)

I won't be driving this winter (2%, 27 Votes)

Total Voters: 1,653

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Phil says:
20 January 2013

Do larger alloy wheels tangibly enhance a car’s “performance” in real world road driving conditions? In the majority of cases the answer is no, and yet motor manufacturers market them heavilly to the vanity of us UK consumers, and a very large % of us tick the ‘big wheel’ option (relative to other European markets).

Do winter tyres enhance road safety through shorter stopping distances and better grip on cold wet roads/ice & snow? All the independent tests I’ve read suggest they do.

So, to Rob’s original questions: are the tyre industry over marketing them, and are they “worth” it? I think the spot-light of marketing ethics could be shone on metallic paint, I-pod connectivity stereos, heated seats and leather upholstery, etc, long before the behaviour of the tyre industry is questioned on this matter.

Perversely, those big wheels which brand marketing has trained our vanity/ego to “need”, necessitate larger more expensive tyres thus making it harder to justify the expense of Winter tyres! If the tyre industry’s marketing campaign can raise awareness for the fact that tyres (be they summer or winter) are the only thing keeping a car in contact with the road I believe it’s a positive for road safety.

@Phil – Some good points, although someone’s vanity/ego help be get winter tyres for free, so don’t knock it!

I picked up 4 brand new original fitment alloys from an authorized dealer for less than the cost of the tyres alone. When these wore out, I fitted winter tyres to the rims, so I now have two sets of wheels. No doubt the other driver is slithering around and causing a safety hazard, wondering why their car performs so badly in the snow and ice.

Awd says:
10 March 2013

Instead of having a debate on whether or not to fit winter tyres for part of the year, Which should be questioning why law allows summer tyres to be fitted all year round in the first place when their performance on snow is well known to be inadequate.
I would encourage Which to push law makers to insist car sellers in the UK to fit All Season tyres as default.
A new All Season tyre like the Bridgestone A001 is not a compromise compared to using a summer tyre all year round; it is in fact the sensible choice. Compared to a winter tyre, a summer tyre might have only 50% grip on snow. In contrast, the A001 has about 90% grip of a winter tyre on snow, but able to perform well in the wet during summer, and offering 85% of the grip of a summer tyre on a dry road.
Should people be able to afford a twin set solution of dedicated winter and summer tyres, then great! But they should not be allowed to get away with running summer tyres during the winter.

The Uk should count itself lucky it has milder winters than other countries. It should therefore be easy for working families to be sure that during a snow storm (many cm, not just 2cm), that schools, public transport, emergency services, hospitals, dentists, local doctors surgeries, are all fully staffed, and not closed due to staff being unable to get to work with spinning summer tyres.
It is not just those in rural areas that are affected by snow.

Excellent point awd. I agree completely that all-season as the OEM fitment would be a huge benefit in saving lives and keeping traffic moving. Perhaps Which? would provide a campaign? If not why not?

Incidentally there seems also a justificaton that there should be minimum performance standards as it is well known that some third world tyres have come to market with appalling braking performance.

Jim Hammond says:
20 January 2013

I spent £800 on a set of steel wheels, winter tyres and wheel covers directly from BMW and it is a different car in the snow… less money than hitting a lampost which I might do otherwise. It makes sense if you have the space to store a set, I only just have this.

Steve Morgan says:
21 January 2013

Well, now that there’s actually some snow on the ground, I can honestly say that I’m very pleased with my investment in a 2nd set of wheels and winter tyres.
I drive a Jaguar XF. I was well aware when I bought it that it would be useless in the snow. I’ve had a big rear wheel drive automatic in the past that was a real handful and fully expected this Jag to be even worse.
My hopes were high with the winter tyres, but they are a revelation. I’ve had absolutely no issue with traction during this cold snap and I’m driving on both treated and untreated roads. They’re also much more sure-footed, generally, in the colder weather.
While the winter tyres are on, the summer tyres are not being worn, so the total investment is roughly the cost of the wheels (2nd hand from eBay). That equates to around 1% of the cost of the car; a price I’m quite willing to pay for the extra safety and the ability to use it all year round.


Useful recent item in which Michelin expands on all season tyres and design. I may very well go to an All-season when my winter tyres loose their tread depth. I use them all year – particularly given our summers are rarely truly hot and we do get so much rain.

Roger Otto says:
4 February 2013

Phil, Jim Hammond and Steve Morgan all make really good points. This is the 4th winter since I bought a set of steel rims, costing £240, for my Skoda Octavia 4×4. I fit winter tyres in December – stacking my alloys/summer tyres until April. I can vouch that traction in snow is transformed as I was once caught out by some November snow before I made the change – 4x4s with summer tyres in snow are almost as useless as any other car – especially downhill! As the winter tyres are narrower (205/55 compared to 225/50) they are cheaper and my summer tyres last longer being driven in warmer conditions. Modern winter tyres wear very well too and, for me, there is no downside as I have space in the garage and can easily fit them myself, despite being in my 60’s!
A story to illustrate: on the morning of 18th Jan, after an early meeting and several hours of snow, I had to drive 12 miles home from south Birmingham in traffic, which took 1 1/2 hours. When not stationary at lights etc. I estimate the average cruising speed was 10mph which is unsurprising as I guess 90%+ of cars would have been using summer tyres. I know (having driven in the Alps in winter) that my car, and any other car fitted with winter tyres, would have been perfectly safe at 20mph (see the braking distances table above). Also the Audi 4×4 suv in front of me which went broadside-on for about 10 metres on a gentle rh bend (level but untreated road – thankfully no parked cars!) while travelling at no more than 15 mph, would certainly have not done so in winter tyres.

In August 2011 I was in the market for a new car. I called on VW, Audi, Honda, Hyundai and Ford Franchises. One of my requirements was that the original tyres be changed to All Season and preferably Bridgestone A001’s with no appreciable cost to me. Only the Ford Franchise was willing to do this without quibble. I bought Ford.

Awd says:
13 March 2013

And how have you found the All Season tyre (A001) performance in both snow and during summer?

Awd’s query re performance. There’s been so little snow/ice in my area that I cannot comment on that. However, my Focus is acknowledged as having very good road holding and the A001’s have certainly not altered it. Tyre life appears to be good but I treat my car fairly gently regards braking and acceleration. I’ve never had cause to doubt wet weather performance nor braking on the odd occasion when hard braking was necessary.

cheap tyres online australia says:
3 April 2013

Winter tyres are only in demand in autumn and winter, and stock is delivered in to us from manufacturers in October and November. We update the website with availability as soon as we receive new stock.


Amongst the recommendations:
Drivers need more advice on the potential benefits of winter tyres and ‘add-ons’ such as snow socks and snow chains
Drivers also need to be reminded of the importance of simple measures such as maintaining adequate tread depth on their normal tyres