/ 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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Comments

I live in a built-up area and the main roads are kept clear, so I have no intention of fitting winter tyres. If driving conditions are poor, warnings are issued or the forecast is not good, I will keep off the roads. Last year I left the car at home at Christmas and took the train when I went to see my family. I’m glad I did.

Awd says:
11 March 2013

Are you unemployed or retired? Or self employed?
Hopefully you are not a school teacher or hospital worker, who we might hope could get to work in all weather.
Sounds like your solution to use of public transport in bad weather counts on transport staff not deciding to stay at home during bad weather.

I’m now retired, but I did live within walking distance of the university where I worked. I never missed giving a lecture and covered for colleagues living further away if needed.

Living close to work saves fuel, saves time – and could save your life because roads are dangerous places. Before we had cars and public transport we lived close to where we worked, but that does not seem to be a priority for individuals and society.

Awd says:
11 March 2013

Yes -good point. Living close to work does make you robust against traffic congestion due to snow. So indeed, I now understand why you would fell Winter tyres, or even just All Season tyres, are unnecessary expense in you case.

Yawn.

Bo's Dad says:
16 November 2012

I think your £200 is misleading. When my winter tyres are on, my summer tyres are stored in the garage and do not suffer any wear. So they last twice (roughly) as long as they would if I used them all year. The only real expense is having them fitted (£20 the lot) and the cost of the capital. So on the few days when it is very cold and slippery, I will be able to stop quicker than you.

And then I will probably run into the back of you! So you will have the inconvenience of a rear end repair!

Alan Rowett says:
16 November 2012

As my Ford doesn’t have a spare wheel I decided that I should get one as the ‘blow up’ kit can’t be relied upon. So I may as well get 3 more and have the set. Also, I will be driving to the Alps for skiing, although I have always got away with not needing winter tyres in te past.

M Taylor says:
16 November 2012

Having lived in the Swiss Alps for 4 years, I have often overtaken BMWs struggling with low profile summer tyres in the winter on the motorway to Geneva. Summer low profiles are downright dangerous in snow/ice conditions. Give me old fashioned high winter ones any day when it’s less than 7C.

Infomill says:
16 November 2012

This information is helpful to a point. However, it seems to me that most drivers are at a disadvantage. Most do not know the category of their existing tyres. Are they summer or all season? Not all tyre manufacturers clearly state their tyre category. With the choice now of winter tyres, will all manufacturers in future, state clearly the ‘season’ category of their tyres to help consumers make a choice? Have there been any further developments from the Insurance industry who at one point threatened voided cover if tyres were changed from OEM specifications? How do the motor manufacturers test tyres for their models? Are some tyres better suited to different models from the same stable? (excluding high performance vehicles). There still seems plenty to clarify in this tyre arena, so how about a full article to address these and other aspects?

We have been fitting winter tyres for the last 4 years onto my girlfriends car. When we first fitted them I contacted our insurance company (First Direct) and they are more than happy as long as we tell them when we put them on and contact them again when we swap back to summer tyres in the spring.

It wasn’t just the snow and ice capabilities of these tyres as to being the total reason for fitting these types of tyres. At that time my girlfriend was doing a 35 mile (50% of using country lanes) commute. The roads were pretty poor condition with lots of pot holes, deep puddles during heavy rain and often mud dragged out on the roads from the field entrances. The extra tread depth and more grooves gives these tyres brilliant water clearing capabilities and good grip in these particular conditions too even before the temperatures dropped. Many times she arrived back from work commenting how much safer she felt driving the car in the very wet conditions, the tyres carving their way through the deep puddles with no hint of aquaplaning.

This will be the fourth winter they will have been fitted, I think they have done somewhere between 15 – 20,000 miles and they still have a good 5.5mm of tread left.

Rob, you don’t actually have to buy a set of steel wheels if you’re fitting winter tyres, they can be fitted to the current alloys being used on the car. My local dealer doesn’t charge anything extra to fit the winter tyres.

Investing in winter tyres and alternating between them and the standard tyres can increase the lifespan of both sets, saving money by requiring replacements less frequently.

Chris says:
16 November 2012

Here, you state “In conclusion, last winter was exceptionally mild”. But in the article “Read our winter tyre advice” you describe the last two British winters as “exceptionally cold”.

No wonder there’s so much debate over winter tyres.

Dr Who says:
16 November 2012

I agree with Bo’s Dad. The net cost over the ownership of the car is very little. Considering that the gritters are either caught out or they reduce gritting to save money, I am convinced that winter tyres are a life saver. The difference between safely going around an icy bend and hitting a tree. Also the benefit of shorter stopping distances on wet roads in winter temperatures.

So until Mr Hull can guarantee frost free dry winters in the UK I will carry on using winter tyres!

Stuart says:
16 November 2012

Re your comments about the temperatures over winter. Don’t myou realise that there is no average temperature at all since temperatures vary dramatically across the UK. London eg is consistently 6-8 degrees warmer than NE Scotland, so it is misleading at the least to quote average temperatures as if they relate to the whole UK!

Whenever I have quoted temperatures on this site I have taken them from the Met office website with specific locations – as, I guess, have most others. The Met office gives individualised figures for many locations throughout the UK.

Michael Jones says:
16 November 2012

Reason 11: Driving in Europe (even just for holiday) – it’s mandatory in Germany, for example, to have snow tyres even if you are coming from outside Germany. It’s also colder on the Continent, where snow tyres have better grip than summer tyres. If you have an accident and your car wasn’t fitted with snow tyres when they were required, where do you stand with your insurance?

The Which? articles on winter tyres continue to amaze with their lack of logic, failure to back up opinions and sheer blindness to facts.
This latest prompts me again to risk the Which? blue pencil by calling it dangerously irresponsible. What other description can be used of an article which advises the vast majority of readers not to waste their money on critical safety items?
Where are the comparison with summer tyres at low temperatures? – Oh! I just remembered! They’re here: http://www.whatcar.com/car-news/winter-tyres-tested/be-prepared/25925.
For most of my life I have lived in remote/hilly areas and worked in built up areas. Much of this time has been in the relatively mild climate of Devon or Cornwall and a good part in north Germany. I have held a full driving licence for over 50 years with only one transgression which cost me three points. However, I don’t claim to be such an expert driver as Mr Hull or some of the correspondents to previous threads
In Devon and Cornwall at sea level temperatures at peak driving times average below 7°C for between 5.5 and 6 months of the year and are just as low in most major UK cities – and for more months (Source: Met Office website).
Mr Hull: winter tyres are more important in towns that they are in “remote areas”!
When I drive in remote areas and can’t stop in time the main danger is of going into a ditch or hedge or another, probably slow -moving, vehicle. If I can’t stop in a built up area there is a high chance that I will go into a pedestrian or cyclist who won’t have my advantage of over a tonne of shock-absobing metal and airbags as I do.
Your colleague, Tim Pitt, concludes his rather negative article on winter tyres in the current issue by saying: “Of course, all that extra grip is meaningless if the (summer-tyred) car in front of you gets stuck (because he/she followed your advice?) and is blocking the road.
I commend your readers to the advice in the recent issue of What Car? (who did, in fact compare winter and summer tyres) :
“Our tests prove that winter tyres offer big safety benefits over their summer equivalents – not only in snowy and icy conditions, but also in the wet when the temperature dips below 7C.
For that reason we’d urge all drivers to consider swapping to winter tyres for the coldest months of the year….Given the safety benefits, it’s a price worth paying. A set of winter tyres could be the difference between life and death this winter.”

brian.t says:
16 November 2012

Having just fitted winter tyres to my car, I was advised by a pal, BMW owner, that I should advise my insurance company and further I can expect an increase in premium! Anyone any experience of this?

Apparently the British Insurance Association(?) has told its members not to be so damned silly about this and to accept winter tyres as long as they are the appropriate specification for the car.
I think it won’t be long before winter tyres are required by UK insurers, no matter what Which? thinks!

This did happen over the past couple of years when winter tyres began to be popular in the UK because insurers regarded the change of tyres as a modification. The majority seem to have seen sense since than and if your insurers do want to raise your premium there are plenty that won’t to whom you can switch.

David says:
16 November 2012

I have been driving for 44 years and have experienced some the worst winters. I used to work in sales and drove 50,000 miles a year all over Britain including Scotland in the winter, as far north as Inverness.
They did not have winter tyres then. I just drove according to the conditions, as I do today, and never had an accident and never got stuck. I like the idea of snow socks though. Just in case.

Awd says:
11 March 2013

Do you think the tyres were different in those days? It seems modern summer tyres fitted to family cars, have become wider and smoother, and perhaps less capable on snow covered roads. Some have little more than three grooves in the direction of travel to disperse water, and offering very little edges perpendicular to the direction of travel which might bite into snow.
I wonder also if summer tyres have been more optimised for warm temperatures.

It’s my hunch that the tread pattern during the 1970s and 80s were less smooth, and tyres then were narrower than today’s, perhaps enabling better grip on snow. I would suggest that if manufacturers would move away from emphasising handling capabilities and performance above all else, then higher profile and less wide tyres, with an All Season tread pattern and rubber compound, might be a better way to go for safer driving all year round.

Myself, I spent a decade having dedicated summer and winter tyres with a second set of rims for the winter tyres. One advantage of this approach is that winter performance can be further enhanced by choosing a slightly narrower winter tyre, as advised by you car manufacturer.

However, I the past two years I have switched to using All Season tyres all year round, feeling that the very latest of these from Premium tyre manufacturers have become that good. Do I need a winter tyre which remains supple down to -30C? Or the ultimate in dry summer performance? I don’t think so. The Bridgestone A001 tyres I have been using have impressed. And I believe Goodyear, Dunlop and Michelin also have superb offerings.

You might find a modern All Season gives you a bit more margin of safety when driving on snow.

Yes, quite right bergisman. I should’ve followed this up earlier. Link to the ABI online advice:-

http://www.abi.org.uk/Information/Consumers/General/Winter_Tyres__The_Motor_Insurance_Committment.aspx

As the advantages become more widely recognised I would not be surprised to see them become compulsory by law. Which? has expressed a negative attitude to winter tyres for three or four years now, I think it stems from somebody being unable to distinguish winter tyres from snow tyres. It’s surprising given how safety conscious they are generally and increasingly out of step.

I live in a rural area but hardly isolated, it’s also within an hour’s travel of London. I work shifts so I’m often on the road when everybody else is asleep (as compensation I’m also often tucked up in a warm bed when everybody is struggling to get into work). The winter tyres will be going back on the car this weekend.

I’ll just take the opportunity to remind everyone of the first ill informed article Which? published on the subject back in December 2010. I just think Which? hasn’t got the courage to admit it was wrong.

https://conversation.which.co.uk/transport-travel/winter-tyres-not-worth-the-money/

Whilst we’re on the subject what’s all this “we” and “our” business when talking about tests? Which? bought in a tyre test done in Germany. Which? hasn’t had the facilities to test tyres since 1985 and indeed not had the facilities to test anything since 2003. I think it’s misleading; deliberately so.

I wish it was £200. For my E-class they want £1600, admittedly for the wheels too, but that is way too much (I’d consider half that). And though the dealer email said ‘storage included’, the service manager had no idea where as no-one had told him!

Raysalarf says:
16 November 2012

Juts a small thought. Changing yout tyres to winter ones might just invaliadate your insurance. Cant think where it comes from but changing the design parameters of the car without telling the insurance co might lead to a whole lot of trouble if involved in an accident

I agree with others that winter temperatures are not necessarily the issue.

However, a major consideration which is often overlooked in these general reports is whether the car is front wheel or rear wheel drive. As a general rule, front wheel drive cars will cope better in snow than rear wheel drive cars. Try driving up a hill on snow in a rear wheel drive BMW or Mercedes. A small front wheel drive car with relatively thin tyres will usually outperform most other cars on snow, and the type of car should be taken into account when giving advice about winter tyres.

It’s also frustrating that there seem to be no reviews of the comparatively rare ‘All Season’ tyres. A large number of people think they have ‘All Season’ tyres when in fact that have Summer Tyres which are standard in the UK. I accept that ‘All Season’ tyres are not as good as winter tyres, but they are better than Summer Tyres on snow and surely the compromise is worthwhile if you do not want the hassle and expense of two sets of tyres and wheels?

I was considering for my wife’s car as traction is not too good, I have an Audi with quattro 4WD, which if its as good as the last one in snow I will be very pleased. But on comparing with ‘summer’ tyres the wet braking is much worse for all the tyres I could compare – see the new ratings. As Devon is predominatly wet and not too cold – most of the time – sticking with normal ‘summer’ tyres is probably safer until winter tyres have better wet braking.

LarsKarl says:
16 November 2012

I am Swedish and I have been living in Yorkshire for a long time you don´t need winter tyres in this country. Just drive carefully and if it is snowing a lot for one of two days stay at home. You need winter training before you start driving in ice roads and don´t forget to turn on your lights 24 hour a day in the winter. If you have good summer tyre and lower the pressure it is ok and don´t drive with old tyres they are to hard. Winter tyre most be soft.

LarsKarl
There is quite a body of work on increased aquaplaning risk when you lower tyre pressures. Effectively you close up the drainage sipes so not a practice to recommend without some serious caveats.

Robert says:
17 November 2012

It is an offence to run on tyres that are not inflated to the manufacturer’s recommended level. It may invalidate your insurance if you have an accident. It is very likely to damage the tyre side-walls and the tyre bead could roll off the rim when you corner. DON’T DO IT!
Reducing the tyre pressure to about 10 psi or less (0.7bar) can be an emergency way to extricate yourself from being stuck on slippery ground as you increase the contact area between they tyre and the snow/ice/mud and may get better traction. However as soon as you are out on the road you must run your tyres at the manufacturer’s recommended figure. For most people carrying sacks and a tow rope is probably more effective for getting unstuck!

Indeed. Don’t forget that tyre pressures fall when it becomes colder. It’s best to check them each week and before a long trip, and to inspect them for tread depth, visible damage, and nails etc. in the tread.

It is a simple FACT – summer tyres are considerably more dangerous during the winter period, especially when there is a bit of snow on the ground.

If you live in an area where there is little snow, or are happy to be of significantly greater danger to yourself and other road users, carry on with inadequate tyres.

If you want to improve the safety of your car when it is at its most vulnerable, and to move it about without having to be pushed quite as much, at least have all-season tyres fitted. On snowy roads the difference is simply amazing. I used to regularly get stuck, but have never had an issue since biting the bullet and buying tyres that can better cope with the slippery weather. In snowy weather my car can now go where some 4x4s with summer tyres simply can’t. Before fitting them, I struggled to get out of a car park with a very slight hill.

As for insurance problems, if you can get tyres with the same rating details as the summer tyres that are fitted as standard, or mentioned in the manual, there should be no insurance implications at all.

In my opinion, summer tyres should simply be banned and all-season tyres should be the very minimum required. This simple act would have a hugely positive impact on the way that the UK grinds to a halt when the merest sprinkling of snow arrives.

I rest my case!

As I said Rob, “If you live in an area where there is little snow…. carry on”. I do not think you should be advocating a potentially unsafe practice for people that might have to drive in potentially dangerous conditions.

I suggested that the compromise of an all season tyre should be the acceptable minimum. This is because you never really know where you might have to drive and what the road conditions might be. I fully agree that there might be economy issues, but having more grip available, when you really need it, must be of higher importance than saving a couple of pounds over the year.

I’m really not at all convinced that summer tyres have any particular performance or safety benefits at normal, or lower, speeds.

If you can afford to stay at home during snowy periods, then that’s great. If you can’t, then it surely must be a good idea to enable your car to move you around in a more safe and reliable manner. This benefits both you and other road users, because you are less likely to get stuck and cause an obstruction.

To help make my point, It is only mid November and yesterday morning I passed a car in a field due to the cold weather and road conditions. This was due to water draining off a field and freezing on the adjacent road surface. Not a flake of snow in sight!

I have absolutely no idea what tyres the car had, but it was a sporty Corsa and probably had the wide summer tyres that Vauxhall fit as standard to these cars. All season or winter tyres might not have made a blind bit of difference, but your survey proves that they would have been better able to cope with the road surface and they might have prevented the accident. Fortunately nobody was hurt.

As for more urban areas, they would be far less likely to get jammed up if cars could actually move about and I suspect not every road is “targeted more for maintenance and continuous condition upkeep”. We live in an urban area and my wife works in an urban area. I highly doubt she would let you take her all season tyres away! Gritters rarely appear in my street and, on really bad days, we would not be able to drive home if we had cars with summer tyres. We would then have to park the cars at the side of the main road and cause obstructions to other road users and the gritters. Being able to get cars completely home allows the gritters to move around more effectively and to keep urban roads clear.

According to your research, how do the best all season tyres compare to the best summer tyres, at real life speeds, as far as economy and braking are concerned?

Rob Hull

To put up the proposition that winter tyres are better in snow and then follow up with how little snow we can expect is perhaps a little disingenuous. I don’t buy them because I expect snow I buy them as I can drive early in the morning and late at night safely. The fact that I will be more able to return home if there is snow is a significant bonus.

Living in a London suburb is tough . Perhaps I ought to mention what the average minimum temperatures are in the UK. In London the minumum average from November to April inclusive is 5c or below and for three months the average high is 7C or below, Now we know London is warmer than most areas. We have had 6″+ snow on the ground for more than a few days for the four winters we have lived here. The number of loons on the road, and off the road has to be seen.

So yes I do get snow use on my winter tyres but I also get the better tyre when we get towards freezing or its wet and cold. The test in Northern Germany at the breakpoint of winter and summer tyre temperatures just illustrates that if they tested early morning or late evening we may have had a more representative result for when most people commute.

The points about narrow and wide tyres, RWD and FWD, and All-Seasons are definitely areas to be discussed more broadly. What may make sense when you are on a 265mm tyre with RWD may be less important on a 135mm wide tyred FWD car.

Much has been said about winter tyres and safety, but perhaps those who don’t drive at all are the ones to be congratulated and respected.