/ 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

Loading ... Loading ...


Have a look at this link, you my agree or you may not but apart from the environmental damage due to surface water run-off and the known health risks to workers using it there is mounting evidence of damage to vehicles, wheels, bodywork, paint finishes and of course the glass.




This has nothing to do with the topic we have been invited to discuss.

It may not be directly on topic but wheels and tyres are under discussion. And Which? may feel they have the resources to investigate some other areas.

As way of a further explanation of the effects of HF on Aluminium wheels:

Aluminium reacts with air to form Aluminium Oxide, this is seen as a dulling of the surace but the Oxidised layer works as a protective layer aginst further corrosion.

HF reacts with the Aluminium Oxide to form Aluminium Flouride and Water leaving a fresh (and shiny) layer of aluminium eposed ready to oxidise again. It will depend on temperature and concentration of the HF how long the corrosion process will take.

Many coatings (even PTFE) are permeable to HF and this will in time lift the protective laquer on many alloy wheels.

I believe there is enough evidence to make a detailed and independent investigation into the effects on vehicles the environment and car-wash workers health as a worthwhile consumer report.


PedroSalsero says:
20 November 2012

There appear to be a lot of factors to consider in chosing which tyre to use and when, or whether it is worth canging tyres at all.
First, the UK weather is so variable that it would be difficult to know which type of tyre to use in any paticular month. How would you feel if you had a collision on a warm day in February – say,13c – because you were using winter tyres?
If you were to change tyres more than twice a year, you would probably need a spare set of wheels, be able to store them at home and fit them yourself. If you store them at the tyre depot that would presumably involve an additional cost. Are tyres damaged by repeated removal and fefitting? Would you mark which wheel it came from?
Any study of braking distances would have to account for temperature, road surface, wet/dry and anti skid devices fitted to the vehicle; eg the summer tyre may hve poor performance compared to the winter tyre at low temperature on a smooth tarmac surface but may perform better on a rough concrete road.
What are the crossover points of winter, all weather and summer tyres?
It seems to me that the best policy, unless you live in a remote rural area and have to drive no matter what the weather is like, would be to use good quality all weather tyres and check them for wear, damage and pressure regularly – and how many of us do that?
The tyre industry are using the same tactics as drug companies that try to persuade us (and the doctors) that a perfectly healthy blood pressure or cholesterol level is going to kill us.

.”How would you feel if you had a collision on a warm day in February – say,13c – because you were using winter tyres?”.

That is absurd. Which? in its useful way, has said that the winter tyres are not as good as the BEST summer tyre. Which hugely begs the question as to its it as good as the second best summer tyre. This information has been asked for as Which? having raised the comparison have as yet to expand on the point..

In any event the fact that winter tyres perform better than summer tyres at sub 7 degrees does not mean that at 13C there is some similar shift in quality. I use my winter tyres all year and I can assure you that the roadholding of my car and its braking distance are more than adequate.

NukeThemAll says:
20 November 2012

Pedro, thanks for reinforcing the points I’ve made in earlier posts – that we need much more published data on the grip v temperature curves for the tyres in question, both with full and partial tread depths. The studies I’ve seen so far vary from nearly OK to risible in their scientific rigour – they wouldn’t even get past the most perfunctory peer review before being rejected for publication in a respected scientific/engineering journal.

The stopping distance alone at those low speeds looks a pretty convincing argument for winter tyres.

I don’t see that cost is a significant issue. Cars have to have tyres anyway, so if you are on winter tyres your summer tyres are not being worn so last longer. You can have the tyres changed on your existing rims twice yearly at relatively little cost so do not necessarily need to buy a second set of wheels.

The point about averages below is a very good one. It might be freezing in the early morning for a couple of hours when you are driving and warm for the rest of the day when you are not.

NukeThemAll says:
20 November 2012

Dieseltaylor, well said……

Which?, consider yourself ‘challenged’ to do a thorough scientific study of this subject: you’ve already got some useful data, it’s clear from these postings what extra data is needed, and you have the know-how and facilities. Go on, you know you want to……..

We live in rural North Devon, between Dartmoor to the Southwest and Exmoor to the Northeast, We have a Nissan X-trail shod with all-year-round tyres and a Toyota Starlet on very ordinary tyres.

For us, the prohibitive costs of good quality snow tyres in the UK completely eliminates any idea of buying such expensive kit. I had hoped that Which? might have tested snow chains when they went to the trouble of testing snow socks, but that option was clearly not considered. A singular oversight I feel.

We intend to see the coming winter out by using common sense and a dash of public transport.

Bridgestone Blizzak LM18 145/80 R14 76Q for the Starlet are £37.70 including VAT and delivery at mytyres.

This may be prohibitive depending on your pocket but certainly Blizzaks are good. However if there is no necessity to go out and local transport is good no need.

I saw that Dieseltaylor posted “Bridgestone Blizzak LM18 145/80 R14 76Q for the Starlet are £37.70 including VAT and delivery at mytyres.”
Is the Starlet capable of going over 94mph (limit for Q rated tyres)?

So it got me thinking; winter tyres generally have a lower speed rating than summer tyres. So if you need a V rated tyre (like my car), yet get an H rated one fitted for winter will your insurance be invalidated?

A good point Jeff .It does actually raise a valid question which perhaps Which? could check out. I suspect the catchall phrase I quoted previously on manufacturers recommendations “ought” to suffice. But then look what happened with winter tyres and insurers over the last 3 winters!!

My summer tyres are rated Y which means they can do prolonged running up to 186 MPH. However as the chances of me running the tyres anywhere near that speed are nil it would suggest my tyres are over specced for UK use. If I were to do track days I would need to inform my insurer anyway.

My winter tyres are rated up to 149mph as a V. Again way way beyond a normal requirement.
As my manufacturer recommend only V rated winter tyres I have no problem.

I have had snow chains for the 11 years I have lived in Germany. I have driven many thousands of kilometeres in snow and ice in mountainous conditions and, because I have winter tyres, I have never needed to fit the chains. The winter tyres enabled trips throught snow and ice and cold wet roads in the Black Forest (many times) and through the High Tatra Mountains in a blizzard on top of ice – all without drama or traction problems. In all this time my chains have remained unused and only taken out of their box to practice fitting them if needed. They never were. If you do use chains you will have to remove them as soon as you are clear of snow – and they are absolute pigs to fit with cold hands with snow everywhere! We have to go to the Black Forest again in January and the chains will go in the boot again and, I expect, remain there.
I’m not sure I follow the logic of prohibitive costs for winter tyres when you are are considering the purchase of chains. I guess from the description of your location, you probably live somewhere near Winkleigh, through which I commuted for many years, summer and winter. The mean average minimum temperatures in that area are 7°C or below for approximately six months of the year. With winter tyres you will have tyres which will be useable and much safer in wet, ice or snow conditionsfor the whole of that time and whilst you are using them you will not be wearing out your summer tyres. You will be highly unlikely to need/use chains. Those things which you do not need are prohibitively expensive at any price.
I was in North Devon earlier this month and drove from South Molton down to Okehampton and then to mid.Cornwall in some horrible weather. My winter tyres gave me complete confidence and excellent grip.

I believe that it is quite normal for winter tyres to have a lower speed rating and certainly my car (a W212 E-Class) and in common with many German cars has a menu option to set the speed limiter to “Winter Tyre” Mode. This menu then gives the option to limit the car speed to 10MPH increments from 100MPH-150MPH to correspond with the lower speed rating of the tyres that have been fitted. Several manufacturers offer “MO” (Mercedes Original) designated winter tyres that have been properly homogenated and type-approved for the car and compatibility tested with its electronic stability and ABS systems, drive-by noise etc.

For me I am not sure of the legal position in the UK, as far as I am aware it is illegal to fit tyres of a speed rating lower than the capability of the car but this rule may have been superseded by European legislation.

To keep legal and to keep insurance companies happy the best advice is to always fit manufacturer approved tyres to your car, the major tyre manufacturers will advise you of the suitability of any particular tyre for your car. Remember if you are driving abroad manufacturer approved tyres may be the only legal choice and your insurance company may consider non-homogenated tyres a modification!

Incidentally how many people are as fussy as us and insist on the same tyre all round? Many cars in this country are fitted with whatever the tyre centre had in stock that day with no two wheels with the same tyre. Another can of worms!


Yes, as far as I know the speed rating relates to the vehicle’s capability not the speed you drive at.

I can see some logic in this. Whilst we have a blanket 70mph speed limit in the UK, many of Germany’s autobahns (for example) are unrestricted. We can, and many of us do, travel abroad and drive somewhat faster than we do in the UK.

Plus, cars with high top speeds generally have high acceleration, high braking ability and high cornering ability. You can easily take advantage of all of these, whilst keeping below 70mph, hence the need for higher ratings.

I agree about the same tyre all-round, although in practice it is often same tyres on one axle. If possible, I also prefer both tyres on an axle to have similar amounts of wear, although cost can make this unreasonable.

I have just found this really useful document that gives the answers raised above.



But it doesn’t mention using a lower speed rating than the car is capable of when fitting winter tyres as discussed above.

” When replacing tyres ensure the Tyre Size is appropriate for the vehicle and that the Load Index and Speed Symbol are equal to or higher than those tyres originally fitted by the vehicle manufacturer.”

They say that several times in the article though they do not specifically mention it in the context of winter, summer, or all-season tyres. There must be a limit on specificity as the tyre industry has hundreds of manufacturers, tread designs, and tyre compounds. Passing the buck to the car companies is a fair cop-out.

Paul Beale says:
23 November 2012

Are public transport vehicles and commercial goods vehicle with heavy loads compelled to use winter tyres for health and safety reason or can they simply carry on using summer tyres??

This is an interesting point about the new Euro labels for tyres which apparently do not distinguish for ice/snow efficiency much to the disgust of Nokian specialist in cold weather tyres. They have had to withdraw their additional more precise labelling under pressure from the European trade group.

“According to a YouGov study in Sweden, Norway and Finland (which sampled 3014 respondent and reportedly offers a 95 per cent confidence level), the new EU tyre label information can be misleading for consumers buying winter tyres in the Nordic countries.

Even though the majority of the drivers understand that Nordic winter roads have special requirements, 21 per cent of respondents in Finland, 13 per cent in Sweden and 24 per cent in Norway thought a winter tyre with a good wet grip performs well on icy roads. And, perhaps as a result, 76 per cent said they would buy tyres with a good wet grip rating. “

From the Editor of Weather Eye magazine quoted in the RHS “The Garden”:
” Air temperature is measured at the standard height of 4ft. A thermometer placed over short mown grass will often show lower temperatures than at the standard height on clear calm nights”
He then gives an example of a 4 degree C difference.

Also in the article in The Garden Dec 2012 is the observation that the coldest part of the night is just after dawn. So much for low average night temperatures as the early morning commute will be at the lowest temperature.

John M says:
29 November 2012

If you don’t use your car much in snow, and don’t run much risk of getting stuck, then may I remind people of the old-fashioned solution of strips of old carpet, or old sacks, in the boot for emeergencies. And if you tie them to the bumper / towing point, you don’t have to stop to retreive them!

But also try the tip from me above about tickling the brake pedal with your left foot.

Not only has it got me off a muddy field (when towing) but also when playing on an off-road course in my old Landrover (which does not have diff lockers) the extra traction by slowing down the spinning wheel on each driven axle can get you up hills.
In fact, the last time I used this, I was working in Macclesfield in January. One chap took 3 hours on the ramp out of the car park (yes, really 3 hours!) trying to reach the top. I went up the ramp after him and half way when one wheel lost grip I tickled the brake pedal and made it out quite easily.

Winter tyres migh be great in the snow and mud ect, but I would be very interested to know what Which? think about the legality and the insurance industry’s view of using winter tyres in the UK, I suspect that there may well be issues here as indicated by the article I linked to, but until the status is confirmed I would certanly be very cautious indeed. Actually I only fit MO stamped tyres to my car, this way I know they are approved to the manufacturer and there can be no challenge.

As far as I can see the only legal problem that arises (in the case of my car) is the speed rating and none of the (even MO) stamped winter tyres meet the speed (and hence performance) capability of the car. However this issue might not exist for all cars.

The car speed limiter can be set for winter tyres, but would this be enough legally? A question that requires and answer and may only be answered by a judge in a test case.


Steve Morgan says:
29 November 2012

My Jaguar came fitted with Z-rated tyres. However, the section in the manual that relates to winter tyres (yes, they make specific reference), specifies V-rated tyres (even H-rated on 17″ wheels) with an instruction not to exceed 150MPH.

I found this on the Kwik-Fit website (OK, I wouldn’t use them as a definitive reference, but…)

“Although not illegal, it is not recommended to have tyres with a lower speed rating or load capacity than the manufacturer recommended tyre specification for your vehicle, or to have a combination of different tyre construction types. Consult your vehicle handbook, which will confirm your vehicles tyre speed and load ratings as well as any additional requirements.”

And this from the British Tyre Manufacturers’ Association website:

“Although the law only demands tyres are capable of meeting the national speed limit, do not be tempted to fit a lower Speed Symbol tyre than originally fitted because it is important to note the “Speed Symbol” is not only an indicator to the tyre‟s maximum speed potential, but also an indicator of how well it copes under braking, cornering and acceleration. In some European countries the speed symbol of replacement tyres must by law be equal to or higher than the original fit tyres.
For obvious reasons the tyre’s load capability must as a minimum match the loads imposed by the vehicle, statically and dynamically. UK law does stipulate replacement tyres must have a Load Index equal to or higher than the original fit tyre.”

So, since they’re not illegal and are the same spec as recommended by the manufacturer, I’d be more than happy to take my insurance company to court if they refused to pay out.

Summer tyres/winter tyres, how about a compromise? Having suffered from the lack of grip by the current wide summer tyres on ice and not wishing to have the expense of spare winter tyres I’ve chosen to fit All Season tyres. Not so good as winter tyres but better than summer tyres but no sign of anybody conducting tests. Why?

This conversation was started by the question “Are we being pressured into buying winter tyres?” It should be noted that the advent of wide tyres has caused the low grip problem. Prior to the common use of these tyres I drove many miles over many winters in challenging conditions using both front and rear drive cars. Almost no problems experienced. My first wide tyred car proved to be useless on packed snow and ice during the first bad winter we’d had for some years. That is when the whole business of summer/winter tyres kicked off.

Just for interest here is the Wikipedia article on siping:

Sipes are the primary difference for seasonal tyres. Michelin are quoted as saying a summer tyre has around 200 sipes and a winter tyre 1500. Obviously there are also tyre compounds that differ but the primary reason for superior performance is the siping.

I agree BTW with wide tyres being an unnecessary, expensive, and potentially dangerous, fashion.

John says:
19 January 2013

I think its a con by the tyre companies. Why can’t they make tyres that are suitable for all weather? What next, a car for winter with a good heater and one for summer with good aircon. 2 houses? It would be nice if I could afford it. Tyres should be suitable for operation at 0 and below, in fact where can you actually find proper temperature rating for tyres? Mine says A on it, but that is only a grade and relates to how high, not how low they are rated. PS siping? really?

Do you only have one pair of shoes? What would it be? Flip-flops in the mud and snow, or wellingtons on the beach?

No one is forcing you to buy winter tyres. If you have priorities other than safety, so be it, but please stay off the road in the current conditions.

John –
They call them AllSeason tyres.

Summer tyres are the cheapest style of tyre and given that many more counties are primarily hot and dry no doubt cheaper for volume. Also more miles are driven in good weather. From the marketing point of view its an easier sell showing people driving in the sun enjoying the open road.

Motoring magazines and consumer organisations also perhaps have helped the concentration on braking and speed around bends without kicking up on the compromises required in reduced all-weather ability.

NukeThemAll says:
19 January 2013

Well, this recent spell of snowy weather has only served to reinforce some the points I (and others) have made……The local roads have divided very distinctly into 2 types: those that are pretty well-cleared and traffic running freely. No need (realistically) for anything other than a good set of ‘normal’ tyres. The other roads are very bad or passable with extreme care. And mostly blocked by rear-wheel drive cars often of the ‘ultimate driving machine’ variety and thus it matters not at all what tyres you have – you’re not going anywhere even in a tractor.

Phil says:
19 January 2013

January 19th 2013, 3 months after I posted the following, I would conclude I’ve already had value-for-money from my investment in my family’s safety. With saturated ground leading to floods and deep standing water on many roads, and commute-time temperatures consistently below +7 degrees, the benefits of having a tyre which can perform well in the wet AT LOW TEMPERATURES has never been more relevant (N.B. a summer tyre with an ‘A’-rated wet braking performance won’t deliver that level of performance at lower temperatures). Snow & ice is currently dominating the national news, and in these conditions there really is no comparison. In these conditions, a minor slide resulting in curbed alloys or minor knock will probably cost as much in repair costs or insurance excess as buying winter tyres. I would anticipate that the snow & ice which is covering my corner of the country will have disappeared by next week and the media focus will turn else where for a lead story. However, as the snow melts it creates more standing water at cold temperatures so the Winter tyres will continue to be relevant to the driving conditions for another few months. In March, my wheels fitted with tyres designed for use in warmer conditions will reemerge from the shed still with a good depth of tread ready to deal with summer rain, having not been used for the last 5 months.
– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –
October 25th 2012, dash-board thermometer reading 14 degrees C, though weather-forecasters predicting 7 degrees C by the weekend! Place your bets, mild or harsh winter?!!

I found this short video,produced by Auto Express and the RAC in conjunction with Continental Tyres, very helpful in my decision to fit Winter Tyres.

It was actually the second half of the video showing comparative braking distances on a wet road at +5 degrees C which I found most relevant to motoring in my corner of the UK where actual snow days per year are limited. Given that Continental tyres typically feature top 3 in most of the independent tyre tests across Europe, this video illustrates “the best” summer tyre against “the best” winter tyre. The additional 7m stopping distance required by the summer tyre at these temperatures on the wet surface
helps inform the debate from a road safety perspective.


Interestingly however, if you look into the “detail” of the results of Winter tyre tests which include a Summer tyre for comparison, on wet braking performance below +7 degrees a top performing Summer Tyre will out perform a lower ranking “winter” tyre in the wet (though, not surprisingly, the summer will not perform well at all on snow). My interpretation of these results is that you could inadvertently compromise your wet braking on the numerous rainy days of winter when trying to split a limited budget across 2 sets of tyres instead of fitting the best set of Summer tyres. Rain is the norm in the UK so we aren’t as alert to the potential dangers as when our world turns white and we are forced to drive more cautiously. New tyre labelling introduced next month (NOVEMBER 2012) will make it easier for consumers to evaluate wet braking performance: ‘A’ rating being the best.

If budget is less of an issue, the Auto Express / Continental video highlights that a good quality winter tyre will enhance cold weather safety over a good quality summer tyre. What price you put on that added safety is a matter of personal choice, however, I think the financial equation can be made reasonably cost neutral if:

1. You plan to keep the car for enough seasons to get the mileage out of both sets of tyres.
2. You have a second set of wheels to avoid the twice yearly cost of tyre change & balance.
(or buy a set and then recover most of their cost by re-selling them when you no longer need them).
3. You have loft/shed space to store the unused set to keep the rubber in good condition and to avoid
storage costs.
4. You are able to change wheels yourself (though a 4 wheel swap rather than 4 tyre swap shouldn’t
be too expensive at a garage).

It’s generally recommended to drop a tyre width size for winter tyres so, for example, 205/55R16s winters replace 225/45R17s summers. These smaller tyres are cheaper to buy than the larger summer tyres they replace. Also, summer tyre rubber hardens and becomes more ‘brittle’ in cold conditions so actually wears more quickly than the “softer” winter rubber. So, you are prolonging the life of the more expensive summer tyres and maintaining their tread depth to dispell summer rain i.e. safer wet summer driving as well as safer wet winter driving! Covering the same mileage on a combination of summer & winter tyres actually costs less in terms of the rubber cost than sticking to larger summer tyres only over the same mileage.

Add to that the fact that water and frost damage causes a significant increase in pot-holes during winter months, to which larger wheels with lower profile tyres are more susceptible to alloy damage which is expensive to refurbish (not to mention rock salt damaging the alloy paint finish). The taller side-wall of the smaller wheeled tyre offers the wheel more protection and also a more comfortable ride when the UK’s roads are in their worst state.

In summary, I believe that balancing tread-wear between quality sets of summer and winter tyres will enhance wet weather driving safety in both summer & winter, as well as giving you enhanced snow/ice mobility/safety should those conditions occur. Total costs over time need not be any/significantly more, though will require a larger initial spend up-front. All costs can be reduced depending on how much effort you want to invest yourself (researching and shopping for best prices, swapping & storing wheels yourself, etc) and how much you delegate to a garage.