/ Motoring

Why we’ve tested winter tyres

Following on from our previous Conversations on winter tyres, we’ve listened to your feedback and pulled out all the stops to test them. But will winter tyres be the right choice for you and your car?

If you’re a Which? member, when the latest magazine lands on your doormat, you’ll find full test results for two of the most popular tyre sizes on the market. They’re fitted to superminis and medium cars (the cars most Which? members own).

But there wasn’t enough space in the mag to include the other four sizes we’ve tested – you’ll find our full winter tyre tests online. So, all in all, we’ve tested 69 tyres in no less than six of the most popular sizes, fitted to large family saloons and estates, MPVs, and the superminis and medium cars previously mentioned.

It’s been a busy few weeks for me, so if you’re thinking about buying winter tyres, I hope our in-depth and detailed tests will help you choose the best and, as importantly, avoid the worst.

Has Which? changed its position on winter tyres?

My answer to that question (in my best Little Britain impression!) is ‘yes but, no but’.

Why no? We still acknowledge that winter tyres are beneficial for those driving in very cold conditions. And they may be an essential purchase for anyone living in a remote area where severe cold weather is a regular occurrence.

But we still believe that for the vast majority of the population, who are living in warmer urban climes, it’s not that easy to justify the expense of fitting winter tyres.

Why yes? We also acknowledge that you come to Which? for independent and detailed buying advice. So, our very first winter tyre tests should hopefully give you just that.

Usage advice – buy five winter tyres!

Some have asked us whether they can mix winter and summer tyres. My answer to that is ‘no’. It’s also a good idea to read our online guidance on this – which is to buy five winter tyres (not four and certainly not two).

If you have a puncture, which is much more likely in ice and snow, and fit a spare summer tyre with the three winter ones, you’d seriously upset the handling of your car. You might not feel the difference trundling around at 20 mph in warm, dry conditions, but it will definitely matter if you’re driving at normal speeds in extreme conditions.

One member asked about the possibility of only fitting winter tyres on the drive wheels – in this case, the fronts. Again, the answer is an emphatic ‘NO!’

When fitting any tyres (winter or summer) the ones with the most grip must always be fitted to the rear axle, whether this is the driven axle or not. Otherwise, if you have the least grip on your rear wheels, there’s a big risk that your car’s handling will become unstable in an emergency manoeuvre when you most need it to remain stable.

So, will you be checking out our winter tyre tests and investing in a set of five tyres this winter?

Will you be buying winter tyres?

No - I don't plan to (67%, 676 Votes)

Yes - I plan to/I already have (24%, 240 Votes)

I don't know - I need to do more research first (10%, 98 Votes)

Total Voters: 1,016

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My friend in Holland has 2 sets of tyres with his car as it is a requirement of his Insurance to have winter tyres fitted in winter. The tyre firm changes his tyres a the appropriate time and stores the not in use tyre until neede again. He changes his car every 3 years and dosen’t need to buy a new set as the 2 sets last him. He is a salesman and covers a great deal of miles. He says he can appreciate the better performance of the winter tyres in cold conditions and especially in snow and ice.

Having seen the violence with which tyrefitters remove tyres when replacing them, I can’t believe just changing tyres on the same wheels is a safe long-term solution. At the very least, each wheel would need rebalancing every time the tyre is changed? Everyone in Germany seems to keep two sets of wheels, one with winter tyres and one with summer. Does anyone know of a dealer who offers steel wheel and winter tyre packages?

david simmons says:
17 December 2011

Have 33000 miles with this volvo S80 four years old and had three set of front tyres the latest are winter and hope to keep until march april apart from the first set I have bought michelin thinking they are the best . I have three questions for comment (1) are micheline the prefered tyre. (2 )has anyone else experienced with the volvo a short life of front tyres they seem to buldge in the wall or burst the last time was on the M25 a few days ago. (3) with this frequency of new should volvo include a spare tyre because it gets rather expensive to be brought home on a rescue vehicle because the rescue substance they provide does not repair splits in a tyre.

The usual cause of of bulges in the sidewall is damage due to hitting kerbs, etc, and the problem may not be apparent at the time. Underinflation, often caused by a slow puncture, results in damage and overheating, and can result in burst tyres.

The sidewalls of tyres flexes a lot, even on a correctly inflated tyre. That is why sealant will not repair the leak and it is forbidden to repair punctures in the sidewall.

4ft of snow on the ground December last year in the rural area outside Hull and my rear-wheel drive C-Class and IS-220 were undrivable on the local roads and I could not get out of my driveway. However the main A roads on bus-routes and dual-carriageways were cleared by snow plows and passable with care. In the previous January, i was working in Manchester and was able to drive 100 miles from Hull to Manchester, yet my staff, living 10 miles in and around Manchester complained they could not get to work in the snow and ice. It seems it is the local first/last 5-10 miles that are the difficulty.

This year I’ve invested £100 in 4 snow-shoes for my car, this will get me out of my driveway if there is snow/ice and onto the cleared main roads. Careful driving at slower speeds will get me the next 90 miles.

I can’t justify £800+ for tyres + steel rims etc. per car and don’t have the space to store 10 tyres all year round.

I don’t know if Which? has mentioned this but if you do store tyres for 6 months, they need to be stored on their side and sealed/wrapped up to keep light and moisture out, otherwise the tyres will degrade.

Bridgestone Blizzaks on my BMW 330CD auto trasform the car in winter. For the past 3 years I have swapped to these tyres in Nov, reverting to summer tyres in late March. Traction, braking and steering are vastly improved on snow and ice. Whilst 4 x 4 vehicles may have traction on summer tyres, they still cannot stop and turn as effectively as a RWD car on the proper tyres for the conditions. A feature of winter tyres that does not get mentioned is aquaplane resistance on motorways. This is vastly improved giving far more control on our poorly maintained and drained motorway system in wet conditions, irrespective of temp.

Nice article Dave, there’s been a few tests done on the effectiveness of winter tyres. Check these videos out : http://www.blackcircles.com/tyres/winter-tyres/videos it features tyre tests from Goodyear and Tyresafe. If you live in the UK, it’s better to be safe and go with winter tyres during the cold weather months.

Winter tyres, do we need them in the UK? Most conversation centres on the need for such tyres in snow conditions and indeed, in snow conditions winter tyres do perform vastly superior to ‘summer’ tyres. But will we have sufficient snow in the UK to justify winter tyres? If I may suggest this is the wrong question. Will we have temperature and weather conditions which will justify winter tyres? This, in my opinion, is a better question. Why?
The winter tyre has two key components; tread and compound. The tread is important as this provides the ‘bite’ into snow and water. However, the tread pattern on winter tyres will not provide maximum performance if a standard summer tyre compound was used in manufactire. The compound used in winter tyres is ‘softer’ and more capable in operating in temperatures below 7 degrees Celsius. Below 7 Celsius, the summer tyre performance drops off as the compound stiffens with the cold. We therefore find in wet and greasy conditions and below 7 Celsius, the winter tyre will out grip the summer tyre.
My above comments are based on 1) experience with 3 of my cars being fitted with winter tyres and 2) I had discussions with Continental tyre technicians at their UK head office and they advised that even though I had ‘Mud and Snow’ tyres fitted to my 4X4, the compound would not deliver the performance/safety I sought below 7 Celsius and to regain the performance and safety in colder temperatures it is necessary to fit winter tyres.
Some suggest don’t go out in wintry conditions and therefore winter tyres are not required, however based what winter tyres deliver and combat as the summer tyre performance falls off, does that mean you wont be going out in your car for 5 months of the year.
I accept such safety precautions are not for everyone, but the cost of a set of tyres, fitting and storage versus an accident, loss of no claims bonus, an excess and possible personal injury, the investment, if it can be afforded, seems like a god investment to me.
Of course, having made myself tyre safe, in those wet greasy ‘winter’ conditions, we can still find there is an idiot in an uninsured bald tyred vehicle spinning out of control and heading staright for me, but then again, with my very grippy winter tyres, perhaps I could take evasive action and avoid the collision.

But what about greasy summer conditions?

In my opinion, in a humid summer, a short rain shower makes the roads far more slippier than in winter, but we are still using our normal, “summer” tyres, yet most of us manage without skidding off into a hedge. Why? because we alter our driving style accordingly.

The more “protection” you afford yourself, the more likely you are to take risks. It is a principle of mine, I don’t wear a cycle helmet for the same reason.

For once, let’s rejoice that there are some areas in this country that aren’t embroiled in Health and Safety nonsense. We are allowed to make our own judgement and we are not forced into it by law. Let us enjoy that we have the choice, that litigation isn’t forcing us into “safe” choices, eroding our civil liberties.

Daniel says:
21 December 2011

Dean, that is hilariously bad reasoning. Would you argue that if a spike was put in the centre of your steering wheel that you would be safer? Of course not, a lot of accidents aren’t at all to do with the risk that YOU are taking, but the risks that others (who don’t care what protection you’ve afforded yourself) take with your life. In the real world you are ALWAYS safer as long as you’ve got a helmet on.

Colin Langston says:
5 October 2017

Daniel, I’m with Dean here. If we extend your logic, people would ride bikes wearing padded elbow pads, knee pads, shoulder pads and spine protectors because once upon a time someone was injured in a no-blame accident. Your example of a spike in the centre of the steering wheel is extreme and so irrelevant.
H&S is a matter of (personal) judgement – severity x likelihood versus cost and inconveneince of the remedy. I for one prefer a measured element of risk in my life.

Dean, it is your attitude that gets the human race a bad name. Firstly, wet greasy summer roads afford massively greater grip than that available on snow or ice, and indeed non icing, but wet and cold gritted roads. Thats a simple fact. As an all year round driver, motorcyclist, road and mountain biker I can assure you of this. Riding any bike without proper protection is not taking seriously your responsibilities to yourself, family and friends, and society in general, it has nothing to do with civil liberties. I guess you dont wear a seat belt when driving either as this is also a “civil liberties” errosion. Its simple, common sense says dont take a vehicle on the road without it being road worthy, deflating, incorrect tyres for the conditions should not be used. We all have a responsibility to every other road user to ensure we are properly equiped. It matters not to anyone else if you damage your own car, but dont risk my car, and life by venturing onto the roads in sub 7 degrees conditions.

John F says:
24 December 2011

Just read the winter tyre test and to be honest it left me disappointed. Giving a star rating is fine but if you quoted actuall stopping distances in meters people would soon take notice, especially if you also included the results for a summer tyre. I can’t help but feel that the Which testers have not spent much time behind the wheel of a car fitted with low profile summer tyres, wider say than 215mm in severe winter conditions.(worse if RWD!) The difference between driving one of these and a typical small car on narrow tyres is huge the moment the snow starts to fall. Something Which completely fail to mention.

Julian says:
30 December 2011

I have been driving for over 35 years in a variety of vehicles, both in the UK and in Europe.
About 15 years ago I was living in a hilly rural area and purchased a spare set of wheels with winter tyres (instead of buying a 4 wheel drive vehicle) to keep me mobile during a particulary snowy and icy winter. The handing improvement on ice and snow was dramatic, so I began fitting winter tyres to my family’s other vehicles.
For the past 5 years I have been fitting “all-season” tyres, for improved summer-handling and tread-life (up to 20K-plus miles per set).

NorthHighlander says:
4 January 2012

We’re in Sutherland where temperatures are consistently below 7C in winter. We fitted a set of Goodyear SP this year and are delighted with the improved handling in cold conditions, with or without snow. It would have been really useful if Which? had published this report earlier in the year as it came too late to be any use. Manufacturers only distribute a limited number of tyres in the UK and you need to order early, ideally by October to get a good choice of makes. You don’t have to fit them right away. We made our choice after reading German and North American reviews. Michelin were the make most recommended, but we were too late to get them.

tower says:
6 January 2012

first year with winter tyres.made decision back in august,got myself set of secondhand alloys bought set of vredestein snowtrac 3 in september and had them fitted to above s/h alloys.changed over tyres summers to winters in 2nd week in december and haven`t looked back.
below 7deg C handling/grip is sharper,marginally noisier and mpg appears to be about the same,but correspondingly above 7 deg C grip is less,also wet grip/handling so much better with winters at any temperatures.am lucky that have space to store wheels when not in use.
my daily commute is 80 miles round trip,car is bmw 1 series cabby diesel.overall am very pleased with these tyres and their performance,they suit my circumstances.

And now the sock report is out. Very useful!

I am also pleased to see the comparison between winter and summer tyres included in the report.
It really does show how summer tyres are just not safe for use in snow conditions: not even able to get up a 7% slope and double the stopping distance …. far worse than attempting to drive in normal conditions with tyres that have less than 2mm of tread.

Mark DE says:
23 February 2012

Which? says: “Before you buy winter tyres, check the minimum speed rating recommended by the car manufacturer for your car. We don’t recommend fitting tyres with a lower minimum specification to that recommended by the car manufacturer.”

And in the Jan issue (p79) Which? talks about insurance issues. But fitting Y (300km/h) tyres on my car – to meet the car’s log book specs – would be very expensive so it gets H (210km/h) tyres and a clearly visible sticker stating the speed rating of the winter tyres. This is standard practice here in Germany and permitted in law. Too clever for the UK perhaps?

Magoo says:
19 August 2012

Too ridiculous, I think!
Considering how fastidious, meticulous and, sometimes, just downright nit-picky Germans and German methods, processes, procedures, laws, etc. can be I find it amazing that such practices are permitted. If this is the case why don’t all German car manufacturers install their vehicles with sub-standard tyres and install prominent disclaimers on/in the vehicle. Surely they would save a fortune utilising this method and clearly they would still be operating well within the law. Or is that suggestion too simple for the Germans?

Dave Le Good says:
23 April 2012

Given that many cars now have space saver spare wheels, how does this line up with your idea of buying five winter tyres?

Rory says:
12 July 2012

I recommend winter tyres, as for the insurance issues, last winter the companies were trying to say that if your car was on V or W speed rated summer tyres you had to have the same speed rating in winter tyres which is just crazy and in most cases winter tyres are only made in H 130mph or V 149mph rated which is way more than most people will use. After this was in the news the insurance companies finally got some common sense: ABI ISSUES REASSURANCE TO MOTORISTS FITTING WINTER TYRES
The ABI has issued reassurance to motorists that fitting winter tyres should not result in an extra charge on their motor insurance. There is lots of good information on winter tyres with videos here http://www.performancealloys.com/Winter-Tyres.aspx and if you are looking for winter wheels you can also get them as well.
Since i bought my winter tyres from these guys last year they now have included the entire new EU tyre labelling information which was very interesting to look over to see how all the different tyres compared.
With regards to the Dave’s comment on the space saver, you can’t buy these in winter options and they are only used to get you to a place to get your flat tyre repaired…

I am a firm believer in winter tires. It can be a pain to have to change from summer to winter tires, but it is well worth it. I live in southwestern Montana and we have some long winters out here, and I wouldn’t go without winter tires. A while back, my winter tires had reached the end of their useful life and I has a brand new set of Michelin highway tires on and figures that being that they were new, they would work for the winter. Was I ever wrong.

Winter tires definitely should be changed out during the summer as they are made of a softer rubber compound. One summer of driving on winter tires could wear them out.

Winter tires can be a bit more noisy. It really doesn’t bother me personally. I live in the states and my every day driver is a Buick LeSabre, a fairly large car, but does get decent fuel mileage for a large car. During the summer I can get around 30 to 31 mpg in every day driving and as high as 34 on interstates. In the winter, the winter tires will lose me about three mpg, but it is worth it to me.

I usually leave for work aroud 5:30 AM and really don’t have time to plow my driveway. I live in a fairly rural area and many times I will get on the roads before the snowplows have been able to plow. The winter tires make all the difference in the world. I won’t leave home without them.