/ 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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Thanks for this Dave. The top priority for all motorists is to ask themselves if driving in poor weather is absolutely necessary, and worth risking their own lives and those of others. That is more important than winter tyres.

Keith Ellinor says:
16 December 2011

How true this is. Fortunately I am retired, have been driving now for 60 years and have never had an accident. But now only drive about 6000 miles per annum. If it is treachoruos conditions then I stay in the house or alternatively can walk to town to collect whatever we require. But more importantly, careful forward planning is the best solution. Keep the larder well stocked.

Tony Kenyon says:
16 December 2011

Do you think then that if the weather is bad nobody should go to work?

We really need to change the tyres on our car, the right rear has had a slow puncture for about a year! I agree with the research articulated by Dave though. Winter tyres just aren’t that necessary in a climate such as ours and I will be buying normal all-weather tyres as I always have done.

A slow puncture for about a year! Amazing.

yeah, we don’t use the car that much, if we go on a long journey, I pump it up, job’s a good ‘un 🙂

Tony Kenyon says:
16 December 2011

When you say all weather tyres I take it that what you actually mean is summer tyres?

A slow puncture for about a year? And you still drive on a daily basis? Please give full details of all proposed journeys so that we who care for our families and property may take the necessary avoiding action and stay out of your way

Daniel says:
19 December 2011

You do realise that the vast majority of tyres for sale in the UK aren’t all weather tyres at all, they’re summer tyres.

oh you mean so they don’t work in the wet? How naiive of me! 🙂

Every tyre is an all weather tyre, saying winter/summer does no-one any help at all. What you’re talking about buying, erroneously, is snow tyres.

And Edward, no, I don’t drive on a regular basis, as I had indicated a few posts ago. The puncture is so slow it goes down about 3 psi a week. That’s something i can manage until we can afford new tyres. Not all of us are so flush that we can afford these extra outlays. There is plenty of tread on said tyres and believe it or not, I can actually drive in the snow with them.

It might well be the valve. Cost about £15 to fix.

Magoo says:
19 August 2012

Further to bungalows comment, it could well be anything that is related to the tyre including the wheel itself (damaged rim, porous wheel if its aluminium, etc.).
3psi may not sound a lot but it can have an adverse affect on the vehicles handling, especially if you had to brake in an emergency whilst cornering and that, in itself, had put an additional load on that particular tyre.
In addition to that there is the fuel consumption issue which will also be affected but as Dean has said, if money is tight then a lot of folks tend to put things like this on the backburner.
Personally I would nip round to my local street-corner garage and get it sorted out but then thats me.

I have purchased winter tyres because I am travelling on the continent. However, I have noticed a distinct improvement in ride and grip in the cooler conditions compared to my summer fit in the UK. I intend to change the tyres back in April. Another point once the investment has been made, on going costs will be the same and add to safety the year around

you are correct ….
ride IS usually better.
Ask the tyre companies about winter tyres – they should ALWAYS be fitted when driving on roads below 4 degrees C – a ‘summer’ tyre compound hardens at these temperatures, and stopping distances multiply, even in the [odd] dry conditions…. in the wet, or mouldy, or icy, or snowy, you’ll be in for your insurance excess before you know it if you don’t fit winter tyres EVERY winter. Most winter tyre sets are often less than your excess, anyway.
I just retired, but used to make ££££££s every winter repairing customer’s cars who didn’t heed the advice [I always use them in winter] … no Ifs, no BUTs, just do it !!

Dick T says:
16 December 2011

I live in Northern Scotland and have found winter tyres to be invaluable during the last two winters. We have them on both our Passat estate and our Saxo VTR. The handling is transformed in snow beyond my expectations and we now find it much easier to get around.

Keith Ellinor says:
16 December 2011

The question/discussion on Winter Tyre makes for very interesting reading. However as I live in a town, am retired I do not consider the procurement of these Tyres to be Cost Effective.
During last winter,s condition I did not experience any concerns with the loss of traction with my vehicle. Contrary to belief I found the Automatic Transmission perfect on Front Wheel Drive. Select Drive leave the foot off the accelerator pedal, and the low speed torque derived from Automatic Transmission did the rest, no wheel spin, no loss of traction etc. But then I am a Member of the Institute for Advances Motorists.

Two years ago I bought winter tyres for my Skoda Yeti . At the time the only winter tyres available at local tyre fitters were the Continental winter Contacts and Matadors .Both these tyres are manufactured by Continental and have identical treads.there was however a considerable difference in price ,something in the region of £40 per tyre I recall.

I decided to play safe and bought the Continental Winter contacts which had received good reviews and which proved to be an excelent choice and made a quite staggering difference to the performance of the Yeti in snow.

I may have to replace the Continentals next winter and should like to know if anyone has had any ex[perience of the Matador tyres or can advise me as to what apart from the £40 per tyre is the diference between the two tyres.

John_L says:
16 December 2011

I’ve used winter tyres for many years despite living in the South. The difference is astounding and you can, with care, take on any conditions, often where overweight 4×4’s give up. I’ve had Mini’s since 2004, do about 40k a year and have just replaced Michelin Alpins with Dunlop Wintersports. It is really unthinkable that an “all weather” tyre designed to run continuously at over 130 m/hr in summer can cope with low temperatures. The stated ‘cross-over’ is 7C and I usually put mine on when the max temperature is forecast in single figures.

There is no need to buy 5 winter tyres rather than 4. Many cars are produced these days without 5 identical tyres. Many have a ‘skinny’ space-saver in the boot while others have no spare at all but are supplied with a fluid to plug air leaks. Both of these options are regarded as temporary and are subject to speed restrictions by the manufacturers. Anyone who is intelligent enough to realise the value of winter tyres will also realise that using a summer tyre as their spare is acceptable provided it is used like the other temporary options above, i.e. an emergency solution to enable them to get to a tyre repair centre at a reduced speed. The Which article warns against mixing summer and winter tyres and is therefore an acknowledgement of the great superiority of winter tyres at low temperatures, i.e. the handling characteristics are so much better.

Magoo says:
19 August 2012

As a new self-employed courier/haulage driver I depend on my vehicle constantly and so, as such, I enquired to several of the reputable tyre companies and they all said the same, that initially 4 tyres need to be purchased and installed together. None of them even mentioned the spare but as David says, it’s down to common sense really.
I would like to add that all of the same above mentioned companies said I would have to order winter tyres well in advance as they are not a stocked item and they generally only allocate a certain quantity of winter tyres for the UK due to lack of demand/fitment of winter tyres not being mandatory in the UK, as it is in several European countries (it seems they get the lion’s share).

Paul Freelander says:
18 January 2013

I have a Freelander and have been looking for an Omnidirectional tyre for the spare. The comment that you should buy 5 tyres is excellent but, unless the fifth is omnidirectional, which way round do you have the spare mounted? Maybe I should buy 6 unidirectional tyres and carry two spares!!!!!!!!!!!! Any ideas.

When I was skiing regularly in Europe, I had a set of snow tyres which managed to last over two cars as they used the same size. They were great in snow and ice but were not very clever on wet roads- I would say much worse than the best ordinary radials.Perhaps new designs are much better. I would suggest that for those not living in the wilder parts of the country a pair of autosocks would be a better and more convenient solution. With the sort of wet slush we get in the UK something like these fabric snow chains might actually give better grip.

Do you mean snow tyres or winter tyres? The two are not the same.

I fitted TWO winter tyres to the front of my wife’s Golf GTi last year. We do live in a rural location. We did indeed have an awful lot of snow too as we we are also on a hill top. We went out ever day in the snow with no problems at all. As for requiring the grip all round well…. One should drive according to the prevailing conditions should they not. I wouldn’t let my wife go out without the right tyres on her car.
I am aware that the adverts make claims on stopping distance to SELL. However even if they pull you up Five meters shorter let alone the TWENTY EIGHT that one add. claims surely its worth looking after yours and everyone else’s safety is it not.
Winter tyre in my opinion make a world of difference.

I’d run that past your insurance company. The recommendation is to have winter tyres on all wheels as it could seriously compromise the handling. In countries where winter tyres are obligatory they have to be fitted to all four wheels and there are heavy fines if they aren’t.

I have winter tyres fitted.
Living in a rural area, I consider them essential for use of the car in bad conditions and advisable throughout the winter months whenever temperatures approach or are below freezing (every year!).

Glad to see the new tests – one important issue missing though:
It would be great if two “summer” tyres (best buy & a typical) plus an all weather tyre, had been included in the winter tyre test tables. We then could have all seen the difference! Is it still possible to add these to the on-line version, Dave?

Comments both on here and by Dave show that it is not just the selection of which tyre to use but whether to fit them at all. In many cases the latter is the main issue. A comparison with “normal” tyres is essential.

Check out this link comparing a premium brand summer v’s a premium brand winter. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PaHugXARk-w

Thank you Dave for your information …. I have, this year put winter tyres all round as they were so impressive last year.

So is the idea to have a two sets of wheels – one with winter tyres and one with summer tyres? or do people go to a tyre fitter and have them changed over, using just one set of wheels?

two sets of wheels could be expensive – and yes what price safety, but you see my point I think.

Hi Stephen, best to read our advice, but you shouldn’t use winter tyres during milder climates. You’ll have to swap over, though as Dave previously argued, since you’ll only be using each set of tyres for around half the year, they won’t wear down as much. That will give you longer wear. But yes, it can be expensive.

I do indeed have two full sets of wheels plus tyres.
The winter wheels are not low profile.

Storage is done by the garage although some tyre suppliers also offer “tyre hotels”. In effect they simply rent a large truck container and use it to store the set out of use. I pay £40 a year which includes the two wheel changes – but that may have been a special deal. Some suppliers did offer first year free with sale of the winter tyres.

The cost is high – but nowhere near the cost of my “high performance” car – and the performance increase due to winter tyres is very definitely greater value for money for 6 months of the year 😉

Tony Kenyon says:
16 December 2011

Reputable tyre fitters wont change tyres from one rim to another as it can apparently damage the edge of the tyre, so the best and easiest solution is to have your winter tyres on a set of steel rims.
Regarding costs of having two sets of tyres I think that in the long run the price would be less than you think, as of course only the set that is actually fitted to the car is wearing at that time, for example if you cover say 12000 miles a year and have the winter tyres on for 5000 of that total you would expect the summer tyres to last a longer time than if they where on for the full 12000. Taking into account that the summer tyres would wear quicker in winter ( and likewise the winter tyres would wear quicker in summer due to having a softer rubber compound) due to slipping in adverse conditions I believe that changing tyres to suit the season is a cost effective proposition.


When I replace a car I go to a breakers yard for extra steel wheels. I pay between £4 and £10 a rim.

Mr Phun-Gi says:
16 December 2011

A few notes…
In some countries it is law to change (and to do so on certain (dates))
Change all four tyres do NOT mix’n’match (Remember the Xply/Radial debate?)
Ice and/or snow are equally treacherous
If you’re not experienced do not drive unless absolutley necessary-in fact don’t drive at all unless it is necessary.
Driving a 4×4 can be worse unless you are competant (and confident)

I’m a winter tyre convert. We fit them in dec to both our cars and remove them in April. Regarding costs, your summer tyres are not being worn when your winter tyres are on. The grip in the wet is excellent as is the grip in slush or snow and cold weather. Last winter I drove passed a freelander stuck on a hill in the snow, kind of defeats the reason for having 4 wheel drive. Although having said that I’m sure a 4×4 with winter tyres would be the safest bet.

One other thing to note is that due to the depth of the tread and the softness of the rubber the tyres soak up the millions of pot holes which appear during each winter better than summer tyres.

Richard says:
16 December 2011

Some interesting comments. However basics first – winter tyres are better than summer tyres as soon as temperatures drop below 7 degrees. The magazine article and everywhere else fails to mention this important fact. The softer rubber compounds give a better grip in lower temperatures – not just ice and snow!

I’m not sure i would leave my car at home and prefer to walk as some here suggest. The roads get ploughed and gritted – at least the main networks do. By contrast our pavements become churned uneven, icy, deathtraps. The Uk needs a law like that in southern German states requiring able householders to clear their frontages of snow. Here people hide behind supposed fear of negligence claims should somone slip on their cleared part of path. Government ministers have however been at pains recently to point out that noone has apparenetly ever been prosecuted for such! I’ve clelared the footpath along the front of my office and home and neighbours several years now – come on more should do the same – if able

My other gripe is that those who do not feel proper winter preparation is necessary for them are exactly the people who end up crawling along at a snails pace blocking the traffic and preventing the rest of us getting to and from work. There is a highway code requirement to make proper progress and failing to do so should see offenders confined to the icy treacherous pavements.

Cedric Scroggs says:
16 December 2011

Disappointed to see Falken HS439 Eurowinter tyres down-rated in your test results. I fitted 4 to my Honda CR-V 18in wheels last December, and drove to the Alps for a week over Christmas. While in the mountains and returning through France I drove on snow all the way, and the tyres’ performance was excellent. Your disclaimer states that tyre performance cannot necessarily apply to different wheel sizes, and this may be a case in point. Falkens are very good tyres which my local garage recently re-fitted for this winter for £30. I urge readers not to be put off the bigger sizes.

Have used Vredestein Snowtrac 3 for last two winters and they give me much more confidence in marginal conditions. Having a set of 5 is a waste of time as they are uni-directional and therefore 6 would be needed to have a viable spare. Surely using an omni-directional summer tyre as spare for a short period is better than using a space saver or using the spray can method.

Gerard says:
17 December 2011

I bought them for a one series BMW diesel auto..
This car sat outside my house unused for 4 weeks last year (Edinburgh).