It’s only early-December and already we’re snowed-in. So should we all be fitting our cars with winter tyres to help us get around more easily – or are they an unnecessary expense that UK drivers can live without?
There’s a fairly good chance that you’re reading this from the comfort of your own home, as many of us are stuck indoors due to this week’s snow dump.
But would a set of winter tyres have helped you get around today? Yes, probably. Are they worth buying? No, definitely not.
In recent years, these extreme weather conditions have made driving anywhere almost impossible in some areas. Tyre firms have reacted to this by offering a solution with winter-specific tyres, as used by law in other EU countries like Sweden. The only problem is; I live in Stamford, not Stockholm.
I can certainly see the need for snow tyres in countries that endure prolonged periods of extreme winter conditions. But the extra expense of buying a set of winter tyres in the UK is ludicrous if you’ll only be using them for a week or two out of the entire calendar.
What are winter tyres?
The main difference between winter tyres (also known as ‘snow tyres’) and conventional tyres is the compound and the tread design. The rubber used in winter tyres is designed to work specifically below temperatures of seven degrees. The compound itself won’t harden when the temperature drops, reducing the risk of aquaplaning and improving braking distance.
The profile of the tyre is flatter so more of the tyre width touches the surface, helping to pull through difficult terrains like thick mud and snow. And the addition of sipes (tiny zigzag-shaped slits in the rubber) gives the tyre extra ‘edges’ to grip, even on the most slippery surfaces like wet grass or ice.
Don’t waste your money
All sounds great, doesn’t it? And although I don’t doubt for a second that they work, the technology isn’t cheap – or applicable for the UK climate.
Ford is the latest manufacturer to announce a deal on winter tyres to its customers. But at £555 for a set of four Pirelli tyres, you’re paying through the nose for the benefits they offer.
Then factor in the price of fitting, the potential damage to wheels that fitting tyres can incur, and the cost of a set of four steel rims if you want to keep the tyres on the same wheels to make them easier to access. After that lot, you’ll soon be paying towards the sharp end of £1,000 for technology that will only be of use to most of us for less than 5% of the year.
If you live in the Scottish Highlands or an extremely remote area where roads aren’t treated or used as often, it could be worth looking into snow tyres. But if you’re part of the 80% of the UK population who lives in an urban area, save the money for Christmas presents.
UPDATE 28 October 2011: Read our latest opinion piece on winter tyres, Should you switch to winter tyres?, and have your say.