/ Motoring

Are winter tyres worth the money?

Car tyre in snow

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.


re. previous posting

Please read ‘three new winter tyres’ as ‘four new winter tyres’! One of the four winter tyres was fitted on the rim for the spare.


If anyone is in doubt about winter tyres have a drive in a car with them fitted and you will be amazed with the difference, i got new alloy wheels last year and just purchased a set of winter tyres from http://www.performancealloys.com/Winter-Tyres.aspx where i live is a hill to get out onto the main road last winter half of the people were stuck and couldnt get out i had no problems in my daughters car, hence why i bought a set for my car this year….

Jim Graham says:
30 September 2011

I did lot lot of research and what ifs scenarios in My head when we first got stuck in Surrey( Guildford). I am Originally from N Ireland so know what a bad winter is like.

Point 1 how rich and how lazy are you!
Point2 could you put them on in the dark.
Point 3 would you even practice in the dark.
point 4 could you put them on after leaving the wine bar.
point 5 just buy winter tyres cold weather tyres and have no problems.
Point 6 I have 2 sets of tyres winter and summer. I swear by winter tyres.

Jim Graham says:
30 September 2011

Sorry was talking about snow socks and snow chains hope this helps.

Chris Bowen says:
1 October 2011

I assume that this topic will be starting to raise it’s head again soon??

Phil says:
1 October 2011

I don’t think it ever really went away. I’m actually surprised it’s still here, the opening article must be one of the worst examples of misinformed opinion ever to appear in Which? Conversation. Even worse than the 80 mph speed limit one on the opening page.

Daniel says:
5 October 2011

Hilariously bad bit of “journalism” from “Which Fridge?” as usual.

Your research seemed to involve calling Ford and asking how much they’d charge for 4 tyres. Doing a bit of searching can net you a set of tyres for some cars at less than £250 for a top name brand, obviously for bigger cars they’re going to be more expensive, but quoting 500+ as some sort of across the table figure is really misleading.

If Which really want to do the best for their readers then they’ll admit that they were wrong and do some proper tests. If you want to email me I can put you in touch with an engineer from a company which manufactures some of the best winter tyres available (I don’t want to namedrop) and I’m sure he could put you in touch with their marketing department so you can do some tests in the sorts of conditions people have faced for the last 3 years.

If it snows heavily again this article is going to look rather silly…. again.


Based on past weather records, anytime now my family will be travelling to work in temperatures below, 7 degrees, so according to manufacturer’s claims, winter tyres should have better grip.

Come on Which, give us an objective report.

Phil says:
8 October 2011

Very ill informed jounalism! I run vans throughout Europe and have fitted Michelin Agilis 81 Snow and Ice for the past 5 years due to legislation in Switzerland, Germany, Alps etc. They are brilliant and give better road holding in the wet and cold from November through to March. They wear well and I would recommend fitting them on a spare set of rims and changing them over for the winter months. Costco is a good source at reasonable prices but due to this sort of reporting very few manufacturers are willing to supply the UK with the winter tyres so I am having trouble getting any – I will probably have to buy in Germany next week.