/ 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.

Comments

Auto Express have tested some winter tyres against a summer tyre and an all-season, see:
http://www.autoexpress.co.uk/products/total_tyre_guide/259435/winter_tyre_test.html

The verdict? “The clear winners here are cold weather tyres, which have a big advantage over the summer patterns used almost exclusively by UK drivers in the winter. In the snow, they offer a huge step up in grip and safety, and in the cold they outperform summer tyres.

Brian Jones says:
29 December 2010

I, too, wish to complain about Which?’s deplorable drop in standards. The suggested costs of winter tyres were totally unrealistic.
Having planned a winter visit to Germany where winter tyres are now compulsory, I had to pay just over £400 to buy and have four tyres fitted by Quik-Fit. Having arrived home safely I can now state with some conviction, that without them I would not have made it to the Channel Tunnel in time. I certainly could not have travelled through Belgium, Luxembourg, Germany and France without them. They will remain on my Honda Civic Hybrid until March/April and will go back on the car next winter and other winters to follow.
As others have pointed out, safety comes at a price, but in the case of winter tyres it is a reasonable price.

Steven Shorter says:
31 December 2010

It is a ridiculous to suggest that winter tyres are not worth it. Apart from the clear safety advantages, when you have winter tyres on, you are not wearing out your summer tyres, so it’s virtually cost neutral. We have 235/40R18 tyres. Try a search for these sized tyres, in Continentals WInterContact, or SportContact, and they are about the same price. So where is the extra cost, apart from the hassle of changing them, and using KwikFit’s Tyre ‘Hotel’ facility, which is a long overdue service, imho? Yes, I could get a cheap sets of summer tyres, but like for like quality and manufacturer, there is almost no difference in price.

We have just driven to and from the French Alps, via Surrey and the M25. Absolutely no problems. Snow, or Ice, or Wet, or Dry. No skidding. No loss of traction at all. Driving through 4 inches of snow on the motorway at 60mph, while all the other idiots on the UK roads could not stop, turn or climb up the slightest of incline without their wheels spinning. The biggest problem we had was trying to get out of the UK. Averaged 4 mph over 40 miles but only because of the cars without winter tyres abandoned in the middle of the carriageway.

Personally, I think it’s irresponsible to venture on to the road, in Winter, without winter tyres. You are a danger to all other road users, and pedestrians. You don’t have to drive to the Alps, or drive in Europe for Winter Tyres to be a ‘no brainer’.

Steven – Disagree – I do not drive on snow – there is virtually none where I live – four days in twenty years. Never skidded in snow. Never had an accident – So to me they are not worth the extra for four days use in twenty years. If you drive in the French Alps in snow on summer tyres you may well be an idiot.

But if the area does NOT suffer from Arctic conditions for significant periods – and four days in twenty years is insignificant – then winter tyres are not worth the extra.

I drove for eight years in the Caribbean – never had the need for a single .winter tyre.even in the height of winter – dropped to 20 degrees Celsius on a really cold winter night.

I fitted 4 Nokian WR G2 tyres to my Ford Kuga, three weeks before the snow hit. Basically these winter tyres have been a life saver and have allowed me to be able to drive with little difficulty when hundreds of other cars on summer tyres were struggling big time.
However, the big plus of the Nokian WR G2 though is that they are a modified winter tyre which allows them to stay on the car during the summer months.

Keith from Watford says:
2 January 2011

I have found my summer tyres with just over 3mm of tread pretty useless in the snow. I intend to replace them at the end of the summer when I will have done another 4,000mls or so, some 30,000mls in all. I am considering changing to All Season tyres which by all accounts can be used all year round and provide a considerable benefit in the winter. My concern is wear and general performance in the summer. I would appreciate a Which? comparison on the pros and cons and any feedback from those who have experience with All Season tyres. Thanks.

Nigel Morris says:
4 January 2011

In November I obtained a set of part worn Dunlop winter tyres to the family Galaxy. I ordered the online from a firm in Devon that imports from Germany where they have a 5mm min tread depth. They arrived the next day – 4 used winter tyres for the price of two new summer ones. When the snow came the Galaxy was better to drive than my Range Rover which has decent off road tyres. The Range Rover has traction but poor braking and stability on cambers. the Galaxy is now outstanding – almost driving as normal on snow. I was able to take cliff top roads with confidence and it was the same as the snow compacted. Ice is still a problem but much easier with the winter tyres. Overall, if I ever get the same feeling in my bones about a hard winter I will find a way to fit decent snow tyres to my car – you can start, stop and steer with confidence.
Nigel Morris – Swansea

M. Andrews says:
7 January 2011

I’ve been driving (all year) with winter/wet weather tyres on my Volvo 850 estate for years now and have found them tho be an improvement over standard tyres generally, especially in snow and icy conditions. And they’ve worn well also.

terry burke says:
7 January 2011

The point about winter tyres is that they work better when the temperature drops to 7 degrees or less and they out-perform all Top Quality Summer Tyres as the temperature drops.So you don’t have to wait for the snow or ice to get the benefits. Cars fitted with winter tyres can stop much more quickly and European Statistics prove that cars fitted with winter tyres between November & April have far fewer accidents. In fact if you do not fit winter tyres to your car and have an accident in Germany , Scandinavia or Alpine Europe it will always be your fault and you will not be insured.(It is now a legal requirement to fit “snowflake” winter or cold weather tyres in these regions).For those people who have to travel to work and live in rural areas or the emergency services winter tyres are always going to be a better option and if everyone fitted them to there cars and bikes we could all save the environment by only gritting trunk routes steep hills, & bus routes

[Edited by the moderators. Hi Terry, we don’t allow personal insults as is explained in our commenting guidelines. Thanks.]

Daniel says:
11 January 2011

The fitting of winter tyres in Scotland was a ‘no-brainer’ for me. It’s below 7 degrees for the best part of October to April n Scotland (think about it – when you travel at rush hour times the temperatures are generally lower). Last week I fitted two Dunlop Winter Sport 3Ds to my front wheel drive Nissan Primera and it’s already outstanding handling is further transformed – it’s just so, so grippy in poor conditions – be it wet or snow or ice. When you brake in snow you actually stop and do not slide.

To prove how well they worked I deliberately provoked the car a small roundabout in a deserted area and I managed to loose the back-end of the car before the front even understeered….remember it is front wheel drive and front engined!

Graham says:
12 January 2011

Sorry ‘Which’, my subscription with you is now seriously in question. I am astounded by your reporters (Rob Hull) advise.
Why in icy/snowy conditions does traffic in this country grind to a near halt? I live in the Highlands of Scotland, we do have summers (shortish!) and winters – temperatures mostly between minus 20 C and plus 25 C. For almost a decade I have used only cold weather/winter grade tyres on my car – 2wd; Volvo V70 ( not good in cold/snow/ice on summer tyres) and the weather has not once stopped me travelling to and from work (25mile trip) – even keeping going in well over 30cm of (fresh) snow! Winter and summer, Ihave no issues with handling, costs ( similar to a premium summer tyre), or excessive tyre wear on Vredestein Snowtrac, Gislaved, or Nokian WRG2 – I travel safely in control, usually at near normal (legal) tarmac speeds ( unthinkable on summer tyres!!) – sheet ice needs more care/adjustment but no use using studded tyres – too often on tarmac.
There will always be nervous, or bad, or inexperienced drivers – but,from Corsa’s to articulated lorries (not easy for the latter) why so many vehicles being stuck/abandoned/spinning out of control/ having expensive,dangerous accidents? In my opinion – it’s simple; keep business moving/accident(and insurance)costs down/ and lives saved – 2wd or 4wdalike, IF you drive on slush,snow or ice – use suitable cold weather tyres – (on all axles if you want to stay facing in the right direction!) – and I only logged in to see if ‘Which’ had done a useful report on various winter tyre brands (evaluating performance, safety and costs) before ordering some more tyres for my daughter’s car – – well, some use that was eh!

James says:
12 January 2011

Could Which? be in danger of adopting a stance on winter tyres as misguided as its mid-2008 advice that Icelandic banks were a good place to put one’s savings? Seat belts and airbags are not required most of the time, but that’s hardly an argument against them. Yet this is essentially Rob’s argument against winter tyres. I have used winter tyres for two years now, and they have transformed my winter driving experience. I now know that provided I am driving carefully the car will always be under control when braking, whatever the conditions. I can also be certain that my progress will not be impeded by loss of traction in snow or ice. Neither of these things were true when my winter driving was done on summer tyres. The cost of an additional set of tyres and rims seems to me to be a small price to pay for such reassurance. My main reservation now when setting out on a winter journey with snow or ice forecast is that the roads will be blocked by those like Rob who consider winter tyres unnecessary.
After many years of hesitation, the UK enacted seat belt legislation. Time, I think, that we start to think about making winter tyres mandatory. And here’s a thought. Given what a modest fall of snow did to motorway travel in the Scottish central belt in December 2010, I would not be surprised if the Scottish parliament took early action to make winter tyres compulsory for Heavy Goods Vehicles using Scottish roads in winter. In my view, that would be a significant first step, and an eminently sensible one.

100% with this article! I live in Sheffield and without my winter tyres fitted on my car last winter, which I then got re-fitted this winter also, I would not have been able to get to work for at least 5 weeks combined over the 2 years I have had my winters fitted.
Also by having my winter tyres fitted half the year and my normal tyres for the summer half of the year, I have found both sets are wearing down far far less fast.
I actually beleive I have saved money by having 2 sets of tyres, as I used to find my normal tyres went bald much faster in winter due to more skidding etc where as now I have the right tyres for the weather all year around and as such have not had to buy any new tyres for well over a year and shouldn’t have to for at least another 18-24 months.

“100% DISAGREE with this article” sorry I had to clarify that 🙂

Totally disagree with the author!!! What a lack of experience!? As he rightly says winter tyres are not just for snow but for any temperatures below 7 degrees when their rubber compound still behaves like rubber and not plastic (what summer tyres turn into below 7). So why not put winter tyres then, Rob? Statistic shows 3 months (Dec,Jan, Feb) with average maximum temperatures below 7 deg and 5 months in the year (from November to March) with permanent drop of temperatures below 7. Wouldn’t you put yours and your family’s safety first?
In terms of cost – another logical disaster from the author. Having 2 sets of tyres will not affect your budget in the long term. It’s a one off investment and only means you will drive twice as long with 2 sets of tyres, and will just have to rotate them every November and April. That’s it. Compare this with not bothering about winter tyres and having to pay hundreds or thousands in car repairs as a result of a accident.
By the way, recently read about this “auto socks”. This is a true joke. Guys, buy yourself peace of mind (I mean winter tyres) and forget about all such humorous “inventions”. I had to laugh seeing even Jaguar offering them as a branded accessory. Imagine the all suited and booted executive stopping by the road trying to fit this textile “miracles” on the wheels. And of course he has to undo the procedure when reaching snow-clear surface. By the way, Which? recommends them …

Victor says:
9 March 2011

I also totally disagree with the ill-informed author, and support Ivan’s views. This Which? opinion is pretty much the same as the ill-judged one expressed by Philip Hammond, Secretary of State (not just a mere Minister!) for Transport, at the start of the winter, saying that winter tyres were not needed in Britain, where the winters were not severe enough to justify them. Sounds just the sort of ill-informed comment that one would expect from the ivory towers of Westminster and the well-gritted roads of London. In fact his advice came notably from Mr David Quarmby, Chairman of the RAC Foundation , for what it is worth. Anyway, who can put a price on security and extra grip on bad roads? What’s the price of a life, or a bad injury. The Scandinavians, Germans, and Swiss who fit winter tyres every year are not fools! They sold a lot of winter tyres this year, and ran out of stocks, and I fully expect to see sales of them doubling next year, in spite of the Which? advice..

Paul says:
30 March 2011

agreed. winter tyres best for winter in the UK. they are the best performing tyres at temps below 7c due to their softer compound.

it has to be summer tyres in the summer though.

due to their synthetic based compound they perform best in all weathers where the temp is above 7c. per earlier posts on this forum, don’t let anyone mislead you into thinking winter tyres are just as good in the summer. they are not – wet or dry. check out the winter tyres manufacturers claims and you will see that in warmer weather, summer tyres do best in all conditions. that said, a top performing winter tyre will probably outdo a poor performing summer tyre.

winter tyres supposedly wear quicker in the summer, but some premium summer tyres wear pretty quickly too.

I fitted some to my honda after getting no were fast!
I was a bit unsure about fitting them but after reading this and looking on the web at info
I came across these guys tyremen http://www.tyremen.co.uk/category/1/300/winter-tyres.aspx
I called them and the chap told me vredestein was the way to go.
So after a bit more digging i bought them and what a difference i will always use them now in winter months!

Chris C says:
4 April 2011

When I first subscribed to Which? (over 30 years ago) tyres were tested for their performance on snow and ices as well as in wet and dry conditions. There were huge differences between models. It makes no sense to recommend one set of tyres for all year and then not test them in winter conditions!l

Winter tyres are merely for people who do not have the skill to adapt their driving to the conditions.

If they feel “safer” as a result then let them, that’s their prerogative.

For all those saying that they are disappointed with the “ill-informed” author are perhaps mis-informed themselves. For those complaining about highland advice please see the “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” comment.

It is so common now for people to get haughty about “safety” aspects. If you want to waste more money on tyres because you don’t know how to drive properly, then that is your choice. In fact, after rain in summer, the roads are arguably slippier than when raining in the winter, so why not have them all year round and spend more money on fuel due to the extra rolling resistance?

oh…

John Baddeley says:
6 May 2011

Rob Hull:-
I am very disappointed that you have not bothered to respond [that I can find] at least to the responsible and factual comments here. As ‘Cars Content Producer’ I assume you also have responsibilty for the item on car styling disasters. That article belongs in the Top Gear magazine, possibly, where they would have done it well. You should stick to doing what Which? sets out to do, and concentrate on doing it well.
Could do much better: 3/10

Dean:-
>so why not have them all year round…
because they give better grip below 7C, and summer tyres give better grip above 7C.
The driver’s skill [or lack of] is a complete red herring.

Tony Kenyon says:
6 August 2011

If you think that any amount of “skill” means that its possible to drive more safely in bad conditions with regular tyres than with snow tyres then it is actually you who is misinformed. Snow tyres improve grip and reduce braking distances, these are facts and these characteristics will be of benefit to any driver regardless of skill or experience.

Chris, Southampton says:
1 October 2011

How pompous are you? Are you really saying that just about all of Europe are poor drivers and have no skill? Why is it now compulsory in Germany for you to have winter tyres during winter periods? Are they all poor drivers? In fact it takes almost a year to pass your test in Germany, with compulsory motorway driving (both day and night). It’s not about ‘not being able to drive properly’ it’s about enhancing your chances by changing the circumstances you are in. I have driven in atrocious conditions across the Croatia, Bosnia, Kosovo, France and Germany as well as being a Road Safety Advisor, so I think I am able to speak with an air of confidence on this matter.

I guess if it’s about skill, then you will have removed your seat belt and air bags as you are such a skilful driver you don’t need them.

Dave – I think you are a little bit hard on Rob, who does point out the advantages of winter tyres and where it is most important to use them. It is not a requirement to use winter tyres in the UK, but we are advised not to make journeys unless essential during snowy weather.

Driving very cautiously may save more lives than winter tyres. What worries me most of all is the number of people driving at speed on snow with tyres that are barely legal.

John, Aberdeen says:
30 May 2011

I drive a Saab, considering it is a Swedish brand it’s terrible snow. This winter I fitted snow tyres on the front and couldn’t believe the difference, felt like a 4×4 and made driving in snow a pleasure. No more struggling up hills or worry about stopping when going downhill. You still need to be careful, but the grip and confidence these tyres give a driver is worth every penny!

Phil says:
6 August 2011

Snow or winter tyres need to be fitted to all four wheels. In countries where winter tyres are mandatory they have to be fitted to all four wheels. In the UK you might have invalidated your insurance.

Rory says:
4 August 2011

Winter tyres are not just for the snow but when the temperature drops below 7’c ! I found this web page http://www.performancealloys.com/Winter-Tyres.aspx which has videos on winter tyres stopping shorter in the wet, vs. summer tyres, and also in the snow, all from independent reviews. There is also information on the average temperatures in the UK from the met office which shows how often it would be much better to have winter tyres fitted. The continental tyre video on the page is good it shows the difference between summer and winter tyres. I had some on my car last year and it was the best money I ever spent, everyone in my family was using my car as theirs wouldn’t go anywhere… Rob I suggest you read a bit more on winter tyres or at least contact some of the tyre companies who will, I am sure supply you with data.

Tony Kenyon says:
6 August 2011

Very disappointed with Which for allowing this article to remain on the web-site, it is at best misleading and in my opinion pays no head to safe motoring which is of course the most pressing reason for fitting winter tyres. Mr Hull even fails to see the significance of a fact that he acknowledges, that winter tyres are safer below 7 degrees celsius than normal tyres, a significant portion of the year.
This article should be removed and replaced with one that is written by somebody who knows what they are talking about.

These tyres considerably improve primary safety. Which should be campaigning for them to be compulsory if venturing onto public roads under certain conditions, rather than writing ill-considered articles like this. Winter tyres help improve winter safety in snow AND ice, in fact they help whenever it’s below 7 degrees Celsius. Think of them as walking boots for cars, anything else is like having smooth soles. Think about it that way and it becomes obvious they’re better.

We’re in north west England and live near sea level, nothing like the Scottish Highlands Last winter, for several weeks the neighbours who have access along our long & steep drive had to leave their cars in the street. We only had to sweep the worst of the snow away when it was so deep that the front bumpers caught it. We could then drive up our approx 12% incline without a problem with our Fiat Punto and Nissan Primera. As for cost, we equipped the Fiat with three new winter tyres on rims from a scrapyard. Cost – £300 total. They will last us for three or four winters. For the improved safety and mobility below 7 degrees Celsius and especially on ice and snow it’s an absolute no-brainer even though, on the Fiat, these tyres cost us over 50% of the value of the car. I challenged a friend with a Range Rover Turbo Sport with summer tyres fitted to pitch it against the Fiat Punto on a snowy hill climb. He declined.