/ 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.

Jehosophat says:
11 October 2011

What nonsense. Summer tyres wear much faster in winter, and are very noticeably worse than winter tyres in any remotely cold conditions – especially in the wet. Given that you are wearing out tyres all the time you are driving, the only additional cost of a set of winters is the second set of wheels – usually available very cheaply second hand. When you have two sets, you are delaying replacement of the summer tyres with the outlay for the winters.

I ran a set of winter tyres last winter and there were no drawbacks. I chose the same size as the summer tyres (various options were OEM approved, including some much narrower tyres that seemed less suited to UK conditions). When I switched back to (premium sports) summer tyres in March I had various “moments” in cool (not icy) conditions that showed me just how much gripper the winters are even in typical UK conditions. And on snow or ice they are an utter revelation, they stop in around a third the distance of summer tyres and you can basically just drive normally if being sensible, even on packed snow.

Just one point to add – the suggestion that the ONLY additional cost of a set of winter tyres is the second set of wheels – you forgot to factor in the cost of storage for the set of wheels not in use.

Hmm food for thought here……perhaps I should be charging myself for storage space I take up in my garage. Could be quite a money spinner methinks.

Daftscottishbloke says:
11 October 2011

Over 29% of the UK population see seasonal average (max) temperature drop below 7 degrees (a commonly quoted temp at which winter tyres exceed the performance of summer tyres) for greater than 25% of the year. A somewhat greater number than theose who “live in the Scottish Highlands or an extremely remote area where roads aren’t treated or used as often”.

I agree with the point you make, Daftscotti, but you understate the issue re the “average” temperature. Morning and evening temperatures are important criteria when considering the risks as that is when most drivers are up and about. The rest of the day the majority of cars are parked. I suggest therefore that the extent to which drivers are affected by low temperatures is greater than at first appears. Not that Which! have made a serious attempt to be rigorous on this.

Jesophohat’s comments are spot-on. Having spent several winters running on winter tyres, I agree with his remarks. I’m looking forward to winter driving because where I live, close to the Scottish border, many roads are untreated and virtually deserted during snow, Occasionally, on a straight stretch of ‘A’ road, I slow down to 50mph so as to not overly surprise the 20mph driver that I am safely overtaking. I am convinced I am safer at 50mph that the driver doing 20mph on standard tyres. Would you wear shoes with smooth soles in winter conditions? Winter tyres are walking boots for your car.

Very bad piece of journalism in this report. Snowsocks are not a viable solution. Having used them – they are useless for “normal” driving on poor road conditions. They are only useful for getting you out of a jam when you need to get home from the office, etc and the roads are grid locked as you can only drive at very low speed with them on. Otherwise they rip badly. They are also very poor on surfaces other than compacted snow. Surfaces such as frozen slush or choppy ice increases the risk of tearing.
Winter tyres allow “normal” driving and are far superior to snow socks. As everyone knows the tyres are the only part of the car that touches the road – why skimp on such an important area?

I am absolutely astonished to read such an appallingly simplistic and dangerous load of unresearched, unsubstantiated, ill-considered and dangerous nonsense in the pages of a respected publication whose sole raison d’ etre is to provide sound, safe, researched and unbiased information and recommendations. What makes it far worse is the fact that the post of the writer gives this tosh an imprint of respectability.
You require comments from members on this Conversation to “be factually accurate” and this article itself is manifestly not.
There is an almost infinite amount of serious and well-researched information available from many sources, including your own co-operating organisation in Germany, ADAC, which should be a part of the ongoing body of knowledge of a person in the professional capacity of Rob Hull and if he hasn’t read it he is seriously failing in professional responsibility and he should certainly not indulge in such cheap sub-Jeremy Clarkson flippancy.
Car manufacturers and motoring organisations in continental Europe recommend the fitting of winter tyres when temperatures are regularly below about 9°C and this generally the case in much of the UK from end of October to end of March. On the point of wear – you aren’t wearing out your summer tyres when you’ve got the winter ones on and so it’s swings and roundabouts on that argument.
The difference between winter and summer tyres were immediately apparent when we left it a bit late once and changed at a time when temperatures had fallen to about 5 or 6° and the additional bite and grip were very obvious.
I’m sure that the ridiculous scenes of slipping, sliding and blocked roads shown on UK television news in recent winters would not have occurred had people used winter tyres (especially HGVs – the local cops over here would have really hammered the operators of these vehicles who did NOT have winter tyres!)
What I can say, after ten winters in Germany, is that I bought a set of snow chains in October 2001 and I’ve never needed them despite driving tens of thousands of kilometres in heavy snow and ice in the Black Forest and through blizzards with snow on top of ice through the high Tatra passes.
Winter tyres are universally available in most continental countries, ready-fitted to steel wheels and I paid about €300 for a set of 4 good quality winter tyres for my Skoda Octavia. This included storage and re-fitting for my summer tyres.
I feel that Rob Hull needs to seriously consider his position and Which? needs to undertake a series of tests on winter tyres.
Articles like this really do make me wonder what, if anything, I can believe in the magazine.
Sorry, but I feel very strongly about the issue of safety.

I’ve now read the article about snow socks in which your writer seems to use the descriptions “snow tyres” and “winter tyres” interchangeably. They are entirely different products and you show a woeful lack of understanding in an article (unsigned, but maybe bearing the hallmarks of Mr Hull?) and which also makes the same unfounded comments regarding the use of winter tyres.
I seriously wonder how many other Which? reports and comments are so shoddily cobbled together – I hesitate to use the word”research” in this context.

wolf.furst says:
23 October 2011

Couldn’t agree more with the above comments by bergisman. Mr Hull calls himself a senior car researcher and delivers such a bad piece of opinionated journalism. Shocking. What an embarrassment to Which? magazine.

Perhaps the most worrying aspect of this Conversation is the pair of fatuous responses that the Which? editorial team have interposed – the first being a self-congratulatory nonsense about this being a debate. It isn’t a debate: it’s a long reiteration by people who know, through personal experience and/or through reading scientific and unbiassed reports that Mr Hull is talking dangerous nonsense. The second Which? comment indicates that either they haven’t read the comments, even superficialy, or that they can’t/won’taccept the almost unanimous opinons of the contributors to the Conversation.
It is also extremely worrying that, twelve months on and with the magic 7°C once more with us, Which? still has not acceded to the expressed and implicit wishes of those contributing to this by actually testing winter tyres and comparing them with summer tyres in autumn/winter/early spring conditions. This failure is almost as irresponsible as the original article.
Is Which? afraid that such a set of tests will result in a whole battery farm’s worth of egg on their collective faces.
COME ON, WHICH? – YOU NEED TO REPAIR THE DAMAGE BY INVESTIGATING THE FACTS!!!!!!!!!!!! And, yes, I did mean to shout. What is Which? going to do?

Your comments are welcomed, and we’re always open to criticism and ways we can improve, but can I please remind commenters that personal attacks on authors are not tolerated here – they lower the tone and are unnecessary.

We’re well aware that many people have been frustrated by this post, but again, it is important to distinguish the difference between Which? research and a Conversation, which is designed to open up discussion.

Rob’s post never claimed to be based on research or tests – he was looking at the issue purely from a cost perspective. The Which? car team has recently tested many more tyres and we’ll be posting another Conversation on this topic in the coming weeks. In the meantime, please continue to comment here – but please avoid personal attacks and insults – any more comments of this nature will have to be removed or edited.

Daniel says:
25 October 2011

But what is the point of an “article” based purely on opinion in a publication like Which? that claims to rigorously test all of its claims?

The fact that no one has come on here to back Rob’s stance up should tell you that Rob’s stance is not one that most who have tried winter tyres would agree with.

Rather than being defensive all the time, would it not be better to say something like “It appears that a lot of people disagree with Rob’s stance, therefore as people feel so strongly we’re going to take the opportunity at some point in the future to do actual tests and see for ourselves what the difference is”

That to me would be a good response. Again, as I said a few weeks ago, if you get in touch with me on the email address I’ve given, I can put you in touch with someone who works for a very well known tyre company which makes some really good winter tyres. in the depths of winter you can go to their test facility in Northern Sweden and try summer tyres, summer tyres with snow socks on and true winter tyres and then you can give your readers what they want which is real experience rather than what someone thinks….

Saying that because this is a discussion page and that it’s alright for Rob to say something which most seem to disagree with is a little bit of a cop out. Lets say I’m a Which? reader who knows absolutely nothing about tyres, I’m going to read this and think that winter tyres are not for me when perhaps if this opinion piece was written by someone with some experience of winter tyres then my opinion might be different. Discussion page or not, to the public, this represents the views of Which?

Any article or publication hosted on a Which? site implies that it is based on good research and expertise.

These conversations have mudded the waters and are a danger to Which? s reputation.

It is perfectly possible with careful writing to separate fact from statements designed to stimulate debate.

Statements in the form of ” while science or research clearly shows that…..”xyz” ……many people/the press/some consumers believe that “abc…..”

Lay the facts, misconceptions and even the gaps in our knowledge out separately and ask for comment, you will get a far more informed thatway.

Tony Kenyon says:
16 December 2011

where is the personal attack or insult in Bergismans post then?

The latest Which? report (November 2011) contains a slightly modified stance on winter tyres compared with the original, and arguably superficial article. The headline is “Regular summer tyres are the most realistic year-round option for the majority of UK drivers”. However, it still is apparently based on gut-feeling, and that is rather unsettling for an organisation that is claimed to be rigorous. As the response from Which? HO acknowledges, there is no factual data given in either article. How does Which? Decide, on cost grounds, when it has no quantum of cost/injury due to loss of control in adverse conditions? No attempt to quantify the number of days where air temperatures are at or below 7c, or the proportion of the population who experience early morning and evening temperatures at or below 7c. Judging from data from other, well founded sources, there are very wide differences in performance between summer and winter tyres, not only on snow and ice, but also on cold wet roads. The latter being a condition found for a much greater time than snow. I suggest lack of grip in adverse conditions would be a risk factor of an order of magnitude greater than the dry grip performance gap between generic summer and generic winter tyres. And therefore of greater weight in terms of road safety.

Daniel says:
25 October 2011

The only fact that is given is a random fact that Ford charge £555 for winter tyres. For what? A Mondeo? A Fiesta? A Ka?

As I’ve mentioned before I got a full set of winter tyres and wheels for my Fiat 500 for about £250 including tyres, (used) wheels, balancing, valves and fitting.

If not for my winter tyres there would have been days last winter when I simply couldn’t have gotten into work and would have lost holidays. There’s also the fact that when my summer tyres are off they’re not wearing and whilst my winter tyres are £50 each, my summer tyres are £80 so over time I’ll be better off.

How many people actually buy their tyres fro a Main Dealer ?
Which? always go on about shopping around and in their reports list target prices, so the article should have done the same and not chosen a worse case senario to hype the article.

This could have been a well informed discussion about Winter tyres, Snow tyres, chains and Snow socks.

I’m an online subscriber to Which? It appears that the November report is not yet available online but I’ll read it with great interest when I see it – probably in November!

The AA have an article that is informative and balanced. I found it as a result of contacting the AA Press Office. This followed one of their people appearing on local radio giving advice on winter motoring. http://www.theaa.com/motoring_advice/safety/winter-tyres-in-the-uk.html

I received my Which? through the post and read the tyre reviews. There was no data about winter tyres in a November issue. I looked at the tyrereviews online page hoping to find more info. There was lots on summer tyres and some on ‘all-season’ but nothing on winter tyres. Whilst disappointing, I loved the picture of the Michelin Alpin A3 that headlines the test. Someone somewhere has a sence of humor, or maybe I’m a bit sad for recognising the tread pattern!

Hello all, thanks for your comments on winter tyres. Since this Conversation is so popular and it’s over a year old, we have now published a new post on the subject: “Should you switch to winter tyres?” https://conversation.which.co.uk/transport-travel/winter-tyres-snow-weather-cars-buy/ Thanks.

Mike657 says:
28 October 2011

Summer tyres are dangerous on snow and ice. It is an offence to drive a vehicle that is unfit for purpose.
Hundreds of millions of pounds are lost regularly during wintry conditions due to vehicles that get stuck due to incorrect tyres.
Motorists who are not prepared to invest in winter tyres should keep off the roads or risk prosecution in the event of an accident or when they cause a traffic hold-up..

Blue407 says:
29 January 2015

Sorry but you cannot prosecute people for driving with the summer/all year tyres fitted to their car in the UK. They are within the law to do so.
However, having driven on snow in Austria, I am getting a set of winter tyres for my car. They made a huge difference.
If you want the situation to change, lobby Parliament to change the law.

James1000 says:
5 November 2011

I have a home in Central Sweden and regularly drive in the winters there. There are no iffs buts or maybe’s. There is absolutely no doubt that snow tyres work effectively, none whatsoever. The cost of fitting snow tyres won’t seem so stupid – even for the odd days or weeks of driving on compacted snow – when you are sitting in your car moving (even slowly) into oncoming traffic with absolutely no control with your heart in your mouth telling the other occupants to brace.
Apart from extremes of cold, without snow tyres, driving on frozen roads doesn’t differ much from some of the weather the UK’s experienced during the last few winters and losing control of the car would be as much a hazard in Sweden as it is in parts of the UK & you could end up pranging your car at ‘best’ or being severely injured or dead at worst. The difference between Central Sweden and the UK being, apart from the last few years, harsh winters and snow have been a rarity for the last twenty years but in Sweden snow tyres have still been mandatory roughly from October through to March.
With the sometimes severe change in winter conditions in the UK it is therefore encumbent on Which to lead the way and produce comparisons on safety and price that will help drivers make an informed decision on which tyres they can choose to keep their loved ones and themselves safe – and mobile so they can get to work and earn a living.