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Revhead Ramblings: Winter Tyres Are The True Overlooked Hero

I had to defrost my windscreen yesterday, thank you Ford for the Quickclear screen, and it finally set in that winter is upon us.

Dark mornings, dark nights, car heaters on full blast and the obligatory overload from the mainstream media ‘warning’ drivers about the ‘surprise’ penalty for leaving your car unattended with the engine on to defrost.

Media Attention

You might say they’re only trying to help, but if they were really trying to help they’d be giving drivers the most important reminder of all; buy winter tyres.

Unfortunately, as it does every year, it comes down to dedicated motoring publications to educate people on the importance of rubber specifically designed to work at the icy operating temperatures only found in the winter months.

The Benefits
  • Normal ‘summer’ tyres stiffen up when the temperature drops.
  • Winter tyres use a type of rubber (with a high silica content) and a tread pattern designed to stay flexible in low temperatures – below +7C – to give better braking and handling performance on snow and ice as well as on wet roads in cold conditions.
  • Winter tyres will be marked with a symbol showing a snowflake or snow-topped mountains.
The Argument for Winter Tyres

You may point out that there’s no guarantee it’ll snow at all this winter, while that may be correct these tyres aren’t just optimised for the white stuff. With their different tread compound and pattern, they’re designed to work in all winter weather, not just snow.

So, they should be boosting traction and safety in all temperatures below +8C, not just in the snow. Furthermore, by swapping your tyres, you’re saving the tread on your summer tyres too!

One of my favourite benefits though is happily passing people in SUVs who assumed their jacked-up hatchbacks were the superior choice when it comes to winter driving. Four driven wheels is always a good bet when the going gets tough, but when those driven wheels can’t find traction you’ve got no chance!

The Downsides

It’s undeniable that winter tyres save lives, however there’s a price to pay for superior traction. The cheapest tyres I could find for my Fiesta were £72.00 per corner. When you factor in swapping those onto your current rims or the cost of buying new alloys, as well as storing the spare set, it all adds up rather quickly.

The timing of swapping is crucial too, get it wrong and you’ll still have weeks of mild temperatures, these play havoc with the seasonal compound and can lead to slippier handling.

The Verdict

In colder countries, it’s a no brainer. Swapping to winter tyres is a must for everyone. In the UK however, it’s less clear cut. We could be battered by artic winds and snow and you’ll wonder why you didn’t buy them sooner, but you could also be faced with comfortable temperatures that render winters pointless.

Fitting winter tyres to your car in the UK is a bit like taking out car insurance. You’d rather not bother with the expense, but the benefit when the bad thing happens, be it snow or a crash, is a huge relief. While it may ruin the handling of your sporty roadster for a few months, you’ll be forever thankful when the cold weather does descend and they perform like you’d expect.

Winter tyres aren’t necessary for everyone, if you’re connected by well gritted A-roads it’s unlikely you’ll see the benefits, but for those who do have to negotiate a notoriously tricky hill or battle through snowdrifts, you’ll be forever grateful of making the switch!

To ensure you don’t miss out on any of Alex’s ‘Revhead Ramblings‘ be sure to follow him on Twitter at @AlexClickDealer!

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