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Should You Fit Different Tyres For Winter?

Oregon Department of Transportation Traction Tires

Let's face it, the past couple of winters in the UK consisted of mainly overcast, slightly chilly and rainy/sleeting days with the occasional short-lived flurry of snow. Heck, even the weather casters couldn't do the whole massive over-hype reports, because there simply wasn't anything to hype!

For those who paid to have winter tyres fitted, the lack of physical need for them must have been quite frustrating, as it would have been for all the tyre centres who stocked up on them in the hope there'd be blizzards and freezing temperatures.

In countries such as Norway, Austria, Finland and others, snowy winters are almost always guaranteed to land and end at certain times, and as such winter tyres are well worth the investment.

For us UK-dwellers, having winter-specific tyres just sitting around in the garage is a costly gamble, especially if you change your car every few years, (and for two of those there's no real need for them), so are they worth the investment? More on that answered further down.

It's a difficult one for sure. Does the next winter have in store for us some unexpected 'big freeze' that all the rag papers like to bandy about before each wintertime (and mostly be completely wrong), or just a couple of months of sleet and above zero temperates?

Let's look at it this way; if you tend to buy a car and keep it a good few years, I would look to invest in a set of steel wheels and winter tyres.

If the past shows anything, Britain can get some fairly horrific winters, and you'll still need to get to work, to the shops to buy the necessities, or even just to get out to stop yourself getting cabin fever after being stuck in for weeks on end.

Take, for example, the winter that happened just after World War II. In 1947, the whole of the UK got snow for 55 days straight, with the temperature dropping to -21˚C (without factoring in the windchill).

1963 saw the coldest winter in more than two hundred years, with costal parts of the UK becoming so cold the sea froze over. There were snowdrifts up to six metres deep, a low of -22.2˚C in Scotland, and livestock perishing due to farmers not being able to reach them.

andrew prickett Happy Saturday Winter road

More recently, the winter season of 2009/10 was the worst in thirty years, throwing at us particularly severe weather, with a recorded low of -18˚C recorded in Oxfordshire, and nineteen inches of snow falling in parts of Scotland, and the map of Britain showing it as entirely white on regular weather reports.

So, without scaremongering in any way, these bad winters do happen to us, and a set of properly grippy winter tyres will help massively should that type of winter occur.

Could you use all-season tyres over full winter ones?

For a lot of us, having that spare set of winter tyres sat around for nine or ten months of the year is a luxury. So, is it better to simply fit all-season tyres and run those year-round? After all, the price of them is similar to a set of normal summer tyres anyway.

Well, traditionally all-season and winter tyres work better in the cold (below 7˚C) anyway, but there's generally a big difference in performance between winter and all-season tyres should the snow and ice hit.

Take this video as an example of the differences in acceleration, stopping and cornering.

Are winter tyres worth the extra cost?

As mentioned earlier, if we don't get a bad winter, it's a bitter pill to swallow if nothing much happened in the way of bad weather, and you've had winter tyres fitted specifically and are just wasting rubber on dry roads.

However, it may not be as expensive as you'd think to buy a set of steel wheels and winter tyres, which you could then simply fit yourself if the weather did turn nasty.

As an example, you can buy a set of brand new steel wheels (to save your nice alloys from all that harsh road salt and getting dinged against kerbs should you slide), for something like an Audi A4/A6 for around £30 - £35.00 per wheel, while a vehicle dismantler/breakers may sell you a full set of decent second-hand ones for around £25.00.

Tyre fitment to the steel rims can be £10.00 upwards including balancing and inflation valves.

Online tyre retailers often sell winter rubber cheap coming up to the season, so get in early for a better cost. Get them at the right time, and you can save a fortune with big discounts, and there are good makes such as Bridgestone, Pirelli and Michelin selling from as little as £38.00 - £50.00 per tyre if you start at 15" versions.

However, the price goes up with the tyre size, and you can start to pay from around £100.00 per tyre for something like an 18" rim.

So, let's count the cost. For a cheap set of second-hand steelies and good quality 15" winter tyres, you're looking at around £225.00.

For a set of new steel wheels with a 18" winter tyres, you could be looking to start at £580.00 all done.

You could also save money and simply have the winter tyres fitted directly to your alloy wheels if you're brave, which would knock a chunk of the total. But it could also be false economy if there's no cold weather and you're wearing them down for no reason.

Oh, and on more point. Just because you've got a 4x4 or AWD vehicle, they can be almost as useless as a 2-wheel-drive car if you've only got standard summer road tyres on. And as a lot are heavier than a normal car, they're like a hippo on roller skates.

lmnop88a Ready to play Winter tires on BMW

In the end, is it worth fitting winter tyres?

Yes, if you're in these situations:

  • If it's essential that you get to work in wintertime, and can't risk not getting there should bad weather hit, yes they're worth it
  • If you drive a lot as part of your job
  • If you like to get about during winter generally, and can't stand to be stuck in.
  • If you live in a rural area and the shops for essentials are a fair distance
  • If you live where it's almost guaranteed to snow anyway - like the Highlands of Scotland, Brecon Beacons in Wales or the Lake District in England
  • If you tend to keep your cars for a long time (same size wheels for years)

No, for these reasons:

  • If you don't like to drive in winter, even if it's to the local shops
  • If you're not a confident driver in bad weather generally anyway
  • If there are plenty of forms of public transport readily available to get about, such as in London or other big cities
  • If your budget is tight and you can't justify gambling on a bad winter happening
  • If you change your car every couple of years or sooner

What about Snow Socks or Tyre Chains

If you can't afford to buy the full winter tyres, but still want to get about to the local shops or work, there are alternatives that can be fitted to tyres in the form of Snow Socks or Tyre Chains.

These vary in quality and price, but as long as you're not going far and the main roads are clear, these are a great alternative to winter rubber being fitted.

Written by Chris Davies - an award-winning motoring journalist writing for CarProductsTested.com

Photo Credits: lmnop88a Ready to play (Winter tires on BMW); andrew prickett Happy Saturday (Winter road); Oregon Department of Transportation Traction Tires