Get A Grip with Winter Tyres from Haynes Ford
Switching from standard summer tyres to winter tyres is commonplace. In the UK, we typically drive all year round on standard summer tyres, despite most of the country having an average temperature below 7°C from December to February. Bad weather in recent winters, however, is changing our driving habits – and with good reason.
Driving on winter tyres provides added safety and peace of mind in wet, snowy and icy conditions. Stopping distances are reduced, grip is greatly increased and the construction and tread pattern of winter tyres is designed specifically to cope with extreme weather conditions.
Primarily winter tyres are designed for temperatures below 7C. They are safer in cold conditions, wet or dry , because the tread compounds heat up quicker to create better grip in lower temperatures. Winter tyres use a higher proportion of natural rubber in the tread, minimising the hardening effect at low temperatures. This results in a higher level of grip providing improved braking distances compared to standard summer tyres - 10% in rain, 20% in snow.
2) Are winter tyres only for use in snow?
Winter tyres are not ‘snow’ tyres and will outperform standard summer tyres in all conditions below 7C, not just snow and ice. The wider grooves on the winter tyre tread pattern are more effective in slush as well as snow, giving additional traction. The large amount of ‘sipes’ in the tread area create a large number of biting edges which interlock with the surface conditions and improve braking and traction/acceleration. Sipes are tiny slits in the tread blocks that run across the width of many winter tyres: they allow better contact between the tyre and wet, muddy and icy roads. The rubber compounds used for winter tyres are much softer, which prevents hardening at cold temperatures resulting in improved handling.
3) How do winter tyres perform in wet conditions?
Modern high-performance standard tyres have a harder tread compound which is engineered to ensure grip at medium/high temperatures. The molecules in the tread rubber freeze and harden as temperatures fall, thereby increasing the risk of aquaplaning and increasing braking distance. When temperatures drop below 7C, winter tyres retain more flexibility and are less prone to aquaplaning.
4) Why should winter tyres be fitted in sets of four?
Tyres need to perform consistently, particularly braking in severe weather conditions. Fitting winter tyres only on the driving wheels is not recommended. If your car is front-wheel drive and the winter tyres are only fitted on the front wheels you risk spinning. If your car is rear-wheel drive and the tyres are only fitted on the rear wheels you risk sliding off the road while turning. You should ensure that all tyres are of the same speed rating and load index. Consequently a mix of winter tyres and standard summer tyres should not be fitted to your vehicle.
5) Do Winter tyres affect my insurance?
They should be in line with the motor manufacturer’s specification and fitted by a reputable dealer. Although fitment of winter tyres should not affect your insurance premium, we would encourage that it is best practice to notify your insurance company.
6) If I fit winter tyres do I have to drive more slowly?
Winter tyres have a lower speed rating than standard summer tyres. However the lower speed rating should be adequate in winter conditions – for example dropping down from a V rating (max 149 mph) to an H rating (max 131 mph).
7) Do I have to fit winter tyres when driving in Europe?
Before travelling to Europe in the winter months you should check the legislation as winter tyres are mandatory in some countries such as Austria, Germany, Finland and Sweden. You should also note that some countries require a higher minimum tread depth (e.g. 3mm) than the legal minimum of 1.6 mm in the UK.
8) What happens when temperatures rise above 7C?
As the average temperatures between October and March are below 7C., you should consider waiting until April before changing back to standard summer tyres.
Improved safetyWinter tyres offer a number of advantages due to their specialised construction and tread pattern. This is designed to give more traction in extreme weather conditions. Winter tyres are designed to cope in these conditions, giving you peace of mind and keeping you safe.
According to Tyresafe, through a typical 12-month period, the UK experiences temperatures ranging from +32°C to as low as -15°C. Given such diverse weather conditions, it's unreasonable to expect one type of tyre to provide consistently high safety levels.
Winter tyres provide:
- Higher levels of road safety – Winter tyres are safer in cold, dry conditions because the tread compounds heat up quicker to create better grip in lower temperatures. Winter tyres use a higher proportion of natural rubber in the tread, minimising the hardening effect at low temperatures. This results in a higher level of grip.
- Considerably shorter stopping distances on both wet and dry roads at low temperatures. Braking distance is much improved when compared to standard summer tyres. This can be reduced by 10% in wet conditions and 20% in snow.
- Improved performance in all conditions below 7°C. Winter tyres offer the best achievable grip at temperatures below 7°C in any weather condition (wet, dry, snow and ice), whilst maintaining the same drive comfort as standard summer tyres.
- Reduction of the aquaplaning effect – Modern high performance standard summer tyres have a harder tread compound, engineered to ensure grip at medium/high temperatures. The molecules in the tread rubber freeze and harden as temperatures fall, thereby increasing the risk of aquaplaning and increasing braking distance. In contrast, Winter tyres have a softer compound and a tread pattern designed to disperse water more effectively and will reduce aquaplaning and reduce braking distance.
- Increased mobility – With the right tyres, you don’t fear the weather. Winter tyres protect you in all cold weather conditions and help you get safely to your destination.
- Cost Saving – Alternating standard summer tyres and winter tyres in accordance with the seasons will increase the life of your tyres.
When buying winter tyres, Ford Motor Company recommends that all four tyres are replaced to ensure optimum control. In March, when the average temperature is above 7°C, standard summer tyres should be fitted.
Stay on the right side of UK tyre lawTo protect driver safety, the Government has introduced several laws relating to tyre choice and wear.
This guide could help you stay on the right side of those laws and avoid a substantial fine or worse.
It is illegal to use unsuitable tyres
The law requires that you fit your vehicle with the correct type and size of tyre for the kind of vehicle you’re driving and the purpose for which you’re using it.
This also means ensuring that they’re inflated to the manufacturer's recommended pressure.
It is illegal to use over-worn tyres
The legal limit for minimum depth of the tread on your tyres is 1.6 mm across the central three quarters of the tread around the complete circumference of the tyre.
For safety reasons, Ford Motor Company recommends that you replace your tyres before the legal limit is reached, and preferably at 3 mm (78% worn) as tyre tread depth has a huge impact on braking distance.
If you’re found to have tyres fitted that are worn beyond the legal minimum limit, you could be penalised with three penalty points and a £2,500 fine. Another good reason why we recommend regular tyre checks.
It is illegal to mix tyres of different types
The law states that tyres that are constructed differently must not be fitted to opposite sides of the same axle. The two main tyre types are radial and cross-ply.
You’re allowed to mix brands and patterns of the same tyre type, so long as it’s appropriate for your vehicle and meets with the manufacturer’s recommendation. Check your owner’s manual for details.