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Winter tyres: why they're a good idea
Only a couple of years back, few of us had ever considered fitting winter tyres. The idea of switching to a set of rubber purpose-designed for the wet and cold would have been dismissed as too-cautious and needless.
But now, as we enter our second snow-bound winter on the trot, we’re changing our thinking, writes Ray Castle of motors.co.uk. While in the UK sales of winter tyres remain low, interest in them is growing. After all, if you’ve ever become stranded in your car because of bad weather, something that holds the promise of preventing that has got to be attractive.
So if you’re interested in winter tyres, let motors.co.uk’s experts answer the key questions.Here goes:
How much do they cost?
Typically, they’re 5-15% dearer than a regular set of tyres from a quality brand. Makers justify this by saying they contain more natural rubber and for that reason cost more to make.
Are winter tyres the same as snow tyres?
No. Snow tyres are either studded or have places where studs can be fitted. They’re intended for use only in the coldest parts of the world, where sub-zero temperatures last for months at a time. They'll not run well and wear quickly once the snow has gone. Winter tyres are like all-round tyres except they have more gaps (what tyre experts call ‘sipes’) in the tread to carry rain and snow away from the gripping surface. They are also made of a different compound that’s designed to remain supple and grippy at lower temperatures. Regular tyres ‘harden’ and lose some ability to grip only temperatures fall below 9 deg C. In tests winter tyres grip better in the cold and wet, making them capable of shorter braking distances. They also grip better in snow and ice.
Do they wear faster than regular tyres?
No. They actually wear a little more slowly.
When should they be fitted?
Once temperatures drop to below 7 deg C. They should stay in use until it becomes warmer than 7 deg C.
What happens to my other tyres?
If you’ve space, take them home and store them. They should be kept (ideally) in cloth bags and stacked side-on. If there’s no room, tyre retailer Kwik-fit will store them for £40. That fee also includes removing the winter tyres and refitting the regular set.
Do I need a full set of four tyres: surely they’re only needed on the wheels that drive the car?
For safety’s sake, you need a full set of matching tyres: you shouldn’t mix them up. I’ve heard that some insurers charge higher premiums for cars fitted with winter tyres. Why is this?
There’s been confusion on this subject. It is true that some policies include a clause stating that the car must not be modified to run on non-standard wheels and tyres. This is intended to deter boy-racer types from installing fatter wheels and tyres and then driving too fast on them.
But Direct Line, Britain’s biggest motor insurer, has now said it won’t charge extra if winter or snow tyres are fitted.
Should I buy another set of wheels, too?
There’s no need. But it makes swapping tyres easier and quicker. And if your car normally wears an expensive set of alloys, it’ll make sense to swap them for a cheaper steel set while the weather’s foul. But you must ensure that the circumference of wheels plus tyres remains the same across the two sets.
Which makes should I consider?
Go for a brand you know. Each of the big names sells winter tyres. Continental Tyres are something of a specialist – it’s a German brand and in that country, fitting of winter tyres is mandatory. If you’re thyere and caught without them, expect an 80-euro fine and points on your licence. Land Rover recommends Continental winter tyres for Freelanders and the Range Rover Sport. If in doubt, ask your main dealer which tyres are recommended for your car.
For more great car buying advice and to view and buy new and second-hand cars, click on to motors.co.uk. Surf the web using your mobile phone? Go to http://mobile.motors.co.uk/ or text ‘motors’ to 65056 and we’ll send you a link. If you’ve an iPhone, you can download the motors.co.uk app for free. Go to the ‘utilities’ section of the iTunes store.