As the winter season in the UK draws to a close its time to remember what we had to deal with this winter and how we can be better prepared next winter.
The heavy snow that came in November and December again showed that UK drivers are extremely reliant on all the roads being gritted. However, now that we are in austerity times we have to rely less on what others will do for us and ensure we can guarantee our own mobility.
Countries that are used to more extreme winter weather such as our Northern European, Canadian and American cousins have known the secret of winter tyres for many years.
Over the past few decades the tyres on offer to us have moved from radials and studded tyres to summer, winter, all season and studded tyres. Each of these types are focused on providing the best that they can in the right environment.
Summer tyres are as they are billed – they provide great grip and road holding at temperatures above 7°C (44.6°F) but as temperatures drop their rubber compound gets harder and more brittle, reducing grip with the road. Below 7°C then the rubber compound within winter tyres comes into its own. This compound is more soft and pliable in the cold temperatures and the more pronounced tread deals with snow and ice better. Unfortunately when the temperatures do rise above the magic 7°C, then the winter tyres start to wear quicker and provide less grip than their summer siblings.
Travelling at 62mph (100km/h) with a temperature of 5°C winter tyres can stop a car 4.8m quicker than the same car on summer tyres. That’s quite a distance! But at 20°C stopping from the same speed will take 1.7m longer on winter tyres than the summer equivlents. Also, don’t think that winter tyres are unstoppable in the snow. They don’t have perfect grip. The wheels may still spin but they are more likely to get you out of a situation where summer tyres will just leave you stranded
Half way between the winter and summer tyre is the All Season Tyre. These are really a combination of the good and bad points of summer and winter tyres. Better grip in the winter than summer, but not as good as winter tyres, together with better grip in the summer than winter, but not as good as summer tyres.
All Season Tyres come as standard on Land Rover products and are available as no cost options on other SUVs such as Porsche Cayennes. They’re a better all round solution for the driver who doesn’t want to change wheels, but they’re not as good as separate wheel sets. Many people think that because you have 4 wheel drive then that will get you out of anything. Wrong! You have a bit more chance in a 4×4 to get out of difficulty, but 4×4 drivers will immediately see how much extra grip winter tyres give a driver than summer ones.
The best solution for most drivers however would be to have a second set of wheels with winter tyres that can be easily put on the car in November and then swapped off in March. Many people say ‘but a second set of wheels tyres is over £1000 – I can’t afford that!’ However, this additional cost is simply bringing forward future tyre purchases. Your standard tyres may still manage 20,000 miles before being replaced but it will take twice as long to get to 20,000 miles on a set of tyres than it used to. And you’ll be safer too.
The other obstacle is that some people don’t have space to store a spare set of wheels and tyres. However, as winter tyres become more popular then more companies are setting up ‘tyre hotels’. Kwik-Fit is one of the tyre companies that do this. They will provide a set of covers for your spare wheels and will store your tyres until you need them again at the end of the winter.
Remember, winter tyres aren’t only for snow and ice. Next time you take a journey, see how often your temperature read out reads at 7° or less. You’ll be surprised how relevant to the UK winters they are!