Summer Tyres vs Winter Tyres - What’s the Difference?

During the winter months, one of the things that is certain to send accident rates rocketing, particularly here in the UK, is snow and ice. Statistics tell us that one driver in four here has been involved in a motor accident of some description, when ice or snow is on the roads. The obvious question is why does this happen here in the UK, surely drivers here are no worse than those in Continental Europe, could there be an underlying factor?

The answer lies in the winter car care process and, in particular, the tyres that are used in the snowy and icy conditions. In parts of Europe it’s common, or even a legal requirement, for drivers to keep two sets of wheels and tyres, one for summer and another for winter. Here in the UK winter tyres are something that many motorists do not even think about.

Why Winter Tyres Make The Difference

There are many motorists that question why a perfectly good set of tyres that have been fitted to their car, with 6 or 7mm of tread depth will not suffice when winter weather strikes, the answer is in the compound. In “normal” tyres which are fitted by the car manufacturer, these are made using a hard compound and during the warmer summer months, this compound softens and gives lots of grip. With few exceptions, summer in the UK is above 7C, when the temperature falls below this, they become too hard and they will not provide enough grip.

Conversely, winter tyres are made from a type of rubber, which has high silica content, combined with a different tread pattern all of which enables that tyre to perform better in temperatures below 7C. This ensures better braking and handling performance on snow and ice as well as on wet roads in cold conditions.

So is it worth investing in a set of tyres, which will without doubt give excellent grip when snow or ice is about on our roads, particularly when these conditions occur infrequently? It is worth remembering that the best winter tyres, or as they are more accurately known cold weather tyres, perform in temperatures below 7C which is common on most days in the UK during the winter months, and when the temperature falls to 0C, even if the roads are dry, they will give better braking than their “summer” counterparts.

What Are The Alternatives?

Snow socks will help you get home after an unexpected snowfall or get you moving off your driveway until you reach a gritted surface or a more major road that has been cleared. These work as the snow and ice stick to the textile surface of the socks, generating greater friction between the road and the tyre. However, they should be removed when a cleared road has been reached, they will quickly shred otherwise. 

Another alternative has to be the all weather tyre or all season tyre, which has very similar properties to the winter tyre, offering a little more grip in the dry and wet, but a little less grip in the snow. Naturally these tyres are a compromise and there is always a trade-off in performance between winter tyres and summer tyres in the different seasons with regard to tyre handling, braking and traction in dry, wet and snow conditions. This means the all weather tyres are unlikely to be as good as the best specialist tyre in the respective seasons but can be expected to work better on wintry roads than a summer tyre, and better on a summer road than a winter tyre. The main benefit is that you will avoid the hassle and cost of swapping tyres twice a year.

Changing a Tyre

Plan Ahead

Whatever decision you may come to, should you decide to fit winter tyres to your car, do not leave it until the first snow arrives, these should be fitted at the onset of winter months and removed as the warmer springtime appears. The best advice we would offer is that; if you commute during the winter and rely on your car to get to work, winter tyres will give superior grip on cold mornings without sacrificing more than 10% of summer tyre performance during the odd freak warm day.