With Autumn already upon us and winter only around the corner, thoughts of winter tyres start rising to the surface again. Unfortunately, the weather here in Britain is notoriously unpredictable and there is simply no way of knowing if motorists should be choosing winter tyres for another mild winter or whether it’s better to go the whole nine yards and fit snow tyres. In fact this is a bit of a conundrum for UK motorists as, unlike continental drivers, British motorists don’t really use winter tyres very much at all.
At least the urban motorist doesn’t usually fit winter tyres but it can be very different in country areas, and especially the more mountainous northern regions where snow tyres are now almost commonplace. The truth is that if the country experiences another severe winter like the last one, winter tyres – or even snow tyres – will more than likely be seen as a necessity rather than a luxury. But just how does the average motorist go you go about deciding which winter tyres would be best for their particular needs?
Well the answer is a bit complicated really, because it’s possible to buy winter tyres that are only intended for snow, and others that work well in snow, sleet and slush. UK motorists often prefer all-season tyres, and indeed some winter tyres will work well in every season of the year. It all comes down to the tread pattern, materials of construction and other technical details. However, to make things a little clearer, let’s start by taking a look at the things which characterize snow tyres and winter tyres
Most of the significant features relate to the use of snow tyres or winter tyres in low temperature conditions and on wet, slushy, snowy or icy roads. The materials from which the tyre is constructed and its overall flexibility play an important part in keeping a safe contact patch between the tyre and the road surface and this is equally true of tyres designed for off-road use and for 4 x 4 vehicles.
The obvious differences between winter tyres and snow tyres appear in the variety of tread patterns which are designed after extensive research and testing that includes driving many kilometers in all weathers and conditions. Both winter tyres and snow tyres are usually tested on a wide range of vehicles when evaluating different designs. The aim overall is to achieve a winter tyres design that will rapidly channel away rain and standing water and will grip well on snow, slush and ice.
With winter tyres it is the design of the tyre grooves, the shape and distribution of individual blocks and the tiny slits or ‘sipes’ as they are known that account for the superior performance in poor conditions. Snow tyres are designed on the same principles but the resulting tyres will look and perform quite differently, although it’s fair to say that with the exception of tyres that are only intended for use on snow, most winter tyres will perform well on dry roads too.