We tested the BMW X1 a year ago and we were dismayed with its performance in the snow, despite it having four-wheel drive. The problem was that its road-biased tyres were hopeless in the snow .
Since then we’ve been raising the issue of winter tyres with manufacturers, and it’s interesting to see that many manufacturers are offering winter tyre programmes this year.
In answer to enquiries from our site visitors, we should make the point that winter tyres are likely to result in slightly worse fuel economy than standard-fitment tyres , especially low rolling resistance varieties. However if fitting winter tyres means that you get home rather than having to sit stationary on a road in the snow overnight with your engine running to keep you warm, then a slight decrease in fuel economy is probably a price worth paying.
RoadSafe confirms that winter tyres improve grip in wet, cold, icy and snowy conditions. Winter tyres can be used all year round, but it is in cooler, wetter conditions that they show their real benefit. Tests by the British Tyre Manufacturers Association found that a car braking at 60 mph on a wet road at five degrees Celsius stopped five metres shorter (more than one car length), when fitted with winter tyres .
Winter tyres are not appropriate for UK conditions
Unlike studded tyres and snow chains, winter tyres do not damage the road surface.
Adrian Walsh, RoadSafe director says: “In winter, these tyres are a legal requirement in some European countries, including Germany and Austria. Road safety and motor groups in Britain, including RoadSafe, TyreSafe and SMMT recommend UK drivers follow the continent’s example, and fit them in autumn and winter .”
It looks like more confusion has been caused by Secretary of State for Transport, the Rt Hon Philip Hammond MP incorrectly claiming that winter tyres were not appropriate for UK situations.
Stuart Jackson, chairman, TyreSafe, commented: “Mr Hammond’s comments show a complete lack of understanding about modern winter tyres which are the ideal solution to the type of weather we are currently experiencing. Studless winter tyres are designed to provide much better grip over the entire winter period, not just for when people are driving for long periods on compacted snow as he implied. They do not damage road surfaces in any way and are wholly appropriate for the UK situation.”
Winter tyres wear out faster
Winter weather tyres can be used all year round but their performance is notably better when temperatures fall below seven degrees Celsius. In these conditions ‘ standard’ tyres begin to harden and lose their ability to grip the road surface properly.
Winter weather tyres contain more natural rubber and advanced silica compounds to reduce the hardening process and improve grip. Tests conducted by the British Tyre Manufacturers Association found that a car braking at 60mph on a wet road at five degrees Celsius stopped five metres shorter, equivalent to more than one car length, when fitted with winter weather tyres.
On ice and snow covered roads there was even more difference. The car equipped with winter tyres stopped 11 metres sooner on ice and eight metres sooner on snow, from just 20mph.
Mr Hammond also stated that “winter tyres wear out very quickly on normal road surfaces” but this is not the case as in winter conditions, winter tyres do not wear any more quickly than conventional tyres and are manufactured with a deeper tread to improve performance.
However, as if all that wasn’t enough, TyreSafe is also concerned about reports that additional premiums are being charged by some insurers for drivers fitting winter tyres . It is claimed that some insurers regard the fitting of winter tyres as a vehicle modification, resulting in high insurance premiums for drivers. TyreSafe’s criticism has also been echoed by industry bodies RoadSafe and the NTDA.
“Many independent tests have proven that winter weather tyres are the safest option for drivers throughout the entire winter period , not just when we have snowfall and ice,” explains Stuart Jackson, chairman, TyreSafe. “To penalise drivers for taking a positive step to improve their safety on the road seems absurd. With the high number of drivers still being killed or injured in tyre-related accidents each year, we should be actively encouraging responsible behaviour, such as the fitting of winter tyres.”
Drivers who decide not to fit winter weather tyres should still carry out a number of checks to reduce their chances of being involved in an accident. Tread depth should be checked to ensure that it easily exceeds the legal minimum requirements of 1.6mm across the central three quarters of the tyre, around its entire circumference. Tyre pressures should be checked at least once a month or before a long journey and the tyre should be inspected for any cuts, bulges or embedded objects.
Tyres approved by both car and tyre manufacturers for winter are sometimes of a lower speed rating than the standard tyres as they tend to run warmer owing to their special winter compound. This lower rating is appropriate for winter conditions. For example, the winter tyre fitment for a vehicle equipped with a “V” rated summer tyre (for sustained speeds of up to 150 mph) might be “H” rated (up to 130 mph, almost double the UK national speed limit) in the equivalent winter pattern.
In summary, Green-Car-Guide.com recommends the fitting of winter tyres . Insurance companies intending to raise premiums should be robustly challenged for their evidence for doing this.
To help drivers further understand the benefits of winter weather tyres, TyreSafe has added a new dedicated section to its website along with an updated information leaflet which can be downloaded free of charge. To see the information visit www.tyresafe.org