What are winter tyres?

More grip in slippery conditions without the need for four-wheel drive: how winter tyres will keep you on the road

BuyaCar team
Feb 28, 2019

It's commonly assumed that the safest way to travel during winter months is in a large four-wheel drive car. But most drivers will find that adding winter tyres to their current car is much cheaper than chopping it in for a big off-roader, and effective enough to tackle icy roads and snow.


What are winter tyres?

Most cars in Britain use standard, also called ‘summer’, tyres all-year round. Winter tyres are made of a special compound that remains softer, and therefore grippier, at temperatures below 7C, which is not unusual in the UK’s winter months. They are less effective at higher temperatures, and so need changing for summer tyres when the weather warms up.

Winter tyres also have different grooves that perform better than standard tyres on snow and ice. Winter tyres are indicated by a snowflake or snow-topped mountain symbol on the side.

Do winter tyres work?

TyreSafe, a not-for-profit safety organisation, says that tests conducted by the British Tyre Manufacturers’ Association found that a car braking at 60mph on a wet road at 5°C stopped five metres shorter, equivalent to more than one car length, when fitted with winter weather tyres.

However, the reverse was true in warmer conditions when, at 20deg C, the same car fitted with standard tyres stopped almost two metres shorter.

Is fitting winter tyres compulsory?

Some countries are so persuaded by winter tyres’ ability to improve grip, shorten braking distances and reduce accidents that they’ve made fitting them a legal requirement during certain months of the year. For example, in Austria, your car must be fitted with winter tyres between 1 November and 15 April.

By contrast, in the UK, where our winters are generally less severe, winter tyres are not mandatory. The AA believes that especially in remote areas, where road gritting is less frequent, winter tyres ‘make sense’. 

How much do winter tyres cost?

It depends what your car’s wheel size is but while winter tyres are generally more expensive, it’s not by much. For example, a standard Avon ZV7 205/55 R16 tyre supplied and fitted by Black Circles costs £52.10, compared with £56.46 for its WV7 winter tyre equivalent.


Can I just fit two tyres?

No – because of the grip imbalance you’d create, you must fit winter tyres all round 


Can I fit winter tyres to my existing wheels?

Yes, although some suppliers can sell them fitted to steel wheels. Check your existing wheel nuts will fit.


What about storing my old tyres?

If your garage is big enough, it’s fine to store them there. Alternatively, some tyre fitters provide a so-called ‘tyre hotel’ service where, as long as you buy your winter tyres from them, they’ll store your standard tyres either free or for a change of around £5 per tyre. 


Will fitting winter tyres affect my car insurance?

The Association of British Insurers (ABI) says its members recognise that winter tyres can make a positive contribution to road safety and as a result, most insurers will not charge an additional premium. Some may, however, so to help motorists negotiate this potentially confusing topic, it has published a guide to insurers’ individual positions here. The one clear stipulation is that winter tyres must conform to the car maker’s specifications.


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