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Are winter tyres a good idea?

an image of black tyre partially covered in snow while there's a bit of snowfall

In short, for many car drivers, the answer is likely to be yes. In many parts of Europe, they are mandatory once the colder weather arrives.

What is a winter tyre?

Winter tyres combine a tread pattern and softer rubber compound designed for colder weather conditions, typically under seven degrees Celsius. The tread patterns used have been developed to disperse water more effectively and the softer rubber compound should grip better in cold conditions whether it is wet or dry. Having said that winter tyres are not solely designed for snow, they can make a major difference in the snow to any car.

Will it affect my insurance?

While changing to winter tyres may be seen as a modification, it is unlikely to affect your insurance, but it is worth checking with them.

Winter Tyre v All-Weather Tyre 

While a winter tyre is designed for the coldest months of the year, an all-weather tyre provides a compromise between the best tyre to have across all seasons. I prefer to drive with a season-specific tyre. At least in part, this is because I live in an area susceptible to snow and ice, but as noted previously, snow and ice are not the only times winter tyres make sense.

It is easy to recognise a winter tyre because they should have a mountain with a snowflake symbol on the sidewall. They may also have the letters M+S (Mud + Snow) on the sidewall, but if you are planning a winter drive to Germany, the M+S symbol is not valid there.

Cost 

It all depends on tyre size, but it need not be onerous. To an extent, the change is cost neutral because you will need legally safe tyres in all circumstances and hey, you can’t put a price on safety!

The one cost is the physical change of tyres at your tyre fitter. Personally, I get around this by having a separate set of winter and summer wheels, both to manufacturer specifications. I simply swap the wheels over when the weather changes. By doing this, I save my ‘good’ alloys from the worst of the salted roads and I‘m automatically rotating my wheels which is a good thing. 

If you are worried about where to store your ‘not in use’ tyres, many tyre fitters will store your tyres/wheels for you (there may be a small fee). When in storage reduce the PSI to around 10 and try to store them vertically and off the ground if possible.

Safety Notes

In Ireland, all tyres must have a minimum of 1.6 mm tread around three-quarters of the tyre, but for safety reasons, it is recommended that each tyre should have at least 3.0 mm tread depth.

As well as tread, look out for any cracking in the tyre walls and other damage – If in doubt get your tyres checked by a professional.

Finally and very importantly – Winter tyres should never be seen as a substitute for safe driving. Drive to the road conditions and speed limits at all times and leave plenty of space for braking.

Article tags:
Are winter tyres a good idea?
Liz McNab

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