What are winter tyres’ benefits?
- Winter tyres are excellent at gripping cold roads, whether they’re wet, dry, snowy or icy.
- Nothing grips snow like snow. So, in the case of compact snow, winter tyres fill their tread grooves with snow and this grips the snow on the road.
- Their extra deep treads are capable of dispersing more water, helping to reduce aquaplaning and improve handling.
- Because they offer greater safety in the cold, and maintain their flexibility, they are harder wearing than summer tyres and are therefore more cost effective.
What are winter tyres’ disadvantages?
- Just as winter tyres are better in cold temperatures than summer tyres, summer tyres are better in warmer and more moderate conditions. Once temperatures rise above +7 degrees C you will need to be replace your winter tyres with summer tyres.
- Having a full set of winter tyres and a full set of summer tyres, including spares, can be costly – not only to buy but to store. In some countries, you have no option, while in others an all-season tyre may be suitable.
- Winter tyres are an excellent investment, if you live somewhere with extreme weather. For milder temperatures, or in countries where winter tyres are not compulsory, you may prefer to consider summer or all-weather tyres.
What do the symbols mean on winter tyres?
Winter tyres feature two symbols: M+S and a snowflake on a mountain:
M+S stands for mud and snow and it indicates that the tyre’s tread pattern and tread compound have been designed to offer superior handling and braking in mud and snow, compared to a summer tyre. The M+S symbol appears on all-season tyres as well as winter tyres.
The three-peak mountain snow flake (or 3PMSF) means that the tyres has passed a minimum required performance on snow, under EU Regulation 661/2009. This symbol only appears on winter tyres.
What is a maximum speed rating?
Tyres have different speed ratings, which need to be matched to the speed capabilities of the car. This is indicated by a letter on the tyre’s sidewall. A V, for example, means the tyre has a maximum speed of 240 km/h, assuming that it is correctly inflated and the car is not being overloaded.
When it comes to winter tyres, you can fit one with a lower speed rating so long as you display a label, with your maximum speed limit clearly in the driver’s field of vision and you don’t exceed this speed.
Uniroyal winter tyres are available in speed categories Q (160 km/h), T (190 km/h), H (210 km/h) und V (240 km/h).
Winter tyre treads
Find out about the legislations in winter
There are three ways you can tell a winter tyre from a summer tyre by sight: winter tyre treads are deeper, they have a different tread pattern and they have additional markings on their side walls.
Side wall markings
To a novice, the easiest way to identify a winter tyre is to look for a symbol of three-peak mountain and snowflake (3PMSF) on the tyre wall as well as the letters M and S (mud and snow). The 3PSMF symbol indicates that the tyre has passed a minimum required performance on snow as laid out in EU Regulation 661/2009 on the Safety of Motor Vehicles.
This is a relatively new regulation, brought in in November 2012. The M + S symbol has been used by tyre manufacturers for years to differentiate their winter tyres from their summer ones.
Winter tyre treads are deeper which allows snow and slush to build up in the cavities. Strangely, snow is excellent for gripping onto snow so these deep treads really help with traction. For this reason, it’s important to replace winter tyres before the tread reaches its legal minimum of 1.6mm.
Tread pattern and compound
Winter tyre treads also have a distinctive pattern with numerous narrow slits (known as ‘sipes’) in the tread blocks. These interlock, biting into snow and ice to provide additional traction and improved braking.
A fourth differentiator, although not visible, is the tyre compound. Winter tyres contain more natural rubber than summer tyres so they stay soft in temperatures below +7 degrees C, making them more likely to grip in cold, wet, snowy and icy conditions.
Traction on snow
What affects the grip of tyres and why it's important
What about tread depth and pattern?
Winter tyres, such as Uniroyal MS 77 Plus or Snow Max 2, have deeper tread depths which are designed to allow dry snow to pack into their treads. This packed snow actually helps improve traction and snow-on-snow friction in deep snow.
It all comes down to the fact that the freezing points and melting points of ice are related to both temperature and pressure. If you think of it like a snowball, you can put pressure on the snow and it creates an ice-bond. When a tyre holds a lot of snow, the same thing happens, making it good for traction when a tyre holds a lot of snow in its tread.
Meanwhile, sipes – tiny channels cut into the tread blocks - allow water, slush and thin snow to be broken up and dispersed. When the tyre rotates these sipes are pressed into the snow. As the tyre flexes, its sipes open up and grab snow and ice, biting them into tiny pieces.
How to drive in snow
Tips for winter driving
On the road
- Learning how to drive in snow often comes down to common sense. Even with the best winter tyres, you will need to allow for longer braking distances than you would on dry roads. So, keep a big distance between you and the car in front (up to 10x the normal distance recommended) and allow plenty of time to stop and steer.
- Avoid situations where you may end up wheel spinning as this could result in you getting stuck. Accelerate gently, using low revs and change up to a higher gear as soon as possible. Pulling off in second gear can also help to reduce wheel spin.
- Everything should be done smoothly and slowly – braking, steering, accelerating and even changing gear.
- If you have them, make sure you use your daytime running lights so it’s easier for other drivers to see you in the snow. This is mandatory is some European countries and recommended in others. Please check the local laws.
- If you’re following other vehicles on an ungritted road, it is better to drive on the fresh snow, rather than on their wheel tracks. The compacted snow will be icier than the fresh snow.
- If you skid, gently steer into the direction of the skid. If the back slides to the right, steer to the right. Keep your hands on the steering wheel and do not be tempted to slam on the brakes.
How to drive in fog
Tips for driving in fog
On the road
When you hit a patch of fog you should switch your headlights on and keep your beam dipped. It can be very tempting to put your lights on to main beam but this is the wrong thing to do. Your lights will actually reflect on the fog and reduce, rather than improve, your visibility. Driving with your main beam on can also dazzle oncoming traffic.
The other misconception about driving in fog is that you should put your fog lights on at the first sign of mist. In fact, this can be a huge distraction to cars behind you. Don’t switch them on until visibility has dropped below 100m. A quick guide is to check if you can see the bumper of the car in front of you. If you can, keep your fog lights off. If you can’t, it’s time to switch them on. Some cars are fitted with front fog lights. If you’re going to use them, the same rules apply as rear fog lights.
Your fog lights will only work when your headlights are on dipped beam.
Remember, fog lamps emit an extremely strong light and they can be a hazard to other traffic if used inappropriately. Whenever the fog lifts – even temporarily – switch your fog lamps off immediately.
Pay attention to what’s happening inside your car. Fog can cause condensation which builds up on windows, further obscuring your view. Turn on your windscreen and rear windscreen heaters to demist your windows. It can be a good idea to open your windows slightly too. Not only will this help with the condensation but it will allow you to hear what’s going on around you and will help fill in some of the pieces that your lack of visibility has taken away. For the same reason, we suggest you turn your radio off.
Stopping distances become even more important in fog as drivers are likely to brake suddenly. Whilst it’s tempting to drive close to the car in front, to give yourself a sense of where you are, you risk colliding with them if they brake without warning. Equally, if you feel the car behind you is uncomfortably close, it is better to pull over and let them pass than risk your own safety.
Keep an eye on your speed. Without context, it can be easy for you to lose sight of how fast you are driving. Keep an even, steady speed – slower than usual but not dangerously slow – and be aware that stationary objects could appear in your path at any moment.
Finally, be aware of the temperature. Fog and mist will create a light damp layer on the road surface. If the temperature drops, this could form ice so be extra careful in foggy, cold weather.
Fitting and using snow chains
Alloy wheels in winter
Fitting and using show chains
Don’t wait until you’re about to climb a snowy mountain road to try your snow chains out for the first time. Although they’re relatively easy to fit, practice is extremely important. Follow the instructions carefully on the packaging and contact the supplier if you have any questions.
In most cases you will need to turn off your car’s traction control/anti-skid once you’ve fitted your snow chains, but check your handbook for advice.
To prevent the chains from braking, avoid any sudden movements. Pull away gently and drive carefully and slowly, avoiding harsh acceleration and braking.
How to drive in icy conditions
Driving safely on icy roads
If you do decide to drive, here are some driving tips to help you get safely from A to B.
When driving in icy conditions, you need to leave as much space as possible between you and the car in front. This could be up to ten times more than you would when driving on dry roads. So, if it normally takes you 23 metres to stop when driving on a normal sunny day at 30mph, it would take at least 230 metres to stop at the same speed on ice.
If you do hit a patch of ice, and find yourself skidding, steer in the same direction as the rear of your car is sliding. If the rear of your car is sliding in the same direction as your right shoulder, turn your steering wheel to the right. If the rear is sliding in the same direction as your left shoulder, steer to the left. Never take your hands off the steering wheel and don’t stamp your foot on the brake as this could cause your wheels to lock up.
Icy conditions can be accompanied by hail storms. These can limit your visibility so, if safe to do so, it’s a good idea to pull off the road, ideally stopping somewhere that’s covered, such as under a bridge. Direct your car towards the hail, so your windscreen withstands the majority of the force and not your side or rear windows. Your windscreen is capable of protecting you more than other windows. Wait for the hail to pass before setting off again.
It’s always a good idea to carry a charged mobile phone with you so you can notify people if you’ve broken down.