Your local weather
If your local law says that winter tyres are recommended but not compulsory, you need to make your own decision about winter or all-season tyres, depending on the sorts of conditions you regularly drive in. Winter tyres are made from a high silica rubber compound with a tread pattern specifically designed to stay flexible in cold temperatures (below +7C). While they’re not ideal for all year round use, they give you the best possible protection in snow and ice.
Your average annual mileage
If you live somewhere where winter temperatures are not too extreme and you don’t drive very often, particularly in the winter, it may not be worth the cost of separate winter and summer tyres. All-season tyres, also known as all-weather tyres, avoid the hassle and cost associated with swapping tyres twice a year.
Weighing up the pros and cons
- Winter tyres cannot be used all year round. All-season tyres can.
- Winter tyres are specifically designed for snow, ice and cold roads. All-season tyres work better on wintry roads than summer tyres but are not as efficient in snow and ice as winter tyres are.
- It can be expensive to swap from winter to summer tyres. All-season tyres do not need to be swapped.
- In the same way that all-season tyres will never outperform winter tyres in cold weather, they won’t outperform summer tyres in warmer weather either.
How to buy winter tyres
Buying advice for winter tyres
How do I know which winter tyre(s) to buy?
There are many things to consider so it’s a good idea to consult an expert. For example:
- What does your manufacturer recommend?
- What conditions will you be driving in?
- How frequently will you be driving on snow and ice and how common will it be that temperatures fall below +7 degrees C?
- What do the tyre tests say about the tyre’s snow grip, aquaplaning prevention and handling?
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Can I get away with buying only two winter tyres?
Even though it’s not illegal, we strongly advise against mixing tyres as it can cause issues with safety. It can even be dangerous, leading to spinning or problems with cornering.
When should I buy and how often should I change my winter tyres?
It makes sense to buy at the end of summer, before the temperatures fall. That way you can fit them straight away and avoid any unnecessary storage costs. Don’t leave it too late, however, as you don’t want to be caught out if there’s a sudden drop in temperature. Whether you’re retrieving them from storage, or buying a new set, make sure you fit your winter tyres before temperatures go below +7 degrees C.
A good quality set of winter tyres should last for 4-5 years when switching every six months.
Please remember that, in some countries, it’s compulsory to fit separate summer and winter tyres. For more information, read our article ‘Where are winter tyres mandatory?’
Alloy wheels in winter
Buying advice for winter tyres
What are the differences between aluminium and steel rims?
Unlike durable steel wheels, the aluminium version is more prone to corrosion. This means that: in winter, alloy wheels can oxidise on the flange. The flange is the curved edge of the wheel rim. Without adequate coating, small bubbles will quickly develop. The affected areas will no longer provide proper sealing. This will ultimately result in gradual loss of tyre pressure, leading to unstable driving behaviour.
For those who place great importance on the visual aesthetics of their wheels, manufacturers now also offer winter-proof alloy wheels. These have a special powder coating that protects against damage and any possible oxidisation. For anyone who does not want to compromise on their aesthetic in winter, these models are strongly recommended.
- Information about whether your alloy wheels are suitable for winter driving is generally available from the manufacturer. For this reason, you will often find this information in the product description or in other documentation supplied with the product. Incidentally: You can, of course, also drive with winter wheel rims in the summer so you can use them all year round. This doesn't just save you time and stress. Over time, frequent fitting and removal causes strain to the wheels and shortens their service life.
- It makes no difference to the winter tyre properties whether they are fitted on aluminium or steel wheel rims. The difference is only in their quality. While alloy wheels are usually somewhat lighter for winter conditions, steel rims provide additional robustness. On this point, you should avoid making false economies and either fit winter-proof alloy wheels or switch directly over to steel rims.
Should I buy winter tyres
Winter tyres are the ideal choice for winter
Assuming that you’re driving somewhere where they are not compulsory, you need to weigh up the pros and cons before asking yourself ‘should I buy winter tyres’?
- Winter tyres give you optimal handling in cold temperatures (below +7 degrees C).
- They offer the best possible grip on snow and slush.
- Their braking capabilities on cold roads are superior to summer or all-weather tyres. A car travelling at 31mph will take 62 metres (203ft) to stop on snow using summer tyres, 42 metres (138ft) using all-season tyres, but just 31 metres (102ft) when fitted with winter tyres.
- Due to their increased natural rubber content, they remain flexible in the cold whereas summer tyres are specialist for milder temperatures.
- They will keep you mobile if you live in a remote area where snow and ice are common occurences in the colder months.
- If you drive up and down hills you will certainly benefit from the additional grip winter tyres provide on snow and ice.
- Winter tyres cannot be used all year round – they under perform in temperatures over +7 degrees C and the wear rates could increase if used in warmer temperatures, due to a special compound mix.
- Committing to separate sets of summer and winter tyres (including spares) can be expensive. Not only is there the cost of two sets of tyres, including spares, but you may decide to have two separate sets of wheels too to save time and make switching over easier. Plus there is the potential costs of storage if you’re not able to store them yourself, and the garage expenses of having them swapped over every six months.
- Some insurers consider fitting winter tyres to be a modification and therefore charge a premium. It is important to check with your insurer before you change your tyres.
If you’re driving somewhere where winter tyres are mandatory, you obviously have no choice about whether or not to buy winter tyres. Similarly, if winter tyres are recommended, it makes sense to evaluate the cost versus the benefits of improved grip and safer driving in the conditions in which you’re likely to drive.
In countries where winter tyres are not compulsory, the decision often comes down to individual lifestyles and locations. For example, in Scotland, where temperatures are often cold and icy, there has been a recent increase in drivers buying winter tyres.
Winter tyres in summer
Find out the reasons for using summer tyres
What’s wrong with winter tyres in summer?
Winter tyres are designed to stay supple in temperatures below +7 degrees C. Their deep tread patterns are optimised for snow and slush and their tread blocks are created for added traction in wet, wintery conditions. They’re unbeatable in cold temperatures. Read our article ‘What are winter tyres?’ for more detail.
However, when temperatures rise above +7 degrees C, summer tyres are a much more suitable option. Summer tyres have less natural rubber in their compounds and this makes them softer and stickier which is better for gripping wet and dry roads in milder temperatures.
The higher rolling resistance that winter tyres offer in icy conditions can have a detrimental effect in warmer weather, leading to greater wear and tear. In contrast, summer tyres’ lower rolling resistance has a positive effect on fuel economy.
Finally, summer tyres have shorter stopping distances in warmer temperatures while winter tyres have shorter stopping distances in colder weather. This is important to bear in mind if you’re using your winter tyres in milder temperatures or your summer tyres in colder temperatures. Neither will brake as efficiently as tyres manufacturered specifically for those temperatures.
Where are winter tyres mandatory in Europe?
An overview of the regulations
Laws surrounding the use of winter tyres vary from country to country and even region to region. So, where are winter tyres mandatory in Europe? And where are they recommended?
Please bear in mind that there is a possibility that laws can be updated and changed, as average local temperatures fluctuate, so we recommend you double-check local laws before you take a trip abroad in winter. For example, in the UK large parts of the country rarely experience prolonged periods of extreme cold and, when it does happen, most drivers simply choose not to drive. It wouldn’t make economical sense to make winter tyres mandatory.