It’s November again and winter is upon us. Whilst the rest of Europe is busy swapping over their summer tyres for winter tyres, UK residents are only busy talking about how rubbish the weather is outside. Only an estimated 3% of the UK will swap their tyres. Many people think of winter tyres as a waste of money in the UK, as it only snows for a couple of weeks per year. In much of the rest of Europe it is a legal requirement to switch over to the grippier tyres every year.
So let’s dispel some myths. Winter tyres are not just for snow. They would probably just call them snow tyres if that was the case. Winter tyres offer much shorter stopping distances in temperatures lower than 7°C regardless of other weather conditions as summer tyres take a very long time to get up to the optimum temperature to work effectively. The tread depth is far greater and optimised for grip so you’ll find that most winter tyres will have far superior grip in wet conditions too. You’ll get as much grip when you start the car as a 45 minute warm up of the tyres. If you have never changed your tyres before then you have most likely got summer tyres on your car. It’s a common misconception that most tyres are all season tyres. There are very few all season tyres available to buy as they are less economical to run than summer tyres and they don’t perform as well as winter tyres. They will be marked with a snowflake and M&S for “Mud and Snow” if you are using all-season tires.
Winter tyre development has come a long way over the years. I’ve changed mine every year since getting stuck in the slush on a fairly flat surface. You have to ask yourself if you would risk your kid’s life with having no control of your car if it started to ice up or snow all of a sudden. Judging by the amount of wheel spinning I’ve seen over the last few winters in the UK, it’s not a consideration that has crossed many people’s minds. I’ve even seen 4×4 cars get stuck on hills as they really believed that they did not need winter tyres as they had all wheel drive. Check out this video of a rear wheel drive car with winter tyres go up against a 4×4 with summer tyres on.
Your tyres are likely to last many years as you won’t be using them all year round. Latest tests with some of the Continental winter tyres showed that they outperformed all season tyres in every way all year round so you could keep them on if you really want to. I’m loving my new Pirelli Winter Sottozero mark 3 tyres at the moment which recently topped the AutoBild winter test. They have so much grip and handle so well that they may stay on all year round. They are more fuel-efficient than my summer tyres too so there is only the quicker wear in hot temperatures to consider.
The key annoyance in the UK is the lack of tyre storage options. Some franchise dealers like BMW will swap over tyres each time for just over £30 (inc fitting) and store your tyres for you but you have to buy their 3-year-old models and another set of rims for the privilege. BMW will send off tyres to their BMW UK tyre storage for customers but at a cost of £50 per set of 4.
Kwik Fit also have a tyre storage option, but again only if you buy tyres from them at about £40 a time plus fitting costs. It’s much cheaper to store them at home in tyre bags in the dry or find really strong refuse sacks to double bag outside. Self storage site options are absurdly priced at about £500 per year to store a set of tyres. Archive storage places sometimes take tyres but prices vary wildly.
Another key consideration is that most garages don’t want to swap over your tyres if you didn’t buy them from their place. Some places also have amnesia years later and will sometimes outright refuse to swap them for you even with a charge. Don’t skimp for bad service though as scratched or damaged alloys are not worth the savings made by going somewhere rubbish. Phone up your local independent specialist garage and ask them where they get their tyres changed. Those tyre shops will normally change your tyres over for you at around £1 per tyre inch plus VAT.
It’s very easy to blame local councils for not gritting roads 24/7 during the winter but I think that’s just passing on responsibility to someone else. If everyone in the UK swapped to winter tyres then there would be a lower risk of yet another standstill to the economy. You also won’t accidentally run anyone over when your brakes can’t stop you from sliding into people, pavements and ditches. You can do your bit for your own family’s safety, plus as an added bonus, you can pretty much have the supermarket/restaurant/road (delete as appropriate) to yourself at your convenience! This will save you money from having to order cold delivery food (as they will be busy and slow on the roads). Lastly, don’t forget that two sets of tyres last as long as two sets of tyres. Buying two sets of summer tyres over a number of years will last around the same amount of time as a set of summer tyres and a set of winter tyres. Go get some!