All you need to know from winter tyres to snow socks.
The last two winters have hit the UK hard with cold temperatures, snow and ice that the road network and motorists alike have struggled to cope with. This winter may be equally as bad but either way it’s best to be prepared for the worst which is why motoring website www.honestjohn.co.uk has come up with the complete guide to driving in the winter.
The website has seen a big increase in the number of users worried about driving in snow and confused about winter tyres. And with many fearing a repeat of the terrible conditions of last winter, the main concern is that of safety. There has also been a lot of confusion about winter tyres with users worried about whether they’re worth the extra money and if they actually make that much difference. There is still the common misconception among many motorists that winter tyres are in fact studded tyres.
‘With a staggering 98% of motorists using summer tyres in the winter, it highlights why it’s so important to get the message across to people about just how important it is to be prepared to driving in the winter – whether it’s snowing or not,’ said Honest John.
www.honestjohn.co.uk advice for winter driving:
First things first – fit winter tyres. Now winter tyres are not snow tyres. They’re designed to be effective in all cold conditions, not just snow. As soon as it gets cold, standard summer tyres – which the majority of cars in the UK are fitted with – lose grip and traction making stopping distances considerably longer and handling far less predictable. Tyre experts recommended that you switch to winter tyres in the UK between October and April.
You can either have winter tyres fitted in place of your existing tyres or alternatively you can buy a dedicated set of winter wheels and tyres. This year the majority of manufacturers are offering winter tyre packages and they are worth advantage of – especially as they will store your tyres and/or wheels for you and swap them over too.
If there is a likelihood of severe conditions where you live or where you have to travel, it’s best to buy a separate set of wheels and fit full ‘Winter Compound’ tyres from November to March. These are at their best at temperatures below 7 degrees centigrade where standard summer tyres are severely compromised, traction is relatively poor and braking distances are hugely increased.
It’s all to do with the compound of the tyre. Cold weather tyres have a higher ratio of natural rubber and silica in the compound which doesn’t stiffen up as much as synthetic rubber in cold conditions. Therefore the tyre is more flexible and able to perform like a tyre should. Summer tyres simply go hard in the cold temperatures.
Whether you have a front-wheel drive, rear-wheel drive or a four-wheel drive car, you need to fit all four wheels with winter tyres. Fitting winter tyres to just two wheels of a modern car can seriously destabilise it, particularly on a descent. Modern tyres are sophisticated and the difference between summer and winter tyres is markedly different so they should never be mixed.
If you’re going to be taking your car abroad this winter then you’ll need to check whether the countries you’ll be passing through require winter tyres by law. Germany introduced a law last year which makes it an offence to drive on non-winter tyres on snow and ice. If a car with summer tyres causes an accident in winter, the driver’s insurance could decline to cover the full cost of the damages – if driving with winter tyres could have avoided the accident.
It’s a similar situation in Finland, Sweden, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Slovenia where winter tyres are required by law. In Switzerland drivers with summer tyres can be held liable for the consequences of an accident if the accident could have been avoided with winter tyres.
You can compromise and fit ‘all weather’ tyres (look for the mountain symbol) that qualify as ‘Winter Tyres’ to meet the laws in some European countries. These will be adequate for most winter conditions in the UK, but are not as good in summer as standard tyres such as Michelin Energy Savers and aren’t as effective as dedicated Winter Tyres in really severe conditions.
If your car is fitted with large wheels and low profile summer tyres, buying a separate set of wheels also enables you to go down a few wheel sizes and fit deeper profile winter tyres that will be much more effective in snow than low profile tyres. Just make sure that the new wheels will fit around the brake discs and callipers, and be sure to inform your insurer of this ‘modification’ in order to meet the rules on disclosure. If you fit steel wheels in place of alloys you will probably need a different set of shouldered wheel nuts or bolts, although your local garage or dealer should be able to help you with this.
While buying winter tyres and possible wheels seems expensive it’s a very good investment. Not only will you be able to tackle conditions where ordinarily cars on summer tyres will get stuck but there’s also a huge safety advantage. And of course you need to remember that while you’re running in your winter tyres, your summer tyres aren’t being worn out – so the actual cost of tyre wear will effectively be the same. Winter tyres are as quiet and comfortable as summer tyres and do not wear any more quickly.
The best way to see how effective winter tyres are is to look at stopping distances. On ice and snow winter tyres provide grip that no summer tyre can match. A vehicle fitted with winter tyres will come to standstill on a snow-covered road (from a speed of just 30mph) after 35 metres – with normal tyres the braking distance required is a further 8 metres (43 metres). Or another two car lengths.
Even on wet roads in the cold, winter tyres are far more effective as the graphic below shows. At 5 degrees centigrade the winter tyres cuts stopping distances from 62mph by more than five metres.
There is a common misconception that 4×4 vehicles will easily cope with snow and ice. However, winter tyres on a two wheel drive car are generally more effective on snow and ice than summer tyres on a four wheel drive vehicle. Just because you have four-wheel drive doesn’t mean anything when all four wheels have no grip or traction – it just means more wheels spinning.
On very slippery conditions such as compacted snow and sheet ice, ESP is often best switched off because it can fight a driver’s reactions to a skid in super slippery conditions. On hard packed snow, frozen snow or ice, ABS might actually prevent the car from stopping because it automatically releases the brakes on wheels that are skidding.
If all four wheels are skidding it will release the brakes on all of them. So on snow and ice, think ahead and start braking gently a lot earlier than you would in normal conditions. This is particularly important descending inclines or approaching junctions from side roads where you could skid straight out of the side road into traffic on the main road.
Remember, you have to tell your insurer of any modifications to your car. In particular, call centre staff in some direct insurers may apply blanket policies of not accepting modifications, in which case www.honestjohn.co.uk recommends motorists talk to a supervisor or manager. Anyone with any sense knows that this particular modification makes a car safer, not more dangerous and is actually required in most mainland European countries.
Snow chains and Snow Socks
A further option is snow chains or snow socks fitted to standard relatively deep profile tyres. Autosocks work by using fibres to pick up soft snow that itself provides traction against the snow you are driving over. This is much the same as good winter tyres, the sides of which pick up snow to use against the snow on the ground to provide traction. But these need to be removed as soon as you get to snow-free gritted roads.
‘The key to safe driving in icy and snowy conditions is to be prepared,’ concludes www.honestjohn.co.uk ‘So now is definitely the time to start thinking about what will make you feel safest when the bad weather inevitably arrives.’
More information and advice on winter driving is available on the Honest John website.
Is the Editor of the Parkers website and price guide, formerly editor of Classic Car Weekly, and launch editor/creator of Modern Classics magazine. Has contributed to various motoring titles including Octane, Practical Classics, Evo, Honest John, CAR magazine, Autocar, Pistonheads, Diesel Car, Practical Performance Car, Performance French Car, Car Mechanics, Jaguar World Monthly, MG Enthusiast, Modern MINI, Practical Classics, Fifth Gear Website, Radio 4, and the the Motoring Independent...
Likes 'conditionally challenged' motors and taking them on unfeasible adventures all across Europe.