News : Honest John’s winter driving guide

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 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. 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 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 ‘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.

Winter driving: don't take any chances
Winter driving: don't take any chances...
Keith Adams


  1. The problem with winter tyres is that the UK still doesnt have the right infrastructure to cope with this. Where does one store 4 “summer” tyres or wheel sets. In europe many countries have dedicated storage for this and it’s the norm to switch. This hasn’t happened in any meaningful way in the UK and we all know that when it does, it will be an opportunity to completely rip us all off. Tyres should just be a damn sight better that they are now, it’s ridiculously old fashioned to have to change them whenever it get’s a bit chilly. Europe and the UK are always chilly, it’s nothing new, so make tyres that work. It’s better for our pocket and better for the environment given how much oil is used to produce tyres.

    • @James

      Good all season tyres exist since decades, e.g. the Goodyear Vector series. As said in the article they are a good compromise for areas like most of the UK. But these are always a compromise. Depending on manufacturer and also varying over the years, they’ve been more or less capable either as winter or summer tyre, it is currently technically not possible to get one tyre to cover all situations perfectly. The current All-Season tyres are basically winter tyres in drag, very effective on snow, but with some (at times) severe trade-offs in summer conditions (dry road, wet at higher temperatures). Less handling abilities and longer breaking distances have been measured.

      To the article: regarding the 4×4’s the most important fact is being left out – all cars are the same when needing to slow down, no 4 wheel drive will help in this case. And even if a careful driver manages to get quite far on summer tyres on snow, during braking and cornering the difference is tremendous and I dare to say that every driver who once experienced a good winter tyre on snow will never look back.

  2. Fitting winter tyres sounds great in theory, but realistically who can afford to replace all four tyres and wheels? (I know people will say “if you can’t afford to replace the wheels/tyres you shouldn’t run a car yada yada” but where do you draw the line?) As James says, where are you supposed to keep the spare set during the off-season?

    What happens to your part worn set of tyres (+ wheels) if you change your car and they won’t fit on the new motor? I know in Canada a lot of drivers switch to winter tyres (you can tell by a lot of newer cars which ordinarily would have a nice set of alloys with crappy wheels on instead).

    It cannot be beyond the realms of man to develop tyres for a country like the UK where its never really that hot in summer and never really that cold in winter. Can it?

  3. In this case, I guess GT stands for Gratuitous Totty.

    Not that I have any problem with that.The young lady is clearly showing us how to “tread carefully”.

    Unfortunately, she doesn’t seem to have brought her spare tyre.

  4. My 1 series was in the stealer yesterday for some warranty work so I took the opportunity to have my pre-ordered Goodyear Ultragrip 8’s fitted to some alloys I bought off ebay.

    Ride has been dramatically improved if nothing else and they are quiter than the Bridgestone run flats rubbish that came with the car. The wheels are 16″ though not 17″ as per my summer tyres. Hopefully they will prove to be a good investment. By buying a set of used 1 series alloys, refurbing them and getting a discount on the tyres (as I need another set for a 3 series) I’ve managed to get winter tyres and alloys for the price of a set of tyres and steel wheels!

  5. I recently bought a set of part-worn Continental winter tyres (something like 245/55 16s) for £175, including fitting & balancing !

    My “summer” set were of a non-descript brand, were heavily worn and one had just punctured, so i though “stuff it, winters it is”. I had them on my E39 and they really are worth it, if you do serious miles.

    Here’s an interesting read: 

  6. My personal experience – I’ve been using winter tyres for like 3-4 winters now and they’re worth every penny.

    First time I had them fitted on my previous car (MkII 1200 16V Fiat Punto) they just felt OK, when I drove on fresh, thick snow they were absolutely no match for standard summer tyres – the car nearly seemed like it was on rails.

    Now I’ve got a GrandePunto 1300 MJT which I bought mid-2010 and I didn’t hesitate one second to buy a shiny new set of winter tyres and steels when winter came – luckily it runs on 175/65 R15 so I don’t have to sell an arm and a leg everytime I’ve got to buy ’em new.The old tyres and (crappy) steels? Sold.

    Where I’m from – Northern Italy – summer is bloody hot and winter can be bitterly cold, with outside temps well below 0°C, fog, ice, snow, you name it.More and more drivers here are getting used to winter tyres every year, the first snowfall usually causes a lot of motorists to queue outside the tyre shop in front of my workplace, to have them switched to winter tyres.

    And many of them drivers – who don’t have any spare room to store their extra set – keep them year-round at the dealer for a small fee. Which I think is a fair option.

    I am lucky enough to have some place at home where I can store my spare set of tyres, I bought a small hydraulic jack so I can switch sets whenever I please. (Well, just twice a year of course…)Bottom line: I recommend their use.

  7. Drive carefully and only use the car if it’s absolutely necessary in bad conditions and your tyres should be fine. In any case, part worn tyre centres have seen a large increase in used tyre sales in recent months, proving that skint motorists can’t afford one new tyre let alone a set for each season. Safer and cheaper to leave the car at home and stay in. 

  8. For the last two winters I used a 1991 Legacy manual Estate with just M+S marked tyres. The traction was first-class, it never got stuck or felt unstable. This meant I could leave my ZT in the garage, in fact if it was there when the snow started I had no choice anyway (until I got the snow socks which I’ve yet to try).Now I’ve replaced the Legacy with an Octavia 4×4 on ‘summer’ Bridgestones I’m undecided as to what to do. It seems I can equip the Octavia with a good brand of winter tyre (Avon) for around £360, or the ZT with a cheap make for around £480. I was wavering towards ‘do nothing and see how I get on’ but given the comments here I might get the Skoda kitted out. Need to factor in the twice-yearly cost of refitting if I don’t go for extra wheels though, will perhaps look at those if the experiment is a success.

  9. Naturally its safer and cheaper but if the conditions persist for a week or more as they did in the last two winters, and your employer docks your hoilday if you don’t get there on any day (and mine’s not as Dickensian as some) you dont have much choice unfortunately.

  10. Still not convinced. Until a couple of years ago winter tyres never got a mention in the UK, now after a couple of winters when it snowed ( who’d have thought it) and winter tyres have become one of lifes essentials. No doubt these tyres do perform better, but even in last years “extreme” winter, most of the UK only had snow on the ground for a few days. Hard to justify several hundred pounds for that.

  11. Problem is modern tyres – low profile, wide, with grooves around them – absolutely useless in snow.Your dad’s, or even grand-dad’s, Princess, Allegro, Marina, Cortina, use narrower tyres, with more sideways grooves – so worked better in snowy conditions than tyres today.I’ve had success using narrower, older pattern, remoulds in winter.But I used winters now – using a Lancia integrale, bits are becoming very very expensive, so winter tyres that allow me to stop to avoid that kid on a sledge shooting out of a side road, are fitted every October for the last 12yrs.  Some years not needed, others they are useful, and the last two, very smug  ;-)Bri

  12. @Paul.You’ve made the school boy error of thinking that they’re just better in the snow. They’re better in all conditions below 7C and make a huge difference in wet conditions. If you only pootle around, fine but I do about 24k miles a year so am not going to risk that for the sake of £175, in my case.

  13. …it wasn’t THAT long ago that nobody worried about seat belts or being over the limit. Safer motoring is always being sought, and so it should be.

  14. I know this may sound silly, but if you fit ‘winter’ tyres, tell your insurance company. If you don’t, they will treat them as an ‘unnotified modification’ and walk away from your policy. This happened to my brother-in-law in last years snow (when a Transit ran into the back of his Citroen).

  15. Why should you need to tell your insurance company? As long as the tyres are legal (tread depth/meet British/European standards) and are the correct size and speed rating for your vehicle then why should the insurance company be informed?

  16. Presumably the Transit driver was insured, and as he drove into the back of his car then he (Transit driver) would be a fault. Why would your brothers insurance come into it?

  17. Well here’s hoping it snows as I have just bought 4 new Pirellis! As for the doubters, me too till I chanced on a part worn set last year… and now I’m sold on them.

  18. @Andrew

    Here’s hoping it doesn’t snow eh? Its still a ball-ache whether you have winter tyres or not, plus if someone else hits you it doesn’t matter one jot whether you have winter tyres on or not.

  19. @Russell

    I must admit that these are my feelings, too. I’ve used winter tyres and am a massive fan (they probably saved my life on a trip to Ukraine in Februrary 2006), but in the UK on our crowded, crappy roads, they’re far less useful.

    Last winter, driving a 4×4 Subaru on all-weather tyres, I still managed to get bogged down in traffic jams caused by everyone else grinding to a halt. Yes, the all-weather capability was wonderful early on, but as soon as everyone started getting up to go to work, and filling-up the roads, they were useless.

  20. Winter tyres are not just for snow and ice, they are reassuring in more typical cold and wet UK winter road conditions – better braking, grip, handling and reduced aquaplaning.Up here most road closures are caused by HGVs, I notice many of them have winter tyres on the driven wheels now. Surely keeping on moving is more profitable than getting stuck for the operators.

  21. Re. Insurance companies being arses over winter tyres, if the tyres are recommended for that vehicle (which they probably are in countries where they’re required e.g. Germany) then I struggle to see how they can turn their back on the policy.

  22. Deloreans Accountant – I average 25-30000 miles a year. During the depths of last winter I covered around 5000 miles across the North of England – not the soft South –  including several runs in snow over the notorious A66 transpennine route and the M62 – The only time I got stuck was in the car park at Scotch Corner Services!

  23. If you’re going to spend the best part of £1,000 on a new set of winter tyres and refurbed alloy wheels, why not just buy a Land Rover?

    You can pick up a tatty Freelander for a grand, drop the tyre pressures down to 22PSI in the snow and it’s brilliant – way, way better than a 2wd car on winter tyres. I live in a very snowy area (in winter) and a small light 4×4 is ideal (Range Rovers are a bit big and heavy) – I towed 26 cars out of ditches last year, and the Freelander barely flashed its traction control light once…

  24. Wont the young lady trying to stand up behind the Crossfire shown in the picture catch a cold in weather being dressed like that?

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