Winter tyres: The pros and cons
23 August 2016
Author: Daniel Puddicombe
With the UK experiencing more and more inclement weather, the chances of the country expecting snow and ice on the roads is increasing.
And when it snows, the country tends to ground to a halt thanks to a lack of preparation. Winter tyres - already popular, and in some cases mandatory, in Europe - are often overlooked in the UK by fleets. Should you consider fitting a set to your cars just in case the weather turns sour without warning? And what will happen to winter tyres in the summer? BusinessCar has looked into the pros and cons.
Without getting too technical, winter tyres tend to use a softer, rubber compound compared with traditional tyres and smaller tread areas enhance grip and allow water to move quickly from underneath the tyre, decreasing the chances of aquaplaning in the wet.
PRO - Improved traction
An obvious one, but fitting a set of winter tyres to your car could make all the difference between being stuck in the car park when it suddenly snows or not. They have been developed to offer better traction in temperatures of seven degrees or less, and on ice, stopping distances can be halved.
And the benefits keep on coming once you're on the move. According to tyre maker Continental, a car travelling at 31mph will take 43 metres to stop on snow using standard tyres, but just 35 metres when fitted with winter tyres.
CON - Performance drop-off
Like a Formula One super-soft tyre, a winter tyre can 'go off' rapidly if it is used outside of its optional operating window (ie, if the outside temperature is more than seven degrees). Expect braking distances to increase if you're using winter tyres in the summer and the rubber to wear out quicker.
PRO - They have the same lifespan as a normal tyre
According to Michelin, its range of winter tyres offers the same lifespan as its normal tyres, assuming you use them when it is cold. The French tyre giant recommends they should be fitted in November and taken off again in March.
CON - You have to store them somewhere
Unless you have a garage, or a warehouse onsite, chances are you'll have to pay to store your tyres somewhere when they're not being used. Kwik Fit says it will store summer tyres for £10 a month using what the industry calls 'tyre hotels'.
PRO - It's a big duty of care box-ticker
Having a set of winter tyres fitted to your vehicle could decrease the chance of being involved in an accident in colder weather. According to figures from Santander in 2013, one in four motorists have been involved in an accident in snowy or icy conditions, so fitting winter tyres increase the overall safety rating of the fleet, and offers enhanced protection for employees as the car is able to stop quicker than it would do on summer tyres in treacherous conditions. There are also possible cost savings to be made for the business thanks to the potential for reduced downtime when compared to running the fleet on summer tyres in cold weather.
How much does a set of winter tyres cost?
Prices vary depending on the make and model of tyre and make and model of vehicle, but winter tyres are - generally - around 10% more expensive than their summer counterparts. But if you want quick access to the tyres, you'll also need to invest in a set of four rims which bumps up the costs further.
Lindleys Autocentres estimates you're looking at around £900 for a set of winter tyres and wheels once fitting fees has been taken into account, while popular tyre website Blackcircles is currently offering Michelin's Alpin A4 for £98 per tyre fully fitted, though it is worth bearing in mind that you can reuse the tyres from year to year as long as the tread depth meets the legal minimum of 1.6 millimeters.
Snow socks and chains are good alternatives to winter tyres. The former wrap around the tyre and give extra grip on the snow and ice, they are particularly good for helping you off an ungritted side road.
Snow chains, meanwhile, attach to the driving wheels to provide more traction when driving in winter weather.
Chains and socks can only be used on snow-covered roads as they wear out quickly when rubbing along the tarmac and may also reduce the speed you can travel at, so while they're good for a short stretch of road - for instance, a lane leading up to a gritted road - a more durable and permanent winter tyre is an all-round better bet if the fleet is based in an area which experiences high volumes of snow and is based on or close to main roads. Halfords sell chains for £150, while Amazon offers a number of socks for around £40.
Michelin reckons it has come up with a solution to the problem. Called CrossClimate, the French company says its tyres are the world's first summer tyres with winter capabilities, allowing them to be used throughout the year, while tyre wear is as good as its summer models
The company claims its tyres are game-changers, helping fleets to reduce costs and downtime and we agree, we awarded it the Innovation trophy in the 2016 BusinessCar Techie Awards.
Who will benefit from fitting winter tyres?
If a fleet is based in a rural area of the country, such as Devon or Cornwall or the Scottish mountains, fitting winter tyres to its vehicles could make the difference between getting out of the depot or the office car park and being able to deliver goods or being able to make that crucial meeting, so they could be a wise investment. Although the initial cost may seem quite steep, the tyres - if stored and used correctly - can last several years, which could help to offset the upfront cost.