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Should you fit winter tyres to your car?

Winter tyres can provide a substantial boost in performance in specific conditions. We find out if they’re worth the outlay…

Millions of road users across the northern hemisphere equip their cars with winter tyres as soon as the temperature drops. Whether it’s because of legal requirements or simply in preparation for cold weather, for many, the practice of swapping summer for winter rubber is habit. In the UK, however, it’s almost unheard of.

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Less than five per cent of Brits fit winter tyres to their cars, with research showing that few people are aware of the difference seasonal rubber makes, while others blame expense. A study by Michelin revealed that even when faced with statistics proving the benefits, many Brits would describe the seasonal changing of tyres as an inconvenience.

> Best car tyres: evo performance tyre test

All-season tyres can address this problem to an extent, but since they offer average performance across the board, in a country that experiences an average of just two weeks of settled snow a year, there’s often little motivation to ditch the summers.

Industry insiders find this astounding; ex-Formula 1 racer David Coulthard told evo he thinks winter tyres should be mandatory in the UK, especially in certain areas. ‘OK, certain cities can be exempt – you very rarely get snow in central London for example – but there should be some sort of blanket ruling like they have in Germany. It’s a night and day difference.’

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In a test in collaboration with tyrereviews.co.uk, we put four tyres head-to-head in order to determine which is best depending on the conditions. The results (below) show that despite clear advantages in dry braking and dry handling tests, the summer tyre was the least consistent across all tests.

The full winter set, however, was 22 per cent better than the all-season and 34 per cent better than the winter-certified summer when braking from 30mph to 0mph on simulated snow, with the summer a significant 69 per cent behind, requiring an extra 20.4 metres to stop.

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The summer was also hopeless on our ski slope traction test, barely moving the test Skoda Octavia at all, while all other tyres made it to the top – the full winter leading the way. Interestingly, the all-season and summer with winter certification tyres were almost indistinguishable in this test.

The Goodyear all-season performed admirably throughout – it finished mid-pack in most tests – but Michelin’s summer with winter certification tyre impressed in warmer temperatures, hanging on to the summer tyre in the dry and wet tests, performing substantially better on snow.

In fact, our findings show that for those of us in warmer parts of the UK at least, the CrossClimate represents a very attractive option. Nothing can beat the winter tyre on snow – it even performed best in the wet handling test – but the drop-off experienced in the dry, particularly during heavy braking, means that those who refuse to periodically swap tyres would be safer on CrossClimates instead of summers – though, as confirmed by our findings, nothing can beat running summer tyres in summer and winter tyres in winter.

Whatever you make of the results, if there’s one thing we can take from this test it’s this: running summer tyres in snow is dangerous. Even if we only experience a few days of settled snow a year, venturing onto the road with summer tyres not only means you could easily get stuck, it also substantially increases your chances of having a very big crash. It’s just not worth it.

The results

 Snow braking 30-0mphWet braking 50-5mphDry braking 60-5mphSnow tractionWet handlingDry handling
Winter29.65m34.82m42.92m1st54.40sec44.87sec
All-season36.10m35.54m41.65m=2nd55.69sec44.93sec
Summer with winter cert.39.76m34.74m36.88m=2nd55.30sec43.37sec
Summer50.06m33.97m36.20m4th56.76sec43.33sec
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