Winter tires become more popular, but not a few motorists misunderstand what they are for and if it is really expedient to use them in countries with little snow or no snow. Experts of Autocar give their recommendations on the matter.
Winter tires are not designed only for snow and ice. They are also grippier and safer than summer ones in any weather when the ambient temperature is below 7°C and the roads are slippery. They provide more traction and are more effective for snow, ice and rain than the summer tires.
Between the end of November and the start of March winter tires should be a driver’s choice.
How winter tires work?
Firstly, their tread pattern has many more grooves or sipes, which help displace water and bite into snow and ice. Secondly, winter tires contain more silica, so they stay soft and supple even in frost.
Finally, a winter tire’s rubber blocks are designed to vibrate when on the move and allow shaking out any snow. We cannot say the same about summer tires.
Winter tires are not recommended in summer. In warn weather they wear out much more quickly, generate less grip and traction than the tires for summer.
A new ‘Alpine’ symbol was introduced in 2012 to identify winter tires. The tires are legally classified as winter ones if they display the three-peak icon with the snowflake motif within.
Winter tires and AWD
Making several road tests, the Autocar journalists have come to conclusion that in winter a four-wheel-drive vehicle with winter tires will be the best choice. The experience has shown that a two-wheel-drive car with winter tires is much better overall in cold weather than a 4×4 on summer tires.
It’d be much cheaper to buy a set of winter rubber for the existing car than to upgrade a new off-roader.
Cost, difference between tire types
The cost of winter and summer tires is more or less the same, but prices for the tires of different brands and sizes considerably vary.
All-season tires are designed for moderate climates. These tires are for year-round use and made of a compound providing good grip in dry and warm conditions without becoming hard and rigid in very low temperatures. They have many sipes like winter tires, but not so effective in low-grip conditions.
All-season tires are not as grasping as summer ones in warmer months. They are not at all suitable for a performance car, which never feels as sharp and grippy as it should do.
Winter tires should be stored in a cool, dry place, laid on top of each other, far from direct sunlight and heat sources for the rubber not to degrade.
Removing your winter tires, mark each one so that you can rotate their positions on the vehicle to even out the rate of wear, when it comes time to refit.
Wash the tires with warm water and dry carefully before putting them into a garage or other place to store. You can use a paid ‘tire hotel’ service if you have no storage space.