Tyres, chains or socks – what’s best in the snow?

Man and child wiping snow off a red car

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Winter is coming – not only has this weekend seen the first of the Big Six energy price hikes kick in (thanks, SSE), it’s also seen the first forecasts of snow flurries away from the high peaks. So you know what that means: you need to make sure you and your car are ready for deep cold and snowy conditions.

In addition to all the usual winter checks, you should consider fitting your car with winter tyres, or at least keeping some snow socks in the boot – alongside the stranded-in-the-snow survival kit*.

And if any of the above is leaving you in the slightest bit baffled – snow socks? – read on…

Winter tyres

It’s a common misconception that winter tyres are only beneficial in the snow and, seeing as we rarely have prolonged periods of snowfall, they’re hardly worth the outlay. However, the reality is that, unlike standard tyres, winter tyres don’t harden when the temperature drops and so offer better grip and shorter stopping distances at temperatures below 7°C.

To put these safety advantages into context, when driving at 20mph in wet or icy conditions, winter tyres have a stopping distance of 58metres, compared to 67metres on standard tyres.

Furthermore, winter tyres can reduce stopping distances by up to eight metres in snow.
Although the cost will vary depending upon the make and model of your car, prices start at around £50 per tyre and fitting should cost around £30 – not much for greater peace of mind, not to mention greater safety, over the next few months or so.

Snow socks

If your budget won’t stretch to winter tyres, it may be worth investing in a set of snow tyre socks which cost upwards of £30 a pair and can considerably improve grip when the roads are covered in snow and ice.

They work on the principle that snow and ice sticks to fabric – this is the same reason some ramblers pull woolly socks over their boots to make rudimentary crampons – meaning the snow socks will improve grip by soaking up the layer of frozen water between the tyres and the road.
Only two snow socks need fitting to the drive wheels, though you can fit them all round for added traction, and to avoid premature wear they should be removed when not driving in snow and ice or before driving at high speed.

However, although cheaper, they’re not as durable as winter tyres and the cost of regularly replacing worn out snow socks will soon overtake the cost of fitting winter tyres.

Snow chains

If you’re going to be driving on any particularly hazardous, snow-covered roads, or in some parts of Europe, you may have to fit a set of snow chains to your tyres – however, these should only be used on roads that have a compacted covering of snow or ice else you risk damaging both the road surface and your vehicle.

Again they usually only need fitting to the driving wheels and will set you back north of £60 a pair – and there’s always the chance they’ll work out more trouble than they’re worth if you have to keep removing them every time you take to a road that’s been gritted.

If you get stranded

Even if your car has new tyres, socks or chains fitted, you still need to take care when driving in ice and snow as the adverse conditions mean it’s easy to lose control.

*Getting stranded in a snow drift is a very real hazard during the winter, especially on some of the UK’s more exposed A-roads, so you should pack a snow survival kit in your boot, comprising: jump leads, ice scraper, torch, first aid kit, blankets, warm clothes, small shovel, in-car mobile phone charger (or spare, fully charged phone), drinking water and non-perishable food.

If worst comes to worst and you find yourself stranded, stay with your car and call your breakdown recovery service and, if necessary, the police – try not to rely on family or friends for help as they might end up in the same strife as you.

If possible, keep the car running and very slightly open a window to ease condensation on the inside and stop it from freezing over from the outside – you can keep warm using the extra clothes and blankets from the boot.

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