Winter tyres – what are they, and are they worth it?

We might have enjoyed a mild autumn, but make sure you aren’t caught unprepared should freezing weather strike.
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Snow and icy roads make driving much more challenging and, even if you drive slowly, it can be all too easy to skid out of control. Winter tyres can really help in wintry conditions, as they are designed to work in temperatures lower than 7 degrees Celsius. They look pretty much like any other kind of tyre, but the big difference is that they have more natural rubber than standard tyres.

Get a grip

This means they can still stay supple even in freezing conditions, which allows them to grip the road better than normal tyres that harden in colder weather.
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The tread on winter tyres is different, too. They are covered in more tiny channels than standard tyres to help displace water more quickly and to give better traction in the snow. The bigger channels on normal tyres can quickly become packed with snow, making it feel as though you’re skating on an ice rink. Although winter tyres don’t come cheap – it’ll typically cost you around £300-£350 for a set of four winter tyres for a Ford Fiesta, and the cost escalates for bigger cars – they will usually last for around two or three winters . Remember also that using them also helps conserve your summer tyres for longer, as you won’t be using them all year round.

Country life

If you live in the country and travel on roads that aren’t usually gritted in cold weather, then it makes sense to invest in winter tyres for your car so you can still drive in snowy conditions. If you don’t, then you risk being effectively housebound until the snow and ice thaws.
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If you do fit winter tyres, it’s worth informing your insurer, as some will consider these a modification which could have an impact on your premiums. If you live in an urban area, where roads are regularly gritted in winter and public transport is readily available if you decide not to drive, shelling out for winter tyres is unlikely to be worth the expense. A spokesman for the AA said: “It may be harder to justify the cost (in an urban environment), though this has to be a personal decision depending on the risk of bad weather, your confidence when driving and how much you have to drive when snow and ice are around.” If you opt not to fit winter tyres, you should still regularly check your tyres in preparation for winter. You need to be certain the tread isn’t worn, as this will make you more likely to skid on icy roads.

20-20 vision

The tread should be at least 1.6mm deep to satisfy legal requirements, but at least 3mm is recommended for winter. Insert a 20 pence piece into the tread – if you can see the perimeter edging on the coin, you need to put the money towards new tyres. While you’re in maintenance mode, check the oil level, anti-freeze and hazard lights too. Wherever you live, you can further protect yourself this winter by ensuring that you have comprehensive breakdown cover in place so that you aren’t left shivering at the roadside if something goes wrong.

Kit car

Kevin Pratt, of MoneySuperMarket, said: “We urge all drivers to take out full breakdown policies, but it’s also important to be prepared for the worst case scenario of a long wait in the cold. In extreme weather events, emergency breakdown cover can be stretched thin, and waiting times lengthened. “We recommend all motorists carry an emergency breakdown kit, with charged-up phone, shovel, blankets, bottled water and enough snacks to see you through until you’re on the move again.”
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