Unlike Scandinavia, there is no obligation on British motorists to fit winter tyres, and unsurprisingly, every year chaos ensues on the roads with the first dusting of snow. It's understandable we're not as used to the adverse driving conditions but there's no excuse for not being prepared.
Winter tyres can seem like an expensive outlay for something you may not need during a mild winter. But if you're reliant on the car for getting to the shops or work, they can be a necessity.
Although roads in cities and suburbs will see more salt gritters and traffic, the increased number of obstacles and other drivers make them just as hazardous.
The rubber compound in winter tyres stays softer at lower temperatures and the tread patterns are designed to be more grippy in snow and ice. Stopping distances are reduced and skids are less likely, the drawbacks being increased wear rates and noise compared to summer tyres. If you don't have a garage or shed, you're also presented with the problem of storage for your other tyres.
There are two ways you can go about owning winter tyres: You can swap them onto your existing wheels or buy a separate set of steel wheels.
Swapping them onto your existing wheels maintains the look of your vehicle. For the style conscious, you might not like the look of your vehicle on steel wheels. Some leading tyre retailers offer a free swap back to your summer tyres as part of the price.
Budget winter tyres are available from as little as £30 a tyre for common sizes.
Personally I recommend opting for a second set of wheels. Fitting steel wheels for winter has the advantage of saving your alloys from salt corrosion and the knocks and bumps with the curbs that can happen in icy conditions. Assuming you're handy with a jack and wheel brace, you can decide when conditions necessitate fitting your winter tyres and save yourself money on visiting the garage. You also have the advantage of a full size spare wheel year round.1
Budget steel wheels are available for common makes of cars from £30 and are available as package deals with winter tyres from £240.
However if you haven't space for storage or winter tyres don't fit your budget, there are a couple of other options that can get you unstuck and can be carried in your car at all times.
Snow socks are fairly easy to fit and can be driven on up to 30mph. The materials will quickly perish if driven on roads without snow. They're handy to have in the car and can get you out of a jam. They're sold in pairs and should be fitted to the driven wheels.
Available from £50
Snow chains take longer to fit than socks. They're also usually limited to 30mph. Chains will last longer than socks but shouldn't be driven on roads without snow. Proper fitment with snow chains is essential because unlike the socks, a broken chain flailing around could cause some serious damage to your vehicle. They're also sold in pairs and should be fitted to the driven wheels.
Available from £70
Do you have any winter driving tips you would like to share? Let me know in the comments below.
Mixing tyre compounds can affect handling; fit the correct tyre as soon as possible. ↩