Snow Tyres – Get it Right and Don't Hit the Skids this Winter!

Attitudes to safety are never more robustly tested than during periods of extreme weather. While temperatures can be unpredictable, so too can drivers approach to risk. This winter, with snow and freezing gales forecast, is it really worth being anything other than fully prepared? James Madden, forecaster for Exacta Weather said “significant snowfall" is likely within weeks with savage frosts and thick winter fogs threatening widespread misery.

Avoid the skids this winter with weather appropriate tyres

It may be surprising that our European cousins, rather than scratch their heads or write off weather warnings as unreliable, are actually required by law to take action. If you lived in Austria, Belgium, France, Finland or Germany (amongst others) you would be obliged to ensure your car was fitted with winter tyres. While there may be slight variation in the application – minimum tread depth in Austria is 4mm v's 3 mm in Finland for instance – the intent is fairly consistent. Makes you think doesn't it?

Meanwhile in the UK it is estimated that only 3% of car owners have winter tyres fitted. One of the reasons could be that few people realise the benefits can be extended to other weather conditions and accidents could be reduced in wet and cold days too.

And in any case you may wonder what makes snow tyres so special anyway? Well, here comes the techy bit. They use a tread rubber compound (high silica content) and tread pattern specifically designed to retain flexibility in low temperatures (below 7C). According to makers as a result they give good braking and traction performance to support a range of winter road conditions.

Continental – one of the world's biggest tyre manufacturers - say that when travelling at 31mph it will take 43 metres to stop on snow using standard tyres, but just 35 metres when fitted with winter ones. Given that response times are critical to avoiding accidents, this could make the difference between a close shave and an expensive repair bill.

While not a legal requirement however, drivers can only decide on an individual basis. As an RAC spokesman says: "There is nothing like a cold snap to make British drivers show an interest in winter tyres, but by then it is too late. We definitely recommend them on safety grounds, but appreciate that with the current high costs of motoring due to punitive fuel prices etc they may not be a priority for everybody."

And what about alternatives? Well if you are not ready to take the plunge on winter tyres, snow socks could be worth considering. David Evans, senior researcher for motoring at Which? said: “At £50 a pair, tyre socks are certainly a cheaper alternative to buying and fitting a set of winter tyres."

Snow chains are also worth investigating. Perhaps a little trickier than snow socks to fit, they nonetheless offer good traction in the right weather conditions and if you practice before absolutely needed, they could get you out of a tight spot.

Before making a final decision however talk to the experts. Take your car to your local garage for a winter health check and talk through the options. The right tyres in the right situation can keep you and those around you safe. And decisions about safety are something you should never put on ice.

By Tracey McBain