Living in the UK makes choosing the right tyres for your car an interesting dilemma. We have a temperate maritime climate which means that our summers are cooler than the continent but our winters are also warmer. Choosing car tyres is not as simple as buying snow or winter tyres in the late autumn and using them during the winter and then switching to summer tyres for the spring and the warmest part of the year. That’s before you even get into the question of using cheap tyres or premium tyres for your vehicle.
So what are the characteristics of summer, winter and all-season tyres and what car tyres should you consider using for your vehicle.
Looking after your car tyres
Before considering the type of tyre you are using, it needs mentioning to give your car the TLC it requires from a tyre point of view. Regularly check your tyre tread that your tyre always meets the UK’s legal requirements of 1.6 millimetres, across the central ¾ of the tread around the complete circumference of the tyre. At 3.0mm is when manufacturers suggest replacing your tyres, regardless of the season. This is because bald tyres require a significant extra distance to stop the car in wet weather, putting lives at risk.
So, we know when to replace our tyres in the worst case situation, but should we buy winter tyres or summer ones?
Winter car tyres have a lot more natural rubber in their compound which means that they are more supple and soft in cold conditions when the temperature drops below 7 degrees Celsius. This suppleness translates into having better grip, handling and stopping distances when you fit winter tyres and use them under these conditions.
Winter tyres, in contrast with summer tyres, have thousands of sipes (those tiny slits on the tyres) which help them to disperse water. These groves have the added benefit of gathering small amounts of snow which in turn stick to the snow on the road to give better stopping distances under snowy conditions provided of course that tread depth is still good. They also reduce braking distances when the road is dry but very cold.
Summer car tyres are made with a relatively hard compound to handle temperatures from 7°C right up to the warmest days you can expect in the summer months so they use hard compounds which soften as the temperature rises. They also have fewer sipes (these are the tiny slits on the tyres) than winter tyres and come in a block pattern with tread bars that are designed to minimise aquaplaning.
Summer tyres have less friction on the road surface and thus tend to last longer and are more fuel efficient but don’t handle particularly cold conditions or lots of snow and ice very well as they aren’t designed to provide the necessary grip for particularly icy conditions. On the other hand, when temperatures rise above 15 degrees, they reach their optimal performance and have considerably less braking distances than winter tyres will in warmer conditions.
All-season tyres are a reasonable compromise for those that live in a climate like the UK has. There are, however, exceptions to the rule as all-weather tyres work well under normal summer or winter weather conditions. All-season car tyres have their limits though: if you have a particularly warm summer (as we have had recently) or longish periods when there are blasts of cold air from the North or East, then it’s a different story and you are better off getting suitable tyres fitted.
If you live in harsh climates such as Canada or Finland then fitting seasonal tyres is the norm in any case, but us Brits are generally ok with all-season tyres on wet and dry roads unless the weather conditions are particularly extreme.
At least one manufacturer has recently designed a new hybrid tyre which is based on a summer tyre but also includes some attributes from a winter tyre.
Tyre manufacturer Michelin has traditionally lead the way in this respect and there are some interesting tyre comparisons on the internet where the Michelin CrossClimate tyre comes out very well in independent tests so they are well worth consideration as an all-round tyre on the cutting edge of tyre development.
So there you have it. There is no perfect tyre for all conditions regardless of the tyre price. Some tyre manufacturers will recommend that you change tyres when the season changes and others will point you towards a set of weather car tyres, while Michelin promotes its new type of tyre in a number of tyre sizes, but not all sizes are available yet.
You’ll find that those car manufacturers deliver new cars with all-season tyres; this seems to be the standard compromise if you don’t feel it essential to give your car the optimal tyre for the season. Overall, all-season car tyres can handle everything but the most extreme weather, so it’s not a bad consideration to opt for these.
At Hippo Leasing though we’d suggest giving your car the best performance it can get in terms of tyres as it is a safety issue with specialist tyres for the time of year.
Hippo Leasing is committed to drivers staying safe on the roads during summer and winter months. To change your summer tyres to winter or all-weather tyres, call our service centre, Hippo Service Centre on 01254 956 888.