The arrival of the Beast from the East in February 2018 sent temperatures plummeting to a chilly -10°C, with significant snow fall and the ensuing road chaos. With lower winter temperatures now showing an average of 3°C degrees and increased wet weather, winter tyres are becoming an increasingly necessary expense to prevent accidents and help safeguard your motor trade insurance premiums.
From solo van couriers to haulage fleets, winter can be a challenging time. With the festive season putting extra pressure for on-time, express deliveries, keeping your vehicles moving and free from damage can be difficult with the ever-changeable British weather.
In our blog on Vehicle Tyre Safety, we took a look at some of the ways you can ensure your tyres remained safe and legal to drive on. Here, we take a look at the pros and cons of winter tyres. Are they worth the expense for what can be a short season, and what are the cost-effective alternatives?
What are Winter Tyres?
In Scotland and countries where severe winter conditions are frequent, such as Sweden and Austria, it’s normal for drivers to switch to winter tyres (and mandatory in the latter two countries).
Winter tyres are specially designed to remain flexible when the temperature dips below 7°C. Made from a type of rubber with high silica content, they are designed to remain flexible in cold, wet conditions. Winter tyres generally have deeper treads than traditional summer tyres to cope better in snowy conditions and to help disperse water more quickly, preventing aquaplaning. They also have narrow cuts called sipes built into the tread, which still grip even when the tread is packed with soft snow.
Independent tests conducted by the British Tyre Manufacturers’ Association found that a car braking at 60mph on a wet road at 5°C stopped five metres shorter when fitted with winter weather tyres. The RAC also adds that on snow, a two-wheel-drive vehicle with winter tyres is safer than a 4x4 on summer tyres and are considered essential for a fleet of real-wheel drive vehicles.
When Should You Use Winter Tyres?
Winter tyres are recommended to be used between October and March, when the road surface tends to be the most wet and icy. The tyres are not suitable to be used all year round and you will need to swap back to summer tyres when the weather heats up. They lose their effectiveness quite significantly in warmer temperatures, with less grip on the roads and a longer stopping distance.
How Much Do They Cost?
If you own a fleet of vehicles, changing all your tyres can be expensive. Winter tyres are typically about 15% more expensive than summer tyres, and you will need somewhere to store them when not in use.
Aside from the initial outlay, fuel efficiency may be lower with winter tyres. Greater traction and higher rolling resistance mean more grip and higher fuel usage.
When looking at whether to invest, fleet managers need to weigh up the potential loss in earnings if they continue to use summer tyres in wintry conditions. With a greater accident risk, this would not only lead to the vehicle possibly being off the road for a length of time but could cause issues with your no claims bonus and premiums on your motor trade insurance or fleet insurance further down the line.
What are the Winter Alternatives?
If you are concerned about the upfront costs of winter tyres, there are some cheaper alternatives.
• All Season Tyres: these are manufactured with a slightly different rubber compound designed to combine the benefits of summer and winter tyres. These may be a more cost-effective alternative for use in regions with less severe conditions but will not be as good as winter tyres in snow and ice.
• Snow Socks: These are made from a strong fabric which is stretched to fit over the tyre, offering extra grip in snowy or icy conditions. Not as expensive as winter tyres but also not as effective. They offer less traction (especially on ice) and are more prone to wear and tear. They must also be removed when roads are clear to prevent them tearing.
• Snow Chains: Snow chains wrap around vehicle tyres to improve traction on snowy or icy roads. They are specially designed for use in hazardous conditions. Snow chains must be removed once the roads are clear of snow or ice to prevent damage to the road surface or the chains snapping, which can be dangerous.
Using winter tyres on your vehicle or fleet should not affect your motor trade insurance or fleet insurance. In fact, adding extra safety precautions during the winter months may help to keep accidents to a minimum and your premium down.