We answer some of the frequently asked questions when it comes to winter vehicle maintenance.
Please note: The Motor Ombudsman is not affiliated to any tyre manufacturer and does not endorse or recommend any specific brand of tyre. Any information is for guidance only.
What are all-weather (all-season / four-season) tyres?
All-weather or all-season tyres combine the elements of summer and winter tyres, giving drivers the best of both worlds. This avoids vehicle owners having to purchase a set of summer and winter tyres, or having to swap between the two. However, all-weather tyres are not as effective in the summer or winter compared to if summer or winter tyres are fitted in their respective seasons.
All-weather tyres are made from an intermediate rubber compound that offers sufficient grip on warm and dry roads, but do not harden as much compared to summer tyres during spells of cold weather. In addition, all-weather tyres have a unique tread pattern with grooves to help stop aquaplaning, and sipes (the small thin slits in the tread) that provide grip in icy conditions.
As with winter tyres, many all-weather tyres still feature the three-peaked mountain and snowflake symbol on the sidewall, indicating that they are suitable for use in wintry conditions and that they can be used in Continental Europe (e.g. in Scandinavia and Eastern Europe) where it is mandatory to use them in some countries. However, the different tread pattern will allow you to distinguish between an all-weather and winter tyre.
What are summer tyres?
Summer tyres are designed to perform during the milder months of the UK, which are typically between April to September (i.e. when temperatures are consistently above seven degrees). They are the type of tyre that you commonly see on this country’s roads. Summer tyres have a lower natural rubber content and a softer rubber compound than winter tyres, which allows them to grip the road surface in both wet and dry weather conditions. In addition, summer tyres have fewer grooves and sipes in the tread which help to disperse water more quickly while increasing contact with the road, for better traction and braking ability. Summer tyres usually provide a quieter and more comfortable ride versus winter tyres thanks to their structure.
However, when temperatures fall below seven degrees centigrade, the compound of summer tyres will stiffen, meaning that they cannot maintain the same level of flexibility and grip as winter tyres or deliver the same braking distances in winter (which can be up to 50% less in the snow).
What are winter tyres?
Winter tyres have a higher natural rubber and silica content than summer tyres which means that they retain their flexibility in cold temperatures (i.e. those below seven degrees centigrade). They are also designed with a high number of grooves and sipes, to deliver increased traction, and stability in snowy weather. This is also on the premise that appropriate speed limits are being respected in-line with the on-road conditions. Furthermore, the enhanced grip enables winter tyres to deliver shorter braking distances in cold weather and on ice and snow.
How do you identify winter tyres?
Winter tyres can easily be identified thanks to a three-peak mountain symbol on the sidewall, which is accompanied by the letters “M+S”, meaning “Mud + Snow”.
See our “Getting to Know” guide on winter tyres for more information, or watch our short video “Getting to grips with winter tyres”.
What are snow tyres?
The term “snow tyres” is another name used to describe winter tyres.
How do I know what size of tyre I need?
As well as displaying the make of tyre, the sidewall provides a wealth of information. When looking at the tyre, you will see a series of letters and numbers, for example “225/55 R 18 97 W”.
These symbols stand for:
225: the tyre width in mm.
55: the aspect ratio of the tyre (the height of the sidewall expressed as a percentage of the tread width).
R: this refers to the internal construction of the tyre. R indicates that it is a “radial” tyre construction.
18: this is the inside diameter of the tyre or rim height in inches.
97: this is the load index which indicates the maximum load the tyre can carry when it is inflated to its maximum safe pressure.
W: this is the speed rating, and indicates the maximum speed that a tyre can carry a load safely.
If you are unsure of the right tyre size, you can also consult your vehicle’s handbook or speak to an expert at your local Motor Ombudsman-accredited garage. All are listed on our online Garage Finder.
When should I change my tyres?
When the temperature is consistently below seven degrees, it’s worth considering changing to winter tyres, particularly if you’re located in a rural area. Therefore, it’s recommended that winter tyres are bought early in the season, to avoid the risk of not having a tyre retailer available to have them fitted or having the winter tyres in stock.
How should I store my tyres?
Once the weather turns milder, it is recommended that winter tyres are removed and summer tyres are put back on the car. It is also advised that tyres stored on a rim should be laid flat or hung up with the pressure reduced to one bar (around 14.5 psi). Tyres stored off the rim should ideally be placed on the ground standing up, but if stacked, there should be no more than four tyres on top of one another.
Storage centres or “tyre hotels” for winter tyres are available for a fee if you do not have sufficient space at home. You can ask your local Motor Ombudsman-accredited garage (listed on the online Garage Finder) whether they can store the tyres for you and how much they will cost.
Before placing tyres into storage, it is advised that they are cleaned thoroughly and dried. They should equally be kept in a cool and ventilated area without exposure to direct sunlight, and should be checked for damage or wear prior to being fitted to a vehicle.
How much should I pay for winter tyres?
The price of tyres varies by brand, size and type, so it is best to shop around and do your research. To find your local Motor Ombudsman-accredited garage that fits tyres, including those for winter, you can visit our online Garage Finder. It is best to buy tyres as a set of four for optimum braking and handling and to have a spare in the boot if the car does not use a space saver tyre or canister.
What are snow chains?
Snow chains, sometimes called grips, are designed to be fitted to the tyres of vehicles to provide maximum traction when driving through snow and ice. They are much thicker than the tread of tyre, thereby making the chains more efficient at gripping the road.
Some advantages of snow chains are:
- They increase the level of traction between the car and the road, increasing control and reducing the chance of skidding
- They provide a higher level of traction compared to snow socks
- They are harder wearing than snow socks
Some disadvantages of snow chains are:
- They can only be used where there’s enough snow or ice to cover the road surface
- They may come into contact with the car’s bodywork, suspension or brakes. Therefore, there needs to be adequate space between the car tyre and the rim to fit the chain
- They can affect the operation of electronic wheel sensors
- They can be tricky for some users to put on and take off and can damage the vehicle if fitted incorrectly
- There needs to be space to store them when not in use
What are snow socks?
Snow socks can be used as an alternative to chains, and are flexible textile liners that wrap over the wheel and tyre to give improved grip on ice and snow. They should be placed on the driven wheels (i.e. front or rear) and work on the principle that snow and ice sticks to fabric.
Some advantages of snow socks are:
- They are lightweight
- They are easy to fit on to the wheel
- They can provide a higher level of grip than a summer tyre
- There’s no loud rattles or bumpy rides associated with snow chains
Some disadvantages of snow socks are:
- They will wear out quickly when returning from an icy road to a cleared road surface
- They will rip if used on tarmac for a prolonged distance
- They requires the vehicle to be moved to fit them
Snow socks vary in quality and price, and therefore, it’s always worth doing your research and shopping around.
What checks should I make to prepare my car for winter?
Making sure that your vehicle is fully roadworthy, whether for the daily commute or for the holiday getaway, is essential to staying safe in the winter. The Motor Ombudsman therefore has a handy downloadable “ticklist” to help guide you through the key considerations when taking your car into a garage for a winter check, and to help you prepare for the colder period.
If you have a question which hasn’t been answered, please get in touch with us through our website.