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Winter tyres – are they worth it?

With the UK grinding to a halt every year whenever there is a snowfall, the question of whether winter tyres should be fitted for driving in the snow and winter weather, always comes into the media speculation that follows. Should we, as many European countries do, make winter tyres compulsory, or is the expense simply not justified for the few snowy days we get each year?

What are winter tyres?

Winter tyres are made from a high silica compound that remains flexible at lower temperatures. They also have a tread pattern that provides more grip on wet, greasy or icy surfaces. This means they will improve traction, road holding and braking in wintry conditions. They are usually marked with a snowflake or an S/M (snow/mud) logo.

What do winter tyres cost?

Winter tyres do give considerably increased performance and safety in snow and icy conditions but this comes at a price – around £500 per car. It is not possible to fit just one or two – the full set has to be either winter or standard tyres. Mixing the two types up could compromise the balance of the car and your safety.

At the end of the day, fitting winter tyres will be a personal decision, taking into account the local conditions, how much you have to use your car when it snows and how confident you are in poor driving conditions. For example a doctor in the Scottish Highlands, who has no choice but to go out in the snow, may see more benefit than an office worker in the South East who can always use public transport.

Winter tyres in Europe

Winter tyres are compulsory in many European countries, not only for residents, but also for visiting drivers:

  • In Austria, you must have winter tyres fitted from 1st November and 15th April.
  • In Finland, they are compulsory between 1st December and 28th February.
  • Winter tyres are also compulsory when driving in Germany, Sweden and several other countries and highly recommended in Norway, Switzerland and Italy.

You should always check with the local authorities, about rules for other countries before you set off.

Winter tyres and car insurance

Fitting winter tyres will not usually affect your car insurance, although some insurers insist that you inform them of the change to your vehicle. To be safe, it is always best to ask. It is unlikely that a lack of winter tyres will affect any claim in the UK, however if you have not fitted them as recommended, or legislated, overseas, this could invalidate your car insurance policy.

Checking your own tyres for winter

Even if you choose not to fit winter tyres, you should still take extra care with your current tyres when conditions are poor.

  • Although the legal limit is just 1.6mm, it is recommended that you maintain at least a 3mm tread depth in wintry conditions.
  • You should also maintain full tyre pressure as it is a fallacy that reduced pressure increases grip and low tyre pressure will seriously affect your handling.

Fitting Winter tyres to your car or van

If any Octagon customers decides to have winter tyres fitted they are asked to notify Octagon, however the Octagon policy will not increase in premium provided that the tyres meet, and are fitted in accordance with, the relevant vehicle manufacturers’ specifications and are in a roadworthy condition whilst in use.

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