Winter Tyres explained and when to buy them

Looking for winter tyres but not sure what they are? CompareTyres has it covered in our guide. Read on to find out if you should buy some, where, and the best time of year. If you're looking to save money then why not run a quick price comparison and see how much you'll save by shopping around?

What exactly are winter tyres?

Quite simply, they're tyres for the sort of weather that we tend to get in the UK during winter - that doesn't specifically just mean snow, it can also mean ice, rain and wind. It's a common misconception among Brits that winter tyres are "snow tyres" - but these are easily confused with snow chains, something completely different altogether.

A snow tyre

Put simply, the main difference between All season / Summer tyres and winter tyres is: the tread depth. A winter tyre's depth starts at between 8 and 9mm, as opposed to 7 and 8mm on a regular tyre.

The little indents and markings on the winter tyre itself are wider and deeper as well, forming a larger channel for snow, ice and water to travel through - which translates to a better all round grip on the road surface. The actual rubber used to make winter tyres will also have a a larger percentage of natural rubber and silica in it - meaning a tougher result (although it doesn't actually harden as much as summer tyres, giving an improved grip).

Are Winter tyres a con?

Continental has researched this, and claims that a car fitted with winter tyres will come to a stop on a snow-covered road (at a speed of just 30mph) after 35 metres (115ft).

With normal summer tyres however, the braking distance required is a further 8 metres (43 metres in total!) - or, to put it another way, that's another 2x Ford Fiesta lengths! So the differences between winter and summer tyres are clear - but what about the price differences?

Are winter tyres worth buying in the UK? Aren't they just for Sweden?

Winter tyres aren't much more expensive and they are highly effective in temperatures below 7 degrees Celsius, which is quite common in UK winters - particularly if you live up north. It's true that they're popular in Scandinavia but many Brits also buy a pair and keep them in the garage - they'll last for a few years with normal/average usage.

Don't forget that it can get as low as -15°C in the UK quite easily at night in the depths of winter.

Okay, so when should I buy them?

Winter tyres are available to purchase all year round, although you may (predictably!) see a surge in demand as the temperature drops in the autumn / winter. The more savvy folk will be looking to pick up a bargain in the spring when demand for winter tyres drops and stockists will be wanting to shift old stock - luckily for them, CompareTyres price-checks winter tyres year-round.

4 Steps to buying winter tyres:

  1. Buy winter tyres in SPRING. It'll be cheaper.
  2. Shop around and do a tyre comparison price-check.
  3. Select your fitting date
  4. Or go to your local garage. We will arrange it all - free!

TIP: If the UK has a frightfully bad winter, then expect demand easily to outstrip supply, so those looking to buy will struggle to find a set of new tyres for their vehicle. Therefore in short: if you can afford to buy some in autumn then do so, but for the biggest savings it's best to wait until the worst of winter is over... as the snow melts, the prices drop.

Check out some of these winter tyres...

Dunlop Econodrive

From £38.00

Michelin Alpin 5

Alpin 5
From £53.30

Nankang Activa SV3

Activa SV3
From £26.50

Nankang Activa SV2

Activa SV2
From £28.20

Vredestein Snowtrac 5

Snowtrac 5
From £33.65

Hankook RW06

From £51.20

Kumho IZen KW23

IZen KW23
From £38.77

Hankook Optimo 4S H730

Optimo 4S H730
From £38.80

Kumho Wintercraft WP71

Wintercraft WP71
From £35.11

Vredestein Wintrac PRO

Wintrac PRO
From £81.60

Continental ContiSportContact 5

ContiSportContact 5
From £45.15

Goodyear UltraGrip Performance

UltraGrip Performance
From £50.33

Continental ContiWinterContact TS 850 P

ContiWinterContact TS 850 P
From £49.30

Rotalla Setula Epace RHO2

Setula Epace RHO2
From £24.92

Rotalla Setula Epace RHO1

Setula Epace RHO1
From £35.20

Firestone Destination

From £68.50

Firestone Firehawk TZ300a

Firehawk TZ300a
From £35.40

Michelin CrossClimate

From £46.71

Dunlop Sport LT60

Sport LT60
From £44.83

Goodyear UltraGrip SUV

UltraGrip SUV
From £76.36

What does the law say, are they required?

Winter tyres aren’t legally required in Great Britain - only a relatively small percentage of drivers overall decide to fit them, indeed many of whom live in rural or remote areas.

winter laws

Unsurprisingly, it’s a different story in mainland Europe, of course; in Sweden for instance it's a legal requirement to fit them from the 1st December - 31st March. And in many countries in the Alps, such as Austria, anyone caught not driving with appropriate tyres in winter can face a possible €5,000 fine... If you're using a hire car in Austria then it will come with them as standard so don't worry.

The price of winter tyres (particularly if you're buying 4x of them!) can stack up quickly. As a cheaper alternative, consider a set of snow socks or snow chains. Snow socks are made of fabric that covers the car’s driven wheels. They're normally fairly cheap to buy.

Snow chains are a harder-wearing metal alternative that give excellent grip, although they are not easy to fit manually if you've never done it before. There are, however, plenty of videos on YouTube guiding you through how to do it if you're feeling brave:

Always check local guidelines and by-laws before traveling in the cold season, to guarantee you'll be fully in compliance. And if you decide to give winter tyres a go, then make sure to run a quick comparison on prices first!