Should motorists consider winter tyres?

Hugh Maguire: on safety benefits of winter tyres

Should motorists consider winter tyres?

Winter tyres are obligatory by law in many European countries with motorists having to change their standard tyres for winter tyres by a specific date and then must keep them on the car until a remove date.

In Austria for example winter tyres are mandatory from November 1st until April 15th.

Motorists face hefty penalties and fines if caught without winter tyres during this period.

Furthermore if a motorist is involved in an accident during this period and is found not to have winter tyres fitted the insurance company may invalidate their insurance rendering the motorist facing court or worse for having no car insurance.

Now I hear many of you saying but sure we get so little snow in Ireland we don’t need winter tyres?

That's a misconception! Winter tyres actually provide much more grip and control when temperatures drop below 7 degrees Celsius than the standard tyres fitted on our cars and here’s why.

When the outside temperature drops below 7 degrees Celsius (which of course it regularly does here) the “normal” tyre stiffens up or hardens somewhat.

Winter tyres however use a compound with a high silica content and a tread pattern designed to stay flexible at low temperatures below +7C.

The result is better braking and handling performance on snow and ice and on wet roads in cold conditions.

Recent test figures comparing a Seat Leon fitted with standard tyres and then winter tyres demonstrate the point.

We don’t get that much snow in Ireland on a regular basis in winter, so I will skip those results, but those results demonstrate that when we do winter tyres are much safer.

So let's see the figures for our more common winter weather, rain, wet roads and temperature below +7C.

The car is driven in a straight line up to 80km/h with emergency braking to a full stop on a wet test track with an outside air temperature of +5.5 C.

The car with winter tyres took 35.5 metres to stop but with standard tyres the same car took 42.5 metres to stop!

Furthermore at the point at which the car on winter tyres had come to a full stop the car on standard tyres was still travelling at 32km/h and took an additional 7 metres to come to a full stop.

This test truly represents Irish winter road conditions and would indicate that there is a real benefit to having winter tyres.

Furthermore emergency manoeuvre tests demonstrated the greatly increased control of the car fitted with winter tyres while the one without was not as stable during the avoidance manoeuvre.

Some car companies such as BMW Ireland for example recognised the safety benefits of winter tyres in Ireland and offer owners a service whereby they will remove your standard tyres and wheels and fit winter tyres with a simple steel wheel rim and covers.

Not only does this extend the life of your standard tyre but they store your standard tyres and alloys until you are ready to re-fit them for late spring.

To give you an example of cost they quote €965 for a set of winter tyres and wheels for the average BMW 3 Series.

In summary then it certainly is worth considering the safety benefits of winter tyres.

Sure there is a cost, but the added safety benefits are proven.