Winter tyres on test – as temperature drops we test cold weather rubber

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Winter tyres are becoming more popular with UK motorists and they not just for when the snow hits.

Sure drivers who don’t want to get stuck in the snow will benefit from the specialist rubber as they drive through drifts.

But the main benefit is that they offer better grip and improved stopping distances when temperatures drop in to single digits.

Mirror Motoring is testing a set of tyres from Pirelli to find out how they perform.

Recommended to be used in the UK from October to March they are designed to work from 7 degrees and below they have a softer rubber compound than summer ones, which helps them bite into the road surface.

The tread pattern is also different with deeper grooves cut so they can channel away more water, which makes them less likely to aquaplane.

To qualify as a winter tyre they must offer the same control as a normal tyre wearing snow chains.

 

The features of the winter tyres mean that braking distances are reduced by 10 percent in the wet and 20 per cent on snow.

Pirelli have a range of five winter tyres for different types of vehicles including SUVs, high performance vehicles, high mileage mid range cars and vans.

All are marked with M+S (Mud&Snow) lettering on the side and a mountain with a snowflake symbol.

We were supplied with a set of 225/40R18 92V XL Winter Sottozero 3 for a VW Golf GTI. 

This cold weather tyre has been created specifically for cars with  medium to high engine capacity.

Our tyres were fitted at STS Tyre Pros Hemel Hempstead, Herts, which is a Pirelli Performance Centre with a Gold rating.

They aim to providing a reliable network of tyre dealers with high technical levels and commitment to service all over the country.

Looking at the tyres coming off and the ones going on the most obvious difference was the tread pattern and the deeper cut.

Once out on the road were were caught in a heavy rain storm and then temperature had dropped well in to single digets.

There was a noticeable improvement in the reaction to steering inputs with crisper turn in. The car felt more secure with less wheel spin when accelerating hard out of a junction.

In the dry there seemed to be less noise coming in to the cabin from tyre roar, and the ride was just as comfortable.

Although we have had no snow yet the signs are good that the Golf will be better prepared to cope with slopes, which would have defeated it before.

Pirelli have also issued the a series of winter driving tips which includes-

1. Make smooth movements to avoid abrupt acceleration or braking that can make the vehicle lose grip on wet or snowy surfaces. Also avoid exaggerated steering.

2. Swap your front and rear tyres around as this increases durability. Rotation of winter tyres must be carried out every 8,000/10,000 km.

3. Always use four winter tyres. Uniform equipment is necessary to ensure excellent performance and safety while driving. Always use 4 winter tyres of the same brand and with the same design characteristics.

4. Check the tread. Winter tyre performance is excellent on snow at a tread depth of 4mm. By law, a minimum tread depth of 1.6mm is required for winter tyres.

5. Check the speed limit. Pay attention to the speed limits described on the external side of the tyre. It is possible to use winter tyres with a lower speed indication than that stated in by law.

6. Store carefully. If you don’t use your tyres, they must be stored inflated, with controlled pressure. The best way to preserve tyres is to store them vertically in a single file of shelves, at least 10 cm above the ground.

Commonly asked questions about winter tyres

I live in the city, and during the winter I travel on flat terrain, do I really need winter tyres?

Below 7°C, or for most of the period running from October to March, winter tyres offer greater road holding ability than summer tyres. During the cold months, the compound used in summer tyres hardens which decreases its grip on the road, as well as its braking capabilities.

Winter tyres are more expensive, why should I buy them?

It’s true, you have to buy two sets of tyres: one for summer and one for winter. But when you fit winter tyres, the summer tyres should be set aside and stored appropriately. They can then be used again as the months get warmer ensuring safety in all weather conditions.

But if it’s true that winter tyres perform much better than summer tyres why can’t I keep them all year round?

Winter tyres have been developed to offer excellent performance when the temperature is below +7°C. During the summer their compound, which is softer than that of summer tyres, wears much more rapidly and hence doesn’t perform as well.

Can winter tyres only be used on snow?

Winter tyres have been developed to respond actively in the presence of snow but also offer excellent performance, compared with summer tyres, on wet and dry roads throughout the cold weather season. The tread pattern has been designed to reduce the risk of aquaplaning considerably.

Can I fit two winter tyres on the powered wheels and keep the summer tyres on the others?

This option is strongly advised against. In fact, if the car is a front-wheel drive, and you fit winter tyres only at the front, there is a risk of losing control of the vehicle. If the car is rear-wheel drive, and you fit winter tyres only at the rear, there is a risk of losing control when turning. Finally, if you fit winter tyres to the non-powered wheels it will be very difficult to move on icy or snow-covered roads.

With winter tyres am I forced to reduce my driving speed drastically, like when using chains?

No. With chains you can’t go more than 50 km/h. Some winter tyres, however, are approved for speeds up to 270 km/h (speed rating W). Of course, you must always observe the speed limits set by the Highway Code and adapt your speed according to the weather conditions.

If I continue to use summer tyres in the autumn and winter will it be more difficult to retain control of the vehicle?

The braking distance with winter tyres is reduced by up to 10% on wet surfaces and 20% on snowy surfaces with respect to summer tyres. This means that if you use winter tyres below 7° C you can stop quicker and you have better control of your car.

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