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Winter tyres

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With the cold weather returning to the UK, theres been a lot of talk recently of whether or not motorists in this country should follow the example of those in northern Europe and consider fitting winter tyres to their cars.

The performance of an ordinary tyre starts to drop off at temperatures below 7oC as the rubber compound begins to harden, reducing grip. Winter tyres, on the other hand, are constructed of a different, softer compound which doesnt harden at low temperatures. They shouldnt be confused with snow tyres which are a different beast again, and a better name for them would be cold weather tyres. They look like normal tyres but provide superior grip on snow, ice, slush, frost and even just wet road surfaces. Note I said superior grip theyre not going to miraculously transform your car into a go-anywhere 4x4 but they will improve matters enormously.

Because winter tyres dont harden up in temperatures below 7oC, they will stop you 11 metres sooner than summer tyres would, assuming you are braking on an icy road at just 20mph. In wet conditions at 60mph, theyll pull you up 4.8 metres sooner. Thats a big difference between stopping in time and hitting the car in front or, worse still, a pedestrian or cyclist. In fact its easy to see why fitting them is a legal requirement in most northern European countries.

A lot of people may baulk at the thought of having to buy an extra set of wheels and tyres, but after the initial outlay it costs no more to run than one set. After all, all the time youre using your winter set, youre not wearing out your expensive summer ones. And when the average temperature creeps up above 7oC, which should be around March time, then you change back to summer rubber.

Oh, and if youre worried that you havent got the space to store a spare set of tyres, then many companies such as Kwik Fit will label them and store them for you, which is what happens in many European countries.

One thing to watch out for some ignorant insurance companies have been trying to charge customers an excess on their insurance for fitting winter tyres as these are deemed to be a modification to the manufacturers specification. If this happens to you, contact your insurance companys head office because its usually down to someone at a call centre who doesnt understand the safety implications.

At the moment winter tyres account for just 0.5 per cent of sales in the UK but if these extreme conditions continue much longer, expect to see that figure rise dramatically.