There's nothing like a bit of snow to bring a sense of jovial merriment, as the frozen rain falls from the heavens to blanket the Earth into a magical wonderland. Though as lovely as it may be, the coming of winter also brings some chilling statistics. Last year's winter season saw a large uptick in the percentage of car accidents and collisions caused by snowy and wet weather.
It's not so much the climate itself that tricks us to crash into things. However, our lack of preparation may certainly kill us. As well-engineered and refined as modern vehicles are to give us every creature comfort and safety possible, there is one critical flaw - the tyres. So, should you really get different tyres for winter, or is the whole idea of fitting winter tyres just completely unnecessary?
Different Types Of Tyres
Before we discuss with greater specificity as to why winter tyres are (spoilers) absolutely vital when it starts snowing, we should dive a bit into the different types of tyres. It's crucial to know the subtle nuances between why summer tyres are unique from winters etc, so you could best plan a safe road trip or commute for the next time the weather changes.
1. Summer Tyres
As the name suggests, summer tyres are formulated first and foremost to work best in warm and dry climates. For those that live in constantly sunny and tropical parts of the world, they only need to be concerned over this one type of tyre. The rubber compound used for summer tyres has greater traction and handling in dry conditions. They could handle wet weather decently well, too
Summer tyres are well-liked for their ability to get the most out of a car's performance and sporting agility. As a part of the design on its treads and contact patches, summer tyres have reduced rolling resistance, thus contributing to better fuel efficiency and less road noise. However, the rubber in summer tyres can harden when temperatures drop below 7°C, leading to less grip.
2. Winter Tyres
That 7°C figure is a very important threshold to remember. When the temperatures outside drop below this, it's time to get the winter tyres out. In stark contrast to the summers, winter tyres are best in cold, snowy, or wet conditions. This is thanks to a few changes. The rubber compound can stay flexible and soft, thus ensuring better traction in colder climates.
It also has deeper grooves to add grip when there's a lot of snow or slush on the road, which could effectively displace water or ice, and helps the tyres to bite against the ground. However, winter tyres are far too soft to use during warmer weather. Using winters in the summer could lead to not only the tyres wearing themselves down quicker, but also lead to higher fuel consumption and road noise.
3. All-Season Tyres
Now, we have a compromise between summer and winter tyres. All-season tyres can absorb the benefits of the two, by providing ample - albeit not exceptional - traction in both dry and hot, or cold and wet conditions. It doesn't harden like summer tyres, nor is the rubber far too soft like winters. Moreover, the grooves and treads best mimic a mix of both worlds, as well.
There's a good reason why people choose to fit them all year round. It's convenient, as you won't have to refit new tyres when the weather changes, and you don't have to leave spare storage for unused tyres. However, there is a drawback. All-season tyres aren't able to provide the best traction in either hotter or colder climates. Plus, all-season tyres have a habit of removing a bit of edgy sharpness from a car's otherwise sporty handling.
Should You Fit Winter Tyres?
When it starts snowing, or when then temperatures drop below 7°C, then yes, you should right away start fitting some winter tyres. The benefits are countless, starting with the foremost upside to winter tyres - traction. Being able to grip well onto the surface of the road below will do wonders for our car's overall stability and safety, which includes cornering and braking.
The latter point we made earlier is in fact quite profound. According to Continental, a car on winter tyres can stop about 8-metres - or around two car lengths - shorter in the snow than if it was fitted with summers. The difference gets bigger while driving on ice, with winter tyres having a huge 11-metre lead over summer tyres, which is more or less the length of a double decker bus.
Besides, being able to actually have some traction does make the job of driving in the snow so much easier, if safety alone isn't enough to convince you. Furthermore, there are secondary pros of using winter tyres in their natural habitat. Using these instead of summer tyres can prevent your precious rubber from wearing out too quickly, thus saving you a big penny on your next tyre refit.
Conclusion - Winter Tyres Can Make A Huge Difference
In summary, winter tyres are essential for that time when the weather turns frosty. Even if you have all-wheel drive, that extra traction isn't going to help if you still have summer tyres running over snowy or icy roads, especially under braking. Some do ponder about mixing up summers and winters on the same car, which isn't safe as it distributes the traction unevenly.
Winter tyres can indeed be an added expense as a whole, but it's one which we heartily recommend in the name of keeping you, your occupants, and your precious automobile safe. It's amazing how easy it is to break the limits of grip and find yourself hurling into a tree. So, as Santa ever so slowly descends into his sleigh, remember to put winter tyres in your pre-winter shopping and to-do lists.
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