Winter tyres have a different rubber composition and tread pattern to conventional tyres, meaning they perform better on wet and slippery road surfaces, and at temperatures lower than 7°C. They also suffer less deterioration in a winter climate than summer tyres, ensuring prolonged performance when it's required most.
The composition of winter tyres includes a large quantity of natural rubber and silica. This results in the surface remaining softer and more pliable at low temperatures, as opposed to summer tyres which have a higher proportion of synthetic rubber. The upshot of this different design is substantially increased stability and an impressive reduction in braking distances.
As well as improvements in straightforward braking manoeuvres, winter tyres also enhance grip and traction when cornering on wet, snowy and icy roads. The lateral grooves enable better drainage, while in snowy conditions the longitudinal grooves retain snow. This design feature, seemingly counter-intuitive, is in fact the best way of improving grip – for the simple reason that snow sticks to snow better than it does to rubber.
Winter tyres are usually worn six months of the year from October to March. Having your vehicle fitted during colder months is mandatory in ten European countries – Austria, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Finland, Germany, Latvia, Norway, Romania, Slovenia and Sweden. The adverse weather conditions across Europe in recent years have led to road safety groups across the continent recommending purchasing a set of winter tyres, and contributed to a rapid rise in popularity in the UK.