Tips and advice about winter tyres - Nordic, alpine, studded, all seasons: Choose the right tyres for winter
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Nordic, alpine, studded, all-season: choose the right tyres for winter

Your winter tyres Peter

There are various categories of winter tyres. Here is a rundown of what’s on offer, to help you find the most suitable tyre for your needs and environment.

Winter tyre on snow Winter tyres must be chosen depending on the environment you drive in. - Copyright © : iStockphoto.com/rezulteo.com

A matter of temperature

Once you have bought your car, if its maintenance is limited to regulatory controls, then your car is most likely equipped with summer tyres, the most suitable tyre for mild weather conditions and in areas where temperatures never drop too low. In this way, you get optimum performance in clement weather conditions, including when it rains. A problem of a drop in performance arises when the ambient temperature falls below 7°C: Indeed, the rubber compound used for summer tyres hardens and they become less efficient. In regions where the thermometer rarely falls below this temperature level, summer tyres are considered to be acceptable. However, if you live in a cold area that gets regular snowfall or in the mountains, then you must fit suitable tyres. But first of all, you must find out what tyre you need.

 

Different types of winter tyres

There are many types of winter tyres, even for those that are commonly grouped under the heading “winter tyres”.


The 4 seasons or all season tyre

Halfway between the summer tyre and the winter tyre, first of all there is the 4 seasons tyre (or all seasons) that offers a compromise between the two. The idea is to offer a tyre that can deliver efficient performance in a much larger operating window. The problem however, is that with this compromise, it cannot be as efficient as a summer tyre when temperatures are mild, nor as efficient as a winter tyre when temperatures fall. “The 4 seasons tyre is widely used in America where motorists generally adopt a more leisurely driving pace than in Europe”, says Dominique Aimon, VP at Michelin for Technical and Scientific Communication. However, it can definitely not replace a winter tyre in very cold weather conditions where it has to deal with roads covered in snow and ice. In short, it is better to keep summer tyres when the weather is mild and switch to real winter tyres when the weather turns cold, to ensure the best possible performance in terms of cornering, braking, wear or even fuel consumption. Furthermore, all season tyres usually consume more fuel and deliver less efficient braking performance in most situations. As for “real” winter tyres, once again take care to clearly distinguish them.

 

Winter tyre or alpine tyre: M+S marking and a 3PMSF logo, the best insurance for a mild winter

Technically, a winter tyre should have  M+S” marked on its sidewall. But this marking alone is not enough to guarantee the efficiency of a winter tyre since regulations do not require that tests be carried out to have the right to display the marking on products. For example, most 4 season tyres have this marking on their sidewall, even although they are ineffective in real winter conditions. To be absolutely certain that your tyres are efficient, make sure they also carry another marking, “3PMSF". This time, the tyre must undergo extensive testing to obtain the label and therefore guarantees its efficiency, even in heavy snow. Many tyre manufacturers propose this type of winter tyre (M+S, 3PMSF) and even if performances may vary slightly from one tyre to another, they are all designed to deliver optimal performance when temperatures drop below 7 degrees. Their rubber composition differs from that of summer tyres in that this type of tyre remains flexible even when it is very cold, whereas summer tyres harden in these conditions. Grooves on winter tyres are also different, in that they are designed to help evacuate water and slush when roads are covered in snow. Their design helps deliver a high level of grip even in poor weather conditions. And above all, do not assume that these winter tyres are only effective on snow: From the moment temperatures drop below 7°C, they offer better road holding and braking performance than summer tyres. Even on dry roads without snow.

 

When is it time for winter tyres?

Even if you live in Southern Europe, you will sometimes need the performance of winter tyres: Once again, winter tyres are the best on dry roads even when temperatures remain slightly above 0°C. They will help you keep the best possible control of your car and will remain effective if temperatures rise to 10°C or above during the day. Obviously, winter tyres become vital as soon as you approach colder areas, when you head to the slopes or when travelling in mountainous areas. Their rubber sticks to the road when temperatures fall below zero and their grooves can easily cope with reasonable amounts of snow and ice. But be careful if you think you can simply you’re your summer tyres to drive to the ski resort and fit snow chains when weather conditions become too complicated: With snow chains, your speed is limited to 50 km/h and as soon as you remove them, your car will be more difficult to control. With summer tyres, the braking distance is two times longer than with winter tyres on cold, wet roads. On snow or ice, the distance can even be up to eight times longer”, explains Dominique Aimon. To sum up, in a normal West-European climate, it is recommended to drive with summer tyres and switch to winter tyres as soon as temperatures drop below 7 degrees. Even if snow rarely falls in your region, and even if you do not intend travelling to mountainous areas or in cold weather. And if you fit winter tyres from the previous season, then don’t forget to check their pressure  since it may have dropped since then. Note that winter tyres are mandatory during the cold season in certain European countries (Germany, Italy...). But, depending on your geographical location, you may need a different type of winter tyre …

 

Nordic tyres, for tougher winters

If you live in a cold region, in the mountains or if you often head to the slopes, then winter tyres (M+S, 3PMSF) will probably be enough to handle all situations. The remaining case concerns those who live in much colder regions where snowfalls are heavier and where driving conditions are more difficult. When there are large amounts of snow and ice, another category of tyres is required. A type of tyre frequently used in Nordic countries in winter, but has the inconvenience of being far less comfortable than a summer or winter tyre when driving on roads clear of snow and ice. The Nordic tyre is not designed in the same way as alpine winter tyres. Its rubber compound allows it to withstand temperatures well below zero. The directional tread and high density siping gives it unbeatable road holding on ice and deep snow. However, it is less at ease than a standard winter tyre on wet and dry roads, and it consumes more fuel. Note that this Nordic tyre can also be chosen in its most radical version, with metal studs on its structure, to provide the best possible traction on ice. But in this case, it is difficult to drive on roads clear of snow and ice. The tyre wears very quickly, road holding is poor, fuel consumption explodes and it is strictly forbidden in certain countries (or can only be used during restricted periods).  Almost non-existent in many European countries, the Nordic tyre should only be used if you drive on snow and ice on a day to day basis. And, even more so, if you decide to opt for studded Nordic tyres.

 

Tyres adapted to weather conditions

The alpine winter tyre (3PMSF) is generally the most versatile tyre. Unless you live in a country where temperatures remain above 7 degrees (summer tyres all year round), or alternatively in a country where winters are particularly harsh and infrastructures are covered by a deep blanket of snow or ice. In this case, you need a Nordic tyre, or even a studded Nordic tyre. In short, your choice depends on where you live and your winter trips.

Related articles

>> Note that if you want to be sure to choose the right winter tyre, you should check the regulations by country.

>> Reminder of winter tyre regulations in Great Britain