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Write What You Drive

A showcase of independent motoring journalism and automotive travails

Winter Tyre Wisdom

It's about this time of year that internet forums will be alive with discussions about the virtues or otherwise of winter tyres. Avid readers will remember that half of the JTurn fleet was clad with a set last year so I should be as well placed as anybody to comment on whether they're worth it or not.

Certain countries and regions around Europe mandate the fitting of winter tyres between November and April - and that's part of the reason that Scandinavia doesn't grind to a halt every time there's a few inches of snow as things tend to do in the UK.

As we all know, the UK tends to enjoy fairly unspectacular weather the year round - summers that aren't that warm; winters that aren't that cold and tend to be wet more than anything. The European countries that mandate winter tyres tend to be those with predictable cold seasons or mountainous regions so can you get away without them here?

The short answer (and those that most on the forums seem to give) is yes. I used one, other or both of my MR2s throughout the last 7 winters without adapting them mechanically at all. My Turbo has always run on Toyo T1-Rs, which I have found to be good tyres but most importantly they are not summer specific.

They have enough tread to disperse standing water and the weight over the rear axle is enough to give decent traction even in snow. The front of the car is light at the best of times so it's no surprise that there isn't much in the way of steering in the snow but you can't expect it all to be plain sailing and steering with your right foot is more fun anyway right?

The longer answer applies to my Puma and relies upon using a bit of common sense regarding the tyre choices you have made. Winter tyres don't gain an advantage in adverse conditions just because they have deeper and busier tread patterns but because the rubber compound is designed to offer more grip at lower temperatures.

F1 drivers can be heard to be complaining about "turning the tyres on", that is, getting them up to the temperature where rubber compound is sticky enough to offer optimum grip. The same rules apply to the compounds used for road tyres; winter tyres are formulated to offer this grip at lower temperatures - typically becoming better than regular tyres below 8 deg C.

The compound used in the Yokohama Parada Spec 2s that the Puma is so much fun on during the summer is not designed for use at these low temperatures. They aren't too bad in the wet - although obviously the conservative tread pattern that offers extra grip in the dry hampers them here - but it's the cold where they really go off.

I was motivated to put together a set of winter wheels and tyres last winter after the amount of snowfall the UK saw in 2012/13. Front wheel drive is supposedly superior in the snow but nobody had told my Puma this as the front tyres gave up their grip at almost comically low speeds when the going got white.

Similar snow in winter 2013/14 never materialised so it could be argued that my investment was in vain. Between Christmas and New Year however, I drove the Puma from Manchester to Glasgow in torrential rain and gale force winds. I maintain that the choice to fit winter tyres probably saved my and my girlfriend's lives. There's simply no way the Paradas would ever have clung on when being battered with a side wind whilst aquaplaning and to pay Yokohama its dues, that isn't what they're designed to do.

So, if you have a decent set of normal, all-season tyres fitted to your car in the UK - winter tyres are unlikely to be worth the bother. If you're enough of an enthusiast to have fitted something juicier then I would hope you are also aware of the limitations of summer tyres so if you plan to keep on truckin' in the snow (or drive to Scotland in December) then I certainly think they're worth the money.

For anybody interested; I sourced a second set of wheels for £40, a pair of brand new Hankook Winter ICepts for £110 from mytyres.co.uk, a pair of part-worn Yokohama W-Drives for £53 from ebay and paid £10 a corner to have them fitted (buying a second set of wheels made sense at that price as I would have had to pay another £40 to have the tyres swapped again in the spring as opposed to just changing the wheels over myself).

Now's the time to buy if you're going to do it - before things get cold and prices get high!

Regular Features
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20th January

Just when you think everything is going well...

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7th October

Puma passes MOT despite struggle

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28th June

MR2 Turbo in France

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31st March

Further money "invested"

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6th January 2013

'90s reigns as the current JT Fleet is introduced