Every year as winter sets in and the temperature starts to plummet, many campervanners start to wonder whether it’s worth investing in winter tyres. It’s been the subject of much discussion of late due to warmer winters, and some consider them an unnecessary waste of money. So, what’s the balanced argument and is it worth spending your hard-earned cash on a set of winter tyres for your campervan or motorhome?
What are winter tyres?
The three main types of tyres currently on offer in the UK are summer tyres, winter tyres and all-season tyres.
Summer tyres are what you could consider “normal” tyres. They are the only ones that most people will ever own and use all year round. They are made from a comparatively hard compound and are designed to soften in milder temperatures in order to grip the road in “typical road conditions” i.e. above 7oC. The problem with summer tyres, is that in lower temperatures, they don’t soften sufficiently, and can’t grip the road as well as they can at the temperature they are designed for.
Winter tyres or “cold weather” tyres, are made from a softer compound with a higher rubber content, which means they are still soft enough to grip the road when temperatures drop below 7oC. They have a different tread pattern to summer tyres, with deeper channels through which to displace slush and water and also have fine grooves or “sipes” etched into the surface of the tyre to help them grip in snow and ice. Winter tyres can be identified by a snowflake symbol on the tyre wall. Because winter tyres are softer they also wear out more quickly than summer tyres.
All-season tyres are a third option, which aim to provide the best of both worlds. They features a slightly harder compound than typically found in a winter tyre so that they can be used effectively in both cold and warmer temperatures. The all-season tyre also has sipes, like a winter tyre, to help it grip in snow. These tyres are normally rated to be effective down to -5oC.
What are the benefits of winter tyres?
The extra grip provided by winter tyres gives rise to a number of benefits to the driver. It noticeably improves road handling and cornering and reduces the chance of skidding in wet and icy conditions. They will also help you pull away on slippery ground so you’re less likely to get stuck on a muddy pitch.
Winter tyres also have a significant effect on breaking distances. The difference can be as much as two car lengths when breaking from 30mph in snow (check manufactures statistics for the specific tyre brands before you buy).
It’s worth noting that winter tyres perform better than summer tyres below 7oC even when the road surface itself is clear of ice and snow because summer tyres do not grip as well below this temperature.
If you have never driven a vehicle fitted with winter tyres in cold, wet or icy conditions, the improvement in control is something which has to be experienced to be fully appreciated.
Which type of tyre is best for use in the UK?
Intuitively, all-season tyres would seem to be the best fit for use in the UK. This appears to make sense because they are designed to work in the temperature range you would expect to find on UK roads throughout the year.
Some experts, however, consider the all-season tyre to be a “jack of all trades and master of none”. They accept that all-season tyres are better than summer tyres in the cold, and better than winter tyres when it’s warm.
Their argument is, however, that unless it’s a cold, wet winter, summer tyres are the best tyres for most of the year in the UK. If you do need improved performance in the winter, the best approach is keeping two specialist tyres (summer and winter) and swapping between them at the appropriate time of year.
Other campervanners swear by riding on winter tyres all year round. The logic being that, unless your van is your daily vehicle, the annual mileage is relatively low so you should get reasonable wear out of them, plus you get the benefits of better grip on slippery pitches whenever you need it. Anyone who’s ever visited a festival campervan field in the UK in summer knows that mud is not confined to the winter.
Is fitting winter tyres expensive?
Winter tyres usually cost a bit more than summer tyres. However, because you only use them for the 4 to 6 months of the year, both your summer and winter tyres will last longer and your overall tyre cost over time won’t increase that much. Especially, if you keep your campervan for a number of years.
When not in use, your tyres can be stored either in your garage at home or, if you don’t have the storage space, many tyre specialists provide a tyre storage and fitting service.
Should I fit winter tyres on my campervan?
Whether or not you decide to use winter tyres is going to come down to how much time you will spend on the road below 7oC. If you usually pack your campervan away for the winter and bring it out again when it gets warmer again, winter tyres are clearly not for you.
If you do use your van through the winter and live in an area where you expect the temperature to be below 7oC most of the time or you plan to go on trips where you expect tough driving conditions then you should give winter tyres serious consideration. Buying a set and switching them over every October and March would be the optimum solution. Otherwise, sticking with your summer tyres, or possibly, fitting all-season tyres to run throughout the year, may be a better bet.
If your annual mileage is sufficiently low that you are not concerned about the extra wear on winter tyres, you could opt for winters all year round.
In many European countries such as Germany, Sweden and Austria, winter tyres are, as you may expect, required by law during winter months. If you are planning a trip abroad in the winter, you may need to fit winter tyres to be legally compliant or face a hefty fine.
Do I have to tell my insurance company if I fit winter tyres?
Nowadays, insurance companies do not normally consider winter tyres to be a vehicle modification so won’t charge you an extra premium, if you fit them. As long as the tyres are fitted by a qualified garage and the tyre is the same size as that originally fitted to the car by the manufacturer.
That said, it’s worth checking with your insurance company first as some insurers may still want you to tell them about the change, even if they won’t add anything to the premium.
In Summary: Winter tyres are designed to provide more grip in snow, ice and temperatures below 7oC. You should consider fitting winter tyres, if you expect to be driving your campervan in these conditions during the winter or are visiting a country where winter tyres are required by law. If your van is only used for occasional weekends and holiday so the annual mileage is low, consider running on winter tyres all year round.