Winter tyres use a tread rubber compound (high silica content) and tread pattern specifically designed to retain flexibility in low temperatures
Why are winter tyres not compulsory here?
Many parts of the country never or only rarely experience weather conditions that would justify use of winter tyres. Then there are the drivers who choose not to use the car when snow or ice are around.
Should you buy winter tyres?
Winter tyres make sense if you live in a remote area where winter conditions are likely to be worse for longer.
Elsewhere it may be harder to justify the cost, though this has to be a personal decision depending on the risk of bad weather, your confidence when driving and how much you have to drive when snow and ice are around.
Winter tyres are made by most of the main manufacturers. Some suppliers will provide these pre-fitted to a set of steel wheels too.
If changing from alloy wheels to steel wheels you may have to change the design of wheel nuts used too. Ask the wheel supplier or car manufacturer for advice.
Winter tyres must be fitted in sets of four. Fitting only one pair will affect the balance and stability of the car.
All Season Tyres
As an alternative you could consider buying ‘All Season Tyres’ which also have a high silica content for low temperature flexibility and a tread pattern somewhere between a normal summer tyre and an out-and-out winter tyre. Like all compromises they’re unlikely to be as good as the best specialist tyre but can be expected to work better on wintry roads than a summer tyre and you will avoid the hassle and cost of swapping wheels/tyres twice a year.
If winter tyres are just too expensive you might consider carrying snow chains for use in an emergency.
Snow chains are of limited use in this country though because you can only use them where the road surface is covered in a protective layer of compacted snow/ice.
Snow chains can be awkward to fit and remove in the cold and when the wheel arches are packed with snow and your gloved hands are cold and wet.
Tread depth and pressure
Whatever tyres you fit they must have enough tread – at least 3mm is recommended for winter, and certainly no less than 2mm.
Check tyre pressures too but don’t be tempted to try reducing pressure when there’s snow and ice about – it doesn’t help with grip and can affect handling.