'Tis the season to get slippery

Every year the great winter tyre debate begins. Every year it snows. And every year I watch social media chatter incessantly about pros and cons. If you live somewhere snowy you need them, and here's why.

Winter is an interesting time of year. It gets cold, people spend more time at home watching interesting TV (why else do you think there's chuff all good on in the summer?), couples spend more time...together, Christmas happens, and those of weak disposition moan about the weather.

It's also when SUV owners with four-wheel drive get smug. "Oh, well the bad weather doesn't bother me. I have a Range Rover, you know.

"Having the power delivered to all four wheels means that when the weather goes south I'll be able to drive as perfectly safe as usual. I don't know how the little people in their Ford Focuses manage it. It must be aaaaawful."

That's all well and good, because having drive head to all four corners of your car is a good thing when the roads get slippery, and if you're in a Range Rover you'll be comfortable, too. But you won't necessarily be safe if your wagon's wearing the wrong rubber.

The vast majority of cars on the road are shod with all-year tyres, meaning they're grippy in the summer and decent in the wet, but pretty useless in the snow. My car's got summer tyres on it, which means the little Lotus will spin its rears to its heart's content in the wet, but when the conditions are perfect it's the quickest thing in the world. Honest.

As a consequence, I don't tend to drive my own car that much during the winter months -- I either take public transport (I live in London so it's no big deal) or I use one of the press cars we have in as they, unsurprisingly, come shod with winter tyres during the nasty months of the year. It's a useful perk to have, as it means I can drive a car to and from shoots/on evaluation routes without much fear that the weather will spit the wagon off the road.

Many choose not fit their cars with winter rubber -- some of these people have big, heavy Range Rovers and think they'll be fine because of their four-wheel drive. Here's the skinny: just because power can go to all four wheels, there's no proof that it'll translate from wheel to road. A Range Rover on summer rubber in lots of snow, driven 'as usual' (80mph on the motorway and late braking, let's face it) is essentially a 2.5 tonne hippo on ice skates. You may be able to hit the speed limit, but can you stop in time? Can you corner? Ever tried walking on ice with leather-soled shoes? That. But with a big insurance claim.

To prove this point, as happens this time of year, car manufacturers send out press releases extolling the virtues of winter rubber, which you can buy from them directly as it happens.

I received a lovely one from Volvo who had done some tests at an indoor snow slope in Tamworth (it's near Birmingham and not as nice, so not very nice at all). The chaps from Sweden had two technically identical V40 hatchbacks aside from one difference -- one had winter rubber, the other normal shoes.

Both cars were tasked with going up the snowy, slippery slope, and guess what? The one on summer rubber could barely make five metres, while the winter-shod car made it to the top.

Interesting, isn't it? And the V40's a front-wheel drive car.

This winter, if you're all smug about your SUV having four-wheel-drive, take a moment to think about the shoes it's wearing. It can make all the difference.

 

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