LET’S have a peep into the near future: You wake to find the road outside your home liberally covered in snow – and the imminent drive to work suddenly seems even less inviting than usual.
A thought suddenly springs to mind: ‘Should I have invested in winter tyres?’
A seasonal swap to cold-weather tyres is becoming increasingly popular, but most of us have little idea of their effectiveness.So, before chilly weather conditions begin, I decided to call on someone with relevant recent experience – British journalist Lee Meredith, who now does his driving in Norway. Lee, who works in the oil business, takes to the road in a front-wheel drive Kia Sportage which dons winter tyres when the temperature, inevitably, drops. In Norway, as with other Scandinavian and Alpine countries, there is legislation or a recommendation to fit such tyres – hence the use of ‘tyre hotels’ that store your summer wheels in winter and vice-versa, for a fee.
Lee told Flush Magazine: “The change to winter tyres is routine here, and they help keep us on the move.”Cold-weather tyres use a softer rubber compound, the surface of the tread blocks is covered with little jagged slits – called sipes – and they have deeper tread grooves than a conventional tyre.They are good at gripping cold, damp roads, below about 7C.
The key to their improved grip on wet and ice-covered surfaces is the sipes, which provide hundreds of extra ‘edges’ to grip the road as the tyre rotates. The tyres are also designed to gather a snowy ‘in-fill’ in the tread grooves and in the sipes, to help with grip on loose snow.Jamie McWhir, of Michelin UK, said: “Five years ago winter tyres made up maybe half a per cent of consumer tyre sales for us in the UK. That is now closer to five per cent. The emergency services, utility companies, delivery firms and many company car fleets are adopting a cold weather tyre policy to keep vehicles on the road and to keep employees safe.“That attitude is now filtering through to the private motorist, which has to be a good thing.”
In another safety move, Goodyear Dunlop are developing a tyre that ‘talks’ to the car. The chip-in-tyre technology uses a battery-less microchip embedded in the casing to communicate with a car’s onboard computer. The car receives information such as tyre pressure, temperature and even what type of tyre it is, allowing it to offer the best cornering, braking and stability. improvements include reduced stopping distances when the ABS is activated.