Winter tyres: Does your van need them?

October 15, 2019

Does your trade take you to rural or remote locations in the winter months? Is your van struggling to cope with wintery road conditions? Dan Powell of Honest John Vans answers the most common questions we get about winter tyres.

What are winter tyres?

As the name suggests, winter tyres are designed to provide better grip and safer road handling in cold weather conditions. They do this by using a different compound of rubber that uses more silica that allows the tyre to remain supple at low temperatures. Winter tyres also get extra grooves in the tread, which makes them softer and better at generating heat and dispersing slush.
In comparison, the rubber compound of summer tyres becomes rigid in low temperatures and becomes more susceptible to slipping. The surface is more prone to clogging up with snow and ice too, which can cause the surface to become smooth and provide less grip.

How do winter tyres work?

Winter tyres tend to get to work when the temperature drops below 7°C, as this is when standard tyres tend to harden and provide less grip. However, depending on which make and model of tyre you go for, some will provide additional benefits at higher temperatures in wet weather. This is because the open tread design does a better job of dispersing water and preventing aquaplaning.

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Will winter tyres affect my van’s economy?

Mercedes van winter tyres

Winter tyres can weaken fuel economy, with the higher rolling resistance forcing the engine to work harder. However, you can dodge this problem by fitting winter tyres to a smaller set of wheels that improve the rolling resistance.
As a rule, you should always fit winter tyres in a set of four. Failure to do so will destabilise your van in challenging road conditions. It’s also wise to buy a separate set of wheels, so you can swap the summer tyres with the winter set when the temperature drops. Just make sure the winter wheels have sufficient clearance for the brakes.

Will I need to tell my insurance company?

Some insurers are happy for you to fit winter tyres without telling them so long as the cold weather rubber is of the correct size and rating. You can check the rating on the sidewall of the tyre or ask your local fitter. If you’re uncertain, it’s wise to check with your insurance company.
If they try to charge an additional fee, ask for this to be explained and accounted for by the fitter. Another legal point to remember is if you travel abroad in winter but still on summer tyres, some European countries require winter tyres between October and March. If your van’s on the wrong rubber, you could risk a fine.

Do winter tyres wear out more quickly in the summer months?

No, a good set of winter tyres will easily cope with warmer temperate without any additional wear. However, given the benefits in the colder months, it makes sense to remove the winter wheels and store them until you need them.
Buying two sets of tyres might sound like a considerable outlay, but it’s important to stress that the cost and wear are averaged out over twice the distance one set of tyres will cover. This means your costs are the same over the course of two or three years.

Enjoying the series of articles from Dan? Watch out for the next article How to buy a van on eBay.

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