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Best winter tyres to buy 2021

What are winter tyres, do you need them and which are the best winter tyres to buy for 2021? Read our run-down to find out

Although relatively mild winters are common for most of us in the UK, poor weather is occasionally seen across the country – and those of us in more remote areas can experience snow between November and March. As such, many drivers feel the need to be prepared with a set of winter tyres.

Winter tyres are more capable than all-season tyres (which excel on wet roads in particular), and are the only choice for those expecting to drive on snow at any point through the year. Winter tyres are legally required in many areas of Europe; there’s a wide selection available, and more and more Brits use them these days, as they are great for safety.

Winter tyres are designed to work in snow and ice but they are also made using rubber that allows more grip when the temperatures drop – so even in normal conditions they’re potentially safer than summer tyres when it’s cold outside.

For this reason, it’s well worth considering winter tyres for your car. In this guide we’ll look at all the things you need to think about, plus which are the best ones to buy in 2021. We’ll also look at some alternatives to using winter tyres, if you want to take a different path.

Our winter tyre test, carried out by Carbuyer sister site Auto Express, is one of the most comprehensive and thorough in the business, so you’ll know exactly which winter tyre is best for you. Read on for all you need to know.

What are winter tyres?

Winter tyres are designed to perform better at lower temperatures, as well as in rain, snow and ice. Their material and design are optimised to be suited to cold weather conditions and are considerably different to summer or all-season tyres. The result is a tyre that grips onto a cold and slippery road surface far more effectively than a tyre designed for warmer weather.

As you might expect, nobody has yet designed a tyre that can do everything, and while a winter tyre might not be great on a warm, dry road, a high-performance summer tyre will be hopeless in the snow. A good winter tyre is designed to perform a very specific job – to keep you safe and mobile in cold weather.

To achieve this, winter tyres are designed and constructed differently to conventional tyres. They contain more natural rubber, which means they’re softer – and therefore grippier – than summer tyres in really cold temperatures. They also have extra grooves and shapes in their tread, designed to better disperse water and slush, allowing better grip in wet conditions.

Do you need winter tyres in the UK?

In the UK, it’s not against the law to drive on summer tyres during the winter months, but if you want your car to be safer and easier to drive on wet, cold or icy roads, winter tyres are a very good idea. One statistic to remember above all others is that a car with summer tyres can take up to three times longer to stop on a snow-covered road than one with winter tyres.

We’d never recommend driving in snow if you can avoid it, but if you regularly have to make cold-weather journeys, a set of winter tyres could do more than just make driving easier – it could save your life. Even if you have a four-wheel-drive car or SUV, you’ll find the cold-weather performance of either is dramatically boosted by winter tyres. It’s worth remembering that four-wheel drive doesn’t help when you’re slowing down, but winter tyres work when both accelerating and decelerating. 

Although having a second set of wheels and tyres sitting around waiting for a cold snap isn’t always practical, some suppliers will store your summer wheels over the winter while you’re not using them. And although motoring is costly enough without having to budget for another set of tyres, if you think of them as an insurance policy and remember they’re likely to last you several years of occasional use, winter tyres really don’t look like poor value. Remember, too, that while your summer tyres are in storage, they aren’t suffering the usual wear and tear they would if you were using them every day.

Read on to find out our pick of the best winter tyres for 2021, or – if you’re still not sold on the idea – read more here to see that winter tyres are really worth it.

Best winter tyres to buy in 2021

Our annual tyre test is an industry benchmark that appears in Auto Express magazine each year. The events of 2020 prevented us from completing the entire test as normal, but we were still able to check performance of a number of tyres on snowy, icy and wet roads.

The tyre size we used was the biggest-selling one in the world (it’s one used on normal family cars) and we tested a range of tyres from top brands. 

Our first test at Ivalo, Finland, saw us using a short snow track for testing the tyres’ grip in poor conditions, including a braking test. Then in Contidrom in north Germany we tested each tyre in the same way in wet conditions. A dry test was also undertaken here for braking. We also tested tyres for noise in the cabin and looked at the prices to make a final decision on which would be awarded the best tyre.

Our winner this year was the Bridgestone Blizzak LM005. Read on below to see what we thought of each tyre in more detail.

Bridgestone Blizzak LM005

The Bridgestone tyre was excellent on our handling track and great for dry braking, plus it was one of the quietest tyres on test. Wet grip was great, and it proved strong for fuel economy, too. 

It wasn’t the best tyre for snow, but it makes a lot of sense as a winter tyre for British buyers, where snow is rare – as it was only just behind some of its rivals on the white stuff.

Hankook Winter i*cept RS2

The Hankook tyre performed very well on our snow track, and it also proved to be excellent in both shallow and deep water. Our testers felt that it was good to drive on the wet handling track as well, making it was a good all-rounder.

It wasn’t the most economical tyre, but it even impressed in the dry tests, so the Hankook is a great choice if you’re expecting a mix of conditions this winter.

Michelin Alpin 6

The Michelin tyre in our 2021 test was at its best in the wet, with plenty of grip on a damp road. It appeared to be the best tyre to prevent aquaplaning, too. Good fuel economy and performance in the dry impressed our tyre testers, although it wasn’t the best tyre for use in the snow.

Pirelli Cinturato Winter

If you often drive in snow, we found that the Pirelli is the best tyre to go for. Our drivers said that it felt the most secure on the snowy test track.

The Pirelli was good in the wet as well, though it didn’t impress us as much as it did on snow. Yet it wasn’t as good as the others in dry conditions, and fuel economy was among the worst of all the tyres here.

Goodyear UltraGrip Performance +

It was a rather mixed performance for the Goodyear tyre. It wasn’t all that far away from the best tyres here in the wet, but it still couldn’t quite match them. Our testers said that it felt good on the handling track, but it didn’t have as much grip as others.

It was at its best in the snow, where it scored highly, but in dry conditions the Goodyear fell behind again. A good tyre for really cold countries but perhaps not the best for British winters.

Falken Eurowinter HS01

The Falken tyre didn’t fare that well in the snow, as our testers found it slid about more than expected on the icy surface. Yet it was excellent in deep water and when braking in the dry.

In normal damp conditions it fell behind the other tyres, especially on the handling track. Fuel economy was a strong point, though.

Dunlop Winter Sport 5

The Dunlop tyre was consistently good in the snow, showing up as a strong performer in all our tests on the white stuff. It’s a great tyre for full-on winter conditions.

However it was not good in our wet surface tests, which is more common for British drivers – meaning it fell near the bottom of the table as a result. It was quiet and good on fuel but wet and dry performance wasn’t up to scratch.

Nokian WR Snowproof

The Nokian came out on top in our fuel economy test, where it used quite a bit less fuel than the next best tyre. However, in our snow tests it fell behind the pack.

It wasn’t great in our wet weather tests either, again falling behind its rival tyres here. At least it performed better in the dry and was relatively quiet.

Continental WinterContact TS 870

We tested a new tyre from Continental this year but it didn’t win because it’s not on sale yet. However when it is launched, this will be our pick of all the winter tyres we tested.

It was fantastic on the snow in all the tests we carried out – proving to be just as good in the wet as well. Strong results in other categories, plus impressive fuel economy, meant we decided it was the best all-rounder; it’s a shame it couldn’t grab the win due to a technicality.

Alternatives to winter tyres

Once winter tyres are fitted to your car, there’s nothing to touch them for convenience – they’ll take you through the cold season with a minimum of fuss and bother. If you choose to go without, though, there are still options available for those occasional snowy excursions.

Snow chains are the most popular alternative to winter tyres. They’re more common in colder parts of the world than they are in the UK; it’s even compulsory to carry them in your car in some countries. They can be quite tricky to fit and remove, and while they do help keep you on the move in the snow, they make for a very rough ride and need to be taken off immediately when you get to clear tarmac.

Snow socks are cheaper than snow chains. They’re basically bags that slip over the wheels of your car to boost grip in slippery conditions. They’re an impressive way of keeping you moving in the wet and snow and we think they’re the best alternative to winter tyres. The only problem is they wear out quite quickly.

Spray There’s now a special spray you can use on your tyres to help you on your way. It’s designed to only be used when you’re stuck and is easy to apply. You simply clear the tyre of snow, apply the spray and leave it to dry for a few minutes. It’s no match for hardier alternatives like snow socks or chains, but we were impressed by the step up in grip compared to an untreated tyre.

Now see how else you can prepare your car for winter with this winter car checklist

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