Switching to winter tyres every autumn is an established part of the motoring year in many parts of Europe, but it’s yet to catch on in such a big way in the UK. You might think that there’s little point spending a lot of money just to cope with a few few days of heavy snow, but tyre manufacturers say the benefits of winter tyres go far further than that.

Winter tyre design

Flexible sidewalls Sidewalls which retain their flexibility at low temperatures allow the tyre to operate efficiently.

Cold-weather rubber The softer tread compound works better at lower temperatures and on wet roads.

Optimised tread The tread has large voids and fine channels or ‘sipes’ to clear away water and provide grip on snow and slush.

Even on a dry road, a winter tyre will offer more grip when the temperature drops below about 7°C. In the UK that means even if you never see any snow, a winter tyre will offer safer braking and more secure cornering for at least four months of the year.

We've tested Continental WinterContact winter tyres in 'normal' UK winter weather and extreme snow and ice. Traction was better than on summer tyres but the real revelation was the improvement in braking performance on wintry roads. Tere was far less chance of getting stuck or sliding into an accident.

Studies have shown that fitting winter rubber is significantly more effective than switching to a four-wheel drive car that’s still on summer tyres.

Though there’s an up-front cost, in the long term this is less than you might imagine because every mile on winter tyres is a mile less on your summer tyres, so they last longer. The other drawback is inconvenience: if you’ve nowhere to store a second set of wheels and tyres, look for a garage offering a ‘tyre hotel’ storage service.

Winter tyres often have lower speed ratings than summer tyres, and a car fitted with them should not exceed the rated speed. This is one reason why many cars now have speed limiter features built in. Always fit the size and speed rating of winter tyre specified by the car manufacturer.