Winter is here once again in the Scottish highlands. For those of us bold enough to brave the outdoors during the more extreme season of the year its time to make sure your vehicle is properly prepared. Committed munro baggers or mountaineers are the ideal candidates to benefit from making an investment to face these harsh conditions.
Roads in remote areas of Scotland can be narrow and winding at the best of times but become even more treacherous in cold conditions. Full winter or all season tyres are the perfect addition to keep you moving until spring. Not sure about what to look for? You’ve came to the right place.
If you are new to winter tyres, the basic premise is that they are designed to operate in colder temperatures and match the elements. Tyre compounds remain soft under 7 degrees, providing superior road grip. Tread patterns are situated to disperse water, sludge and snow. Keeping you moving even during the worst of weather.
Standard summer tyres in contrast suffer greatly when the temperature drops. Treads quickly fill up with snow and become over whelmed, resulting in spinning tyres and loss of grip. In the cold, summer tyres become rigid resulting in far less grip on the road and inability to get power down. It can make it difficult to get out of dangerous situations requiring harsh braking or swerving. It is here that winter tyres prove their worth.
Last winter I went hiking in the Cairngorm mountain range in the Scottish highlands. Conditions were many degrees below freezing, with snow thick on the ground. It was here that I began to appreciate the value of having appropriate tyres fitted to cope with the weather.
Approach roads and narrow access paths for parking will likely be untreated making safe passage more difficult. With an all season or full winter tyre fitted, the anxiety of traveling to enjoy a day out in the mountains is greatly reduced.
Before upgrading I would never have considered traveling to areas such as the Lawers mountain range. Steep inclines prone to icing over made progress up hill difficult or impossible. After changing tyres it really opened up new possible destinations for winter outdoor pursuits, helping to extend the range of future adventures.
All season right for you?
Full winter tyre or all season? The easiest answer is that it depends on your use and location. If you intend on making regular use of your vehicle or camper van to access ski resorts in Europe or in the far north of Scotland a full winter tyre may be the best choice. It will provide the best level of performance in extreme conditions and keep you moving.
All season tyres are just that a compromise. They will perform better than summer tyres but lack all of the features of a full winter tyre. For occasional use in snow or for those that lack the space to store two sets of tyres, all season are a good fit. By fitting a set that have the mountain and snow flake symbol on the side wall of the tyre, you can be sure they have been tested to meet the minimum standard for a winter tyre in Europe where they are mandatory by law.
The finer details
A few points to remember before committing to winter or all season tyres are;
- Fit a complete set of tyres, not use to the front axel. Without four tyres of equal grip you increase the risk of losing traction on the back end of the vehicle
- Ensure they are correctly inflated, operating air pressure may differ to summer tyres
- Choose a set with the mountain and snow flake symbol to ensure they meet the minimum safety standards for a winter tyre in Europe
- Access your intended purpose and usual driving conditions to decide between full winter or all season tyre
- Check the load rating of the tyre carefully against the intended pay load of your vehicle.Car rated tyres are typically cheaper than van specific rubber but lack reinforced side walls
- Consider fitting steel wheels along with a tyre package to protect your alloys from road salt
Looking for suggestions for new tyres? Here are some recommendations of both full winter and all season tyres I’ve personally test during rough conditions in the Scottish highlands. Points to consider include;
- Overall budget – this will decide whether you are shopping for a premium brand name or a more mid range tyres
- Fuel economy – in general winter or all season tyres will use more fuel due to their softer compound. Different manufacturers set up their tyre to offer slightly better fuel consumption at the cost of overall grip
- Expected lifespan of tyre – winter tyres will wear more quickly as the weather starts to warm up towards spring. All season tyres will wear faster than summer tread patterns but to a lesser extent
- Grip level in different conditions – tyres can perform better under certain types of condition, such as rain, ice or snow. Consider which you are most likely to be in and look for tyres rated highly in these areas. Dryer climates for example won’t worry as much about stopping distance in rain but care more amount
- Tyre size or tyre profile – dropping down a size to a narrow tyre and fitting steel wheels may help you in the long run. Your alloy can be protected for summer
Consider all of the above carefully before jumping into a purchase to make sure they will meet your requirements.
Full winter tyres
1. Pirelli Winter Sotto Zero
2. Continental winter contact
3. Uniroyal MS plus
All season tyres
1. Michelin Cross climate
2. Goodyear cargo vector
3. Vredestein quatrac
Get in touch
Do you have experience of different tyre choices over winter? I’d be interested to hear about them in the comments section below. In particular if anyone has tried and tested the Goodrich off road tyres in snowy conditions I would like to hear from you. The chunky look fills the wheel arch of a VW camper van nicely but I have no experience of them over winter.