It’s either winter tyres or barbecuing the dog

Dog in a carAnd so, as the final week of February is upon us the official-ish end of winter is nigh. This year there was more hype than ever about winter tyres, and in the end most of us had a total of perhaps two to three weeks’ worth of days cold enough to make them worthwhile.

They’re wonderful things in the right (or wrong, depending on how you look at it) conditions, staying as soft and pliant as a jelly baby long after normal tyres have gone harder than school fruit cake.

But you can’t really just fit them and forget about it. If the weather is warmer than you were expecting, winter tyres aren’t designed to be run for too long in temperatures much higher than the 7ºC mark – the point at and below which they start performing better than normal tyres.

Some tyres are labelled ‘all season’, but don’t be fooled by the marketing semi-truths. They’re just summer tyres with more water-clearing grooves in, and absolutely no more use at minus two than any summer tyre.

Winter ones are made of a much softer compound of rubber, and as well as wearing much more quickly than ‘summer’ tyres in mild weather, the extra flexing and jiggling around that the soft compounds allow can build up too much heat – which as any racing driver will tell you will ruin a tyre faster than you can phone for replacements.

So why the fuss? Well we all remember the two ‘hilarious’ winters we had before this one, where cars doubled in height after a few nights’ snowfall and when it wasn’t a good drive to work without having to dodge at least two other drivers whose brains clearly hadn’t engaged into ‘icy roads mode’ yet.

On those sorts of days a good set of winter tyres might save your skin more than once. But if you go to the expense and then only get the benefit for a few days over a three-month period, you can’t argue that’s poor economics – unless you make a living selling winter tyres, that is.

The real problem in this country; the reason the airports shut and that people lose their heads entirely as soon as the first flakes of snow fall out of the sky is that the weather in this ridiculous country is just too unpredictable, and when we can’t predict it properly we can’t plan for it properly. Yes, the Swedes handle the snow better, solely because every year they bleeding well know they’re going to get it.

It’s hopeless in Britain because if we plan for snow and ice, we get practically none and our expensive winter tyres wear themselves half out in the space of the season. If we don’t plan, we get weeks of news footage about how coaches full of wailing schoolchildren had to be dug out of fifteen-foot snow drifts, and how hundreds of drivers got stranded on the M40 and had to do without a proper dinner.

So what’s the solution next time? If we plan we’ll all no doubt waste hundreds of pounds on tyres that after three months we didn’t really need. If we don’t plan we’ll all have to attend emergency igloo-building classes and learn about how best to cook the family dog. Personally, when we get to December 1 this year I’ll stick with the winter tyres. I like my dog.

Matt Kimberley

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