Given our liking for roaming around the moors and dales in the snow, you’d think we ran a four-wheel drive vehicle, but no, we’ve nothing more exciting than a front wheel drive hatchback. So how do we manage to get about in these conditions? The short answer is with difficulty nowadays. I’m an experienced and confident driver in snow, but the ultra-wide tyres the manufacturers choose to put on our cars nowadays are doing us no favours at all. Our current 1.4 ltr Astra is fitted with 225mm wide tyres, which in reality is like having fitted snow boards to each corner of your car when the snow comes and anything over 30 mph was an adventure. It’s no surprise the country grinds to halt the moment we get a dusting of snow, none of us have any traction!
Winter tyres are common in Europe and Scandinavia, in fact they are compulsory in some countries, but they are virtually un-heard of in the UK. I’ve spent a large part of my life as a rally navigator, so I’m used to having M & S tyres on cars. I even drove a very snowy RAC Rally in 1996, using 125mm wide snow tyres, which proved very effective in deep snow, but made the car handle like a ruptured elephant on ballet shoes on tarmac! So, what is the compromise?
Back a few years ago when new cars were fitted with narrower tyres, I could always lay my hands on a second-hand set of wheels and M & S tyres, which meant we could get about with some confidence, but once again, these made very poor every day road tyres, so meant a constant round of wheel changing.
But what are our options now our cars are fitted with these huge tyres that are wider than they used to fit on Porsches? Reading my manual, I found a brief reference to winter tyres that specified a size of tyre to use in winter. I contacted my local Vauxhall dealer about some wheels and was fobbed off with a load of flannel about how these wheels didn’t exist. Not to be deterred, I rang an old rallying friend in the stores at another Vauxhall dealership and he rose to the challenge and tracked down a set of obscure Opel wheels that would fit my Astra.
Now I had a set of spare wheels the next issue was finding some tyres to fit them. This also proved quite difficult, as there didn’t prove to be much choice available in the UK and it also demonstrated that there are “winter tyres” and there are “winter tyres”. Yes, the tyres I bought were softer than normal and they did have a slightly “blockier” tread pattern and they were an improvement, but they weren’t great in snow. They did however prove to be a good everyday tyre in cold conditions, but not a good snow tyre. I’d gone from having a car that was a total dead loss in snow, to one where I could get about, but I still couldn’t venture into the dales for fear of getting stuck.
Fast forward to this year and it was time to do some more investigating and I managed to find a set of Avon snow tyres and these have proved to be a great success. We put them to the test a few weeks ago, roaming around the Wolds in fresh snow and even tackled Leavening bank in 3” of un-treated snow, with no wheelspin at all. So now we can move about in deep snow with confidence and whilst they don’t make as good an everyday tyre as the previous set, they have proved acceptable to use until spring arrived.
For anyone looking for winter tyres for their car, I can highly recommend Avon’s WV7 winter tyre.