First of all, perhaps I should declare an interest.
In the early hours of the morning one Friday last December, I tried in vain to turn a four-wheel drive vehicle into a corner at 20mph. It slid off the road and became grounded.
Despite having permanent four-wheel drive and a lockable centre diff, there was no way out without being winched by a recovery vehicle three hours later.
That car was on standard road tyres. When I was offered a set of cold weather tyres by ATS Euromaster for this winter, it didn't take me long to decide.
Switching to cold weather tyres (merely calling them winter tyres doesn’t do justice to their breadth of ability) is high on the agenda of the tyre companies and fast-fit giants, even if it’s appearing much lower in the list of priorities of motorists.
I'm keen to see if cold weather tyres will make a difference to safety and keeping the car running where if fitted with standard rubber, I might have considered avoiding travel by road.
The Ford Mondeo 2.0 TDCi Titanium X Sport is fitted with 235/45 R18 ContiSportContact tyres as standard. The cold weather tyres – selected by Michelin-owned ATS Euromaster – are Michelin Pilot Alpins, although Conti alternatives would have been available.
While we would heed advice against travelling in harsh conditions, we expect to see improvements in tyre performance on cold days, particularly in wet or slippery conditions.
Cold weather tyres have a more complex tread pattern than standard rubber, and are made with a different compound that allows improved contact with road surfaces when the temperature drops to seven degrees Celsius or below.
Braking distances are reduced while traction and grip levels are improved.
The flip side of this is that effectiveness is reduced at higher temperatures. For example, a car fitted with cold weather tyres would have a slightly longer stopping distance than standard rubber on a dry road at 20 degrees Celsius.
So timing is important, and advice suggests the change should be made in October, while the switch back is best done in late-March or early April.
While an extra set isn’t free of charge, the cold weather tyres simply become one of several sets of tyres a vehicle would use during its life.
The actual cost of the tyres should be negligible, while it might result in savings through reduced repair costs. Ask your insurance company if they can make you a lower quote because of the lower risk of an accident.
Research by ING Car Lease in Holland – where almost 50% of vehicles switch rubber during the winter – has shown slightly fewer accidents involving cars using cold weather tyres, but also significantly lower repair bills in the accidents as a result of reduced impact speeds.
First impressions of the tyres fitted to the Mondeo are favourable: the car delivered power much more smoothly than normal when tackling roundabouts driving through a torrential downpour.
The car also felt much more stable when ploughing through water streaming across the road, when on the standard tyres there might have been a split-second loss of steering feel as the water temporarily comes between the tyre and the road.
It will be interesting to see how they perform in proper wintry conditions though. I will be comparing experiences with colleagues to see if the Mondeo continues to work if their cars are grounded.