On a snowy road, they keep you in control of your vehicle, and at freezing temperatures, they keep their properties and do not wear too quickly - that is why it is worth changing summer tires to winter ones in autumn.
Winter tires differ from summer ones in two essential ways: 1. They are made from a softer material; 2. On the surface which is in contact with the road, it is porous and quite densely intertwined with deeper grooves, which the specialists use to define the aggressive nature of the tread. And this kind of tread makes the car (of course) louder but also, thanks to it, the car has better grip on the snow-covered road. Therefore, an uphill climb is not a big problem, and the driver can, if he/she does not exaggerate with speed and does not encounter extreme ice, stop the car wherever he/she wants and when he/she wants.
Don't count on a light winter
As with summer tires not working in winter conditions, the same situation is roughly visible with winter tires in warmer weather. They lose their strength and tread more quickly in warmer conditions, i.e. when the temperature reaches at least several degrees Celsius above zero.
This entails additional obligations and expenses for drivers. After all, you have to buy two sets of tires or two sets of wheels, and in spring and autumn, you have to visit the service centre. That's why many people put off the obligation to replace tires until the road conditions become extremely difficult. Sometimes they also count on the fact that, in the presence of mild weather conditions they can keep using their summer tires throughout the winter.
“However, the experts argue that this is only a false impression of how to save time and money. It is not even necessary to bring up the strongest arguments about accidents. It is enough to say that alternating the use of two sets of tires prolongs their life. This is lengthened even more when they are used as intended, i.e. when we use specific tires for both summer and winter. Not only do we improve our own and other road users' safety and travelling comfort, but we also make sure that our tires last longer,” explains a driving instructor with almost 30 years of experience in the profession.
More and more people change tires
“Poles realised that it is worth changing tires twice a year. The number of customers has been growing for several years now, despite the fact that a competitor has started operating nearby,” admits Robert Przygrodzki, the owner of a tire changing centre in Zielona Góra. “I expect, however, that the coming months may end up breaking the growing trend. But not because people will stop changing tires. It is about the increasing rates of civil liability insurance. I can see that families who have had 2-3 cars up until now are starting to give them up for one in order to protect the household budget, among other reasons,” he adds.
Is it possible to distinguish the periods during which we remember to change tires? “Only five years ago, most customers waited as long as possible, and then when the conditions suddenly deteriorated, almost everyone started to do it at the so-called ‘last whistle’. With time, people have learned that it is possible to plan ahead in order to avoid queues. Nevertheless, two major periods can be distinguished. The first boom takes place one to two weeks before 1 November. People, participating in All Saints’ Day, want to have winter tires. The second boom occurs when the first snow falls. The white view through the window always has an effect on our imagination and brings us customers. Later, the increased traffic in the workshop usually lasts until Christmas,” says the owner of the tire changing centre.
What about spring? What’s it like for the tire business? “It is very different from autumn. It is more pleasant for customers and service technicians because the period in which we can change the tires from winter to summer ones lasts much longer and therefore, there are rarely queues. It even happens in July when people who want to go on holiday suddenly remember that they have winter tires,” says Robert Przygrodzki.
Polish neighbours free of dilemmas
While in Poland car owners decide on tire adjustment depending on the season, in many European countries the whole issue is stated in the road traffic regulations. Well-known for their love of regulations and order, the Germans do not face the dilemma of changing or not, or when to do so. Under the treaty of a 100 EUR fine in the wintertime, one has to drive a car adjusted to the winter conditions. Among the requirements, tires marked with the M+S or snowflake symbols are not the only obligations but also winter screenwash.
The southern neighbours of Poland - in the Czech Republic - winter tires are obligatory on national roads from November 1st to March 31st, in Slovakia from November 15th to March 15th.
Suitable for all weather conditions
In Austria, conditions are the decisive factor - if they are not favourable, passenger cars should be equipped with winter tires by November 1st and cannot be removed until April 15th.
Road signs regulate the use of specific tires in various European countries and their mountainous regions. For example, in Switzerland, an alpine skiing country, where there is no obligation to use winter tires, the driver may be fined for obstructing the traffic by not adjusting the car to road conditions.
Norway, often taken by snow and frost in the northern regions, states absolutely strict requirements for vehicles heavier than 3.5 tonnes. In contrast, the owners of passenger cars have a general obligation to provide the vehicle's adhesion to the road surface. Sometimes winter tires are not enough. Spikes or chains are indispensable. In another Scandinavian country, Sweden, passenger cars are equipped with winter wheels or tires for the period from December 1st to March 31st. The winter season in Finland is slightly shorter - from December 1st to March 1st.
Poles are not the only ones. Movements towards official regulations are ahead
Road traffic regulations in Poland, similarly to the UK, Denmark, the Netherlands, Belgium, Ireland, among others - do not state that drivers have to use winter tires. However, discussions and movements towards introducing such rules in Poland have been going on for at least a few years now and the Parliamentary Body for Road Safety recommended that driving on winter tires should be mandatory from November 1st to March 31st. This issue seems to be quite urgent, when there is a traffic jam on a snowy street due to a driver still using summer tires.
Insurance companies put extra pressure on car owners by refusing or significantly limiting the amount of compensation from the auto accident and theft insurance policy in situations where the driver has not adjusted tires to the road conditions, such as the car owner driving in snow on summer tires.
Happy medium- all-season tires
For drivers who, for various reasons, do not want to replace their tires twice a year, producers came up with something that was supposed to be a happy medium. Whole year tires, also known as all-season tires, should stick well to dry and wet roads in summer and deal with the snow in winter. Buyers of the multi-seasonal tires do not have to take care of purchasing two sets of tires or wheels, storing one of the sets or planning to change them twice a year.
From tests presented by the industry's automotive portals, it can be observed that in winter, multi-season tires lose against similar winter tires and during summer they also lose against summer ones. In both cases those are seemingly marginal failures. However, the difference is, for example, 2 meters of stopping distance which may sometimes decide whether or not an accident will happen, therefore, it is worth taking it into account when deciding to buy tires and keeping extra caution on the roads.
Retreading tires popular in transportation sector
When Polish drivers began to understand the value of winter tires, the secondary market and used tires were very popular especially from Scandinavia or Germany.
“Today, my customers have decided to buy used tires less often. This happens, for example, because new tires, especially those in larger sizes, have become cheaper than a few years ago,” explains the tire replacement service owner. “Among the customers who replace used tires with new ones, nearly 90% of them decide to buy tires from the lower and middle price shelves, while only a few people reach for the so-called "premium class tires,” he adds.
Tire's durability can be increased by retreading. The treatment basically gives a worn one a new look and features to the tire.
“Some of my clients said that they were able to buy new tires at German petrol stations cheaper than in Poland. They did not even know that they had bought recycled tires. In Poland, several companies still deal with retreading and selling tires for passenger cars. On a much larger scale such services are provided for trucks and their semitrailers,” says the owner of the Zielona Gora tire changing centre.
“As we can find out from the Ernst&Young report, "the socio-economic impact of retreading truck tires in Europe", the lifespan of low-cost imported trucks' tires is approx. 120k km, while more expensive tires produced in Europe can be retreaded twice, which can prolong their use to approx. 660k km. As a result, the cost of imported tires from a low segment may be much higher per kilometre than the cost of purchasing, usage and then retreading the tires from the higher price,” according to Bartosz Grejner, Conotoxia Analyst.
Temperature speaks more than calendar
If you want to replace your tires in the autumn and spring and you have doubts about when to do it and if there are any serious deadlines, the experts tell you that the weather, not the calendar, is the best indicator.
The service Testyopon.pl claims that the borderline is 7 degrees Celsius. So when the autumn's temperature drops, it's time to switch to winter tires. In the spring it is worth taking into account variabilities in weather (short-term return of winterous weather conditions) and the general rule is the same. It means that, when the outside temperature stops dropping below 7 degrees Celsius, cars should be equipped with summer tires. Until the Polish Road Traffic Regulations contain rules that oblige car owners to replace tires within the specified deadlines, it is worth remembering and implementing the 7-degree rule.
Huge production scale and strongly increasing import from China
“The demand for new tires is constantly increasing. Production in the European Union grew between 2009 and 2016 by approx. 38%, according to ETRMA data, however, in recent years the growth production pace has been stabilised at a level slightly below 2%. In the EU, in 2016, the production was 4.94 million tonnes, compared to 5.1 million tonnes in 2007, before the financial crisis,” says Bartosz Grejner, Conotoxia Analyst.
As in almost every trade area, producers from Asia are beginning to take part in the European market. “Between 2009 and 2016, the import of passenger car tires into the EU increased by around 50%, according to the European Tyre Manufacturers' Association (ETRMA). Significantly faster growth was recorded for imports from China, which has doubled in that period, taking almost half of the total number of tires imported in 2016,” emphasises the Conotoxia Analyst. He also adds that “in the same period of time, tire import from China for buses and trucks has risen fourfold to just over 60% in 2016 of all imported tires”.