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What are Winter tyres?

And why you need them?

Winter weathers snow and ice can come suddenly as an unwelcome surprise. For challenging weather conditions, you need proper winter tyres. But what are winter tyres? And why do they perform so well in wintry conditions?

How do winter tyres actually work?

Our tyre engineers have spent years determining how different pattern designs give drivers maximum safety in cold temperatures and on ice and snow. Many drivers rely on winter tyres - but how exactly do they help you stay safe on the road?

Winter tyres deliver additional grip, increased traction, shorter stopping distances, and better grip when cornering – providing an all-round safer driving experience in demanding wintry conditions.

Gislaved Winter tyre infographic

Their softer compound, deeper grooves and narrow tread sipes help to disperse road surface water, slush and snow.

Why are winter tyre tread depths deeper? Because this allows snow and slush to build up in cavities. This sounds counter-intuitive - but actually snow is really good at gripping onto snow - so these deep tread depths really boost tyre traction.

What are the advantages and disadvantages of winter tyres?


  • Significantly improved grip
  • Better and safer handling
  • Shorter braking distances


  • Lower performance above 7ᵒC
  • Storage costs
  • re-fitting costs

In short, the key differences between winter and summer tyres are structure, compound, and tread:

Winter tyres

Higher natural rubber content makes them softer, improving grip and for an enhanced handling performance below +7ᵒC.

A variety of tiny grooves (sipes) in tread pattern disperse water and prevent aquaplaning – providing optimal grip on snow, slush and ice.

Deep tread pattern with cavities for snow – which grips and compacts snow for increased grip and traction on snowy and icy roads.

Gislaved Winter tyre infographic

Summer tyres

Relatively hard compound softens in milder temperatures (above +7ᵒC) for better all-round performance in dry and wet conditions – lower friction and better fuel efficiency.

Fewer sipes and special tread bars to minimise aquaplaning - provide more grip in warm temperatures.

Simple block-shaped tread pattern causing large road footprint, which ensures excellent handling and outstanding breaking.

How to identify winter tyres?

Winter tyres are clearly identifiable: the tyre wall features two symbols - the letters M+S accompanied by a snowflake/mountain logo. M+S indicates that the tyre has great handling in muddy and snowy conditions. You’ll also see this symbol on all-season tyres. The three-peak mountain and snowflake – also known as 3PMSF – only appears on winter tyres. It means that the tyre has attained minimum required performance on snow (as per EU Regulation 661/2009).

Gislaved Winter tyre infographic

Should I buy winter tyres?

In short – yes. The minor inconvenience of changing tyres is far out-weighed by the benefits. If you face wintry conditions in your region it is recommended – and in some countries even compulsory – to have winter tyres to handle different wintry conditions and driving surfaces.

Much more than just snow and ice

Winter tyres perform best at 7ᵒC and below, so they’re suitable for much more than snow and ice conditions. Why? Because winter tyres have a different (softer) rubber compound than standard summer tyres - it doesn't harden in lower temperatures and gives better grip.

Braking distances

Braking distances are shorter in colder temperatures (7ᵒC and below) with winter tyres. You’ll stop sooner on wet and icy roads. And stopping distances are vital - every metre makes a difference.

A better drive

Cold weather? Your vehicle will simply perform better on winter tyres. Their tread pattern, block edges, sipes, and rubber compound increase traction and braking performance on cold surfaces. And more edges mean better cornering and lane changing at higher speeds – increasing your driving safety and comfort whatever the weather. 

Save money on fuel too

Use winter tyres when the temperature hits 7ᵒC and below and you’ll cut fuel costs too. The tyres’ structure means better transfer of lateral forces when steering, and flexible sidewall means less energy is lost when absorbing the impact with the road. So in colder conditions there’s better rolling resistance for more kilometres to the litre.

Simply safer

Drivers are several times more likely to have an accident in the winter than summer – and the statistics prove it. You can significantly lessen the risk of becoming another negative statistic by fitting winter tyres – simply safer.

When should I change to winter tyres?

  • Shorter days and worsening weather mean its high-time to get the low-down on the best winter tyre models.
  • Knowing when to change to winter tyres will ensure your driving is safer and save you fuel costs. Change tyres too early or too late and your car won’t be properly prepared for the driving conditions ahead.
  • Buy your new winter tyres at the end of summer and have them fitted straight away.
  • This saves you storage costs, and you won’t be caught out by a sudden drop in temperature.
  • +7°C is the agreed cut off point – so buy your new tyres or retrieve from storage before the temperature drops in autumn, and likewise change back to summer tyres when the temperature recovers in the spring.
  • A good quality set of winter tyres should last for 10 years when switching every six months.
  • In some countries, it’s compulsory to fit separate summer and winter tyres.
Gislaved Winter tyre infographic

What schould I pay attention to before fitting winter tyres?

Before you have winter tyres fitted, you should take a note of the quality of the tyres. Specifically, you should pay special attention to the tread depth. While the legal minimum depth is 1.6 mm, we recommend ensuring winter tyres have 4 mm or more. This helps ensure some of the most vital properties, such as grip, braking distances and protection from aquaplaning.

Similarly, you should also check that neither the treads or sidewalls are not cracked or damaged. Any damage here can get worse on the roads, so don’t fit weakened or damaged tyres to your car.

Likewise, if you store tyres in a garage, you should have them balanced as well. If they are not balanced correctly, this could have a negative influence on the car’s suspension system, which could result in sideways movements, as well as causing uneven wear across the tyre set.

Finally, when it comes to these checks, make sure to check the tyre pressure. Tyres can lose pressure naturally, so they will not be at the same level as they were last year. Of course, adjusting the pressure here will also highlight any leaks that might have gone unnoticed.

Gislaved Winter tyre infographic

For drivers, living in mild winter conditions (temperatures rarely drop below freezing), all-season tyres can be an alternative. All of our all-season tyres have the same M+S and the three-peak mountain snowflake symbol as winter tyres. This means they can also be used in countries where winter tyres are required by law. Please check your local legislation for more information.

Please consider that summer and winter tyres are more specialised towards the respective conditions.

If you are unsure about the right tyre choice, please contact your local dealer for personal advice.