Experts recommend replacing winter tyres when the tread reaches 4 mm or less. This is roughly half of a new groove’s depth, which can come as a surprise to many drivers, as the legal minimum is only 1.6 mm deep. Consequently, many people wonder if it is better to “overdrive” their winter tyres in the summer, instead of throwing them away.
So, in other words, can you use winter tyres in summer?
Using winter tyres in summer
As the tread wears out on a winter tyre, it loses some of its seasonal properties, according to ADAC experts. Furthermore, “used” winter tyres (referring to products with a tread depth of less than 4 mm) and not significantly inferior to summer tyres with shallower treads. This means that, in certain, specific conditions, driving on winter tyres in summer can economically beneficial and environmentally justified (since it ensures the tyre is not discarded until much later in its lifespan).
However, before deciding to wear out your winter tyres in the summer, you should realise there are certain differences compared to brand new car tyres.
Using winter tyres
The biggest drawback of using winter tyres in summer is the increased braking distance and their susceptibility to aquaplaning. While the second issue also depends on tread depth, the difference in braking distances cannot be ignored.
Is driving on winter tyres in summer dangerous?
According to ADAC, the braking distance from 62 miles per hour (100 km/h) to a complete standstill in winter tyres may be as much as 16 metres more than when using summer tyres. At this speed it is enough to kill a pedestrian or severely damage a car in front of you. Unfortunately, ADAC’s own test does not offer the braking distance for winter tyres with a full 4 mm tread, as other tests on dry roads have shown new winter tyres still maintain a shorter braking distance (compared to old winter tyres).
Another important drawback of winter tyres is the increased tread wear caused by using soft rubber mixes that provide better driving properties in low temperatures, but wear out faster on hot roads. Higher tyre wear usually causes increased fuel consumption, and the difference grows even bigger the more dynamically you drive.
What about all season tyres?
The drawbacks described above also apply to all-season tyres, especially to models that perform well in winter. All-season tyres are usually designed similarly to winter tyres, although the compound used is designed to work in a warmer range of temperatures.
Smaller differences in wet and cold conditions
On many days, especially the cooler ones, the differences in winter and summer tyre properties are not significant. However, this situation changes when both the temperature and the load increase.
On warm days, especially when driving on sunlit dry roads, winter tyres offer less grip and stability. This also happens when the car is more heavily loaded. Such behaviour is most notable when cornering, as the car begins to “float” in a manner similar to driving on a slippery surface. Drivers who are not very good at driving in such conditions will feel especially out of their element.
On wet surfaces, the tread depth and pattern will have a decisive effect, and the differences between winter and summer tyres will not be so significant so long as the tread is as appropriate and deep enough to cope.
Is it worth it?
If the winter tyre’s tread depth is deeper than 4mm, there is no sense in using them for summer driving, unless the car is soon to be scrapped. Winter tyres wear out significantly faster in summer (compared to summer products). When the tread is below 4 mm (but, of course, higher than 1.6 mm) and the tyres are in good condition (free of mechanical damage and no warped rubber), you can consider wearing out the winter tyres.
However, this should be done with some reservations. You should drive more slowly - around 12-18 miles per hour slower on wet roads - and keep a larger distance from the car in front of you, to account for the longer braking distances.
Driving on 4 mm winter tyres in the summer may be worth if you have a very small yearly mileage and drive short distances, such as in a spare car. This will allow you to save one season’s worth of tyres (as you will probably need to buy a new set of tyres next season). It is not the safest solution, but it is still better than driving on bald summer tyres, especially in the rain, and it doesn’t have to be worse than buying the cheapest product on the market, or using tyres of unknown origin.
You should also remember that the cost of repairing a car damaged in an accident is still higher than purchasing a new set of tyres, so there is no excuse to sacrifice safety. Ultimately, as far as safety is concerned, a new set of tyres is unquestionably the best solution, although even the best tyres will not replace common sense behind the wheel - the most accidents still happen in good weather and on straight roads, after all.
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