Tyres can be classified according to three distinct categories as follows:
- summer tyres
- all-season tyres
- snow or winter tyres
Most tyres used in Ireland are categorised as summer tyres. This does not mean that they are for use during the summer only—it’s merely as a way to segregate them from winter tyres in countries where there is a practical and sometimes legal requirement to fit winter tyres.
Snow/Winter Tyres—Advice for Motorists
Snow tyres have tread patterns specifically designed to bite into snow and ice. They’re made from softer rubber compounds that retain their flexibility in cold weather, allowing the tyre to better conform to the surface of the road; whereas summer and all-season tyres get hard and are less pliable in cold temperatures.
As a result, winter tyres give better grip on snowy and icy surfaces than regular all-season or summer tyres. Grip is critical—not just to avoid getting stuck, but to ensure that a vehicle can stop and steer and ensure safety enhancing technologies such as Antilock Braking Systems (ABS), Electronic Stability Control (ESC) and all-wheel drive can do their jobs.
All-season tyres are designed to cope with all sorts of conditions, including dry roads and rain, but are not optimised for any one condition.
Tyres that meet new American and Canadian winter tyre standards are marked with the symbol of a snowflake on a mountain on their sidewalls as shown below.
Mountain and snowflake symbol
Winter tyres—should I fit them?
Currently there are no specific requirements in Irish Road Traffic Regulations mandating or prohibiting the use of snow or winter tyres.
Our advice is that, should you wish to install a set of snow tyres, you always install a full set of four to reduce the risks of over and under steer.
Once the possibility of snow is gone for the season, you should remove your snow or winter tyres and reinstall your all-season or summer tyres. The reason for this is that they are made from softer compounds, which cause them to wear out faster, especially in warm weather.
Again, there are no specific Irish Road Traffic Regulations mandating or prohibiting the use of snow chains, snow socks or studded tyres as our relatively low annual snowfall has not warranted the introduction of such regulations.
However, Irish Road Traffic regulations prohibit a driver from using a vehicle on Irish roads if their control over the vehicle has been reduced and if the vehicle presents a danger to other road users. This is important with respect to traction aid devices and studded tyres. While such devices may increase a vehicle’s grip where the road is uniformly covered in snow and ice, they will have reduced performance compared to a correctly maintained tyre on dry road surfaces.
It is very important that a driver take great care when using such devices and:
- abide by manufacturers’ instructions
- not exceed the maximum speed rating specified for device
- adhere to conditions under which it should be used
- ensure that fitting device will not invalidate warranties/insurance
Snow chains or cables are designed to wrap around the thread of the tyres on your vehicle and latch together tightly to prevent slipping. They provide massive traction gains by biting into the snow and ice on the ground.
Snow chains look like chain link wrapped around the tyre, and snow cables look like thick wires. Both devices are tough, adept at adding traction in adverse weather conditions, and won’t break under normal conditions.
Do not attempt to fit the wrong-sized chains on your vehicle. Snow chains come in different sizes, so not every snow chain will fit every tyre. You can find the size of your tyres written on the sidewall to avoid buying the wrong chains.
Snow chains must be installed per the manufacturer’s recommendations for safety. Ensure that they are fixed on the correct wheels and the locking devices are attached correctly.
Don’t drive for long periods on asphalt with snow chains or cables, as this will shorten the life of the chains and may cause damage to the surface of the road, which is prohibited under Irish Road Traffic Regulations.
Image of tyres fitted with snow chains
Snow socks are super-strong textile covers that you slip over the drive wheels to provide the grip you need on ice and snow. They're reusable, relatively easy to fit, take up minimal storage space, and have been popular with motorists during our recent sporadic winter conditions.
Like snow chains, snow socks come in different sizes, so not every snow sock will fit every tyre and wheel combination. The size of your tyres is written on the tyres’ sidewalls.
Snow socks must be installed per the manufacturer’s recommendations for safety, and motorists must not exceed the speed limit for which they’re designed. Particular care must also be taken to ensure that they’re installed on the correct wheels. If the vehicle is front wheel drive, the socks go on the front wheels and vice versa.
Care must be taken not to drive on asphalt for long periods with snow socks fitted, as this will shorten their life.
Image of a snow sock fitted to a car's front tyre
Snow or winter tyres may be designed to accept the installation of metal studs for additional traction in icy roads. The studs also roughen the ice, thus providing better friction between the ice and the soft rubber in winter tyres.
Under Irish Road Traffic Regulations, although not specifically illegal, studs should be used only on packed ice or snow, as their direct use on the road surface would cause damage and therefore be prohibited.
Image of a studded tyre