Tread on winter tyres | Continental tyres

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Car driving on a snow-covered road. Good tyre tread is necessary for these conditions

Tread on winter tyres

What you need to know about winter tyres

What you need to know winter tyres

Tread and winter tyres – the basics

  • Winter tyre tread patterns have larger, deeper grooves
  • They increase safety through better brake control and traction when driving in winter conditions
  • You need new tyres when winter tyre tread is below the legal minimum, at the latest
  • Check the tyre tread depth with a gauge or look out for the wear bars
  • Watch out for general damage to your tyres 

If you were to look at tyre track markings left in dirt, the distinctive patterns may remind you of a shoe print. And, just like comparing the prints left by winter boots and summer shoes, you can work out which are snow tyres, and which are summer tyres. Along with other tyre features, the unique patterns designed for winter tyres influence your vehicle’s traction, grip and brake performance – especially on ice, wet surfaces and in snow. In this article we’ll investigate why tyre patterns are so distinct and why tread is especially important for winter tyres.

Elements that make every tyre unique

In harsh winter conditions, a tyre’s tread pattern enhances a vehicle’s grip and handling on icy roads. It is formed from four main divisions:

  • Tread blocks, raised rubber sections that have direct contact with the road and which eventually wear down over time.
  • Sipes,  very thin slots cut into the tread block. They provide extra traction in wet weather, snow and ice.
  • Grooves,  continuous ruts that run around the circumference of the tyre to effectively channel away water. They are deeper in snow tyres to help reduce the chances of aquaplaning and generally create more traction.
  • Ribs,  the raised rubber sections that run around the circumference of the tyre to help improve steering in snow, on ice covered surfaces and wet roads. 

While these four main divisions help form a tyre’s pattern, there’s a fifth element that makes all the difference for winter tyres – the tyre compound. Winter and all-season tyres are made from a specially formulated natural rubber compound that is softer and more flexible than summer tyres. It means, they’re able to offer much better grip and traction in lower temperatures. The winter tyre tread design offers its benefits especially on roads covered with snow or mud. The snow gets pressed into the wider and deeper tread grooves and by this it utilises the effect of shear forces on snow for additional grip. The wider grooves can also absorb more slush contrary to summer tyres and ensure more contact to the road surface.

Overall, these 5 elements work together by interlocking and biting into snow and ice to provide additional traction and improved braking.

How is the tread different on snow tyres?

As mentioned above, winter tyre patterns have larger, deeper grooves and additional thin channels known as sipes. This combination allows greater brake control, traction and safety when driving in snow or icy and muddy road surfaces. Additionally, when snow gets compacted into the deep grooves, this helps create further traction. 

Infographic depicting the minimum tread depth for winter tyres

Tread depth for winter tyres 

Watch out for tread depth on winter tyres

The performance of an all-season or winter tyre depends largely on the tread depth. As tyre tread wears down over time, its ability to maintain grip on frozen road surfaces reduces. To ensure optimum driving performance and more importantly driving safety, your tyres should always have sufficient tread. Always consider the legal regulations of your country and take into account that tyre performance decreases with tread depth, especially in winter conditions. 

Woman checking the tread depth of her winter tyres

Check winter tyre tread depth regularly 

How to check tread depth

You should aim to check you tyre tread depth regularly, and your tyre pressure every two weeks. 

You can check you tread depth in two different ways:

Use a tread depth gauge, inserting the probe into the groove and pushing the shoulders down to the surface of the tyre. Do this across several sections of the tyre and ensure the tread depth meets the legal requirements in the country you are driving in. If it's below this measurement, it's time for new winter tyres. In a pinch, you can also use a coin to check your tread.

Check your tread wear indicators, sometimes referred to as wear bars. All tyres are manufactured with a series of small rubber bars embedded in a section of the tyre grooves. Once the tread is worn down, these bars are flush with the level of the tread pattern. This means the tyre has reached its limit of winter suitability and it is now time for new tyres. Note: you may need to rotate your tyre a few times to find the wear bars.  

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Watch out for damage on your winter tyres

When checking your winter tyre tread, look for any damage such as unusual bulges, small scoops and divots in the tyre. They could indicate that your tyres are misaligned or that there may be other problems with your vehicle. If you do find any damage, visit your local tyre specialist as soon as possible for a thorough check. You should also closely check the conditions of your winter tyres when you prepare your vehicle for the cold season.

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