Snow tyres (also known as winter tires) have tread patterns created to dig down and bite into snow and ice – they are made from softer rubber compounds that retain their flexibility in cold weather, allowing the tire to better conform to the surface of the road. Regular modern all-season or summer driving tires tend to get hard and brittle in cold temperatures. As a result, winter tires keep a better grip on snowy and icy surfaces than regular all-season or summer tires. Grip is critical for stopping, steering and avoiding getting stuck somewhere inconvenient.

All-season (also known as all-weather) tyres are designed to cope with all sorts of conditions, including dry roads and rain, but are not optimized for any one condition. They are generally made from harder materials that don’t conform to the road surface as well in low temperatures. Think of all-season tires as sneakers and snow tires as heavy-duty snow boots. It is possible to walk down a snowy, icy sidewalk wearing sneakers — but it’s a lot easier and safer to do it with proper snow boots.

Putting just two snow tires on your car drive wheels alone is not good practice. If you have a front-wheel-drive car and put snow tires on the front only, the back wheels won’t have anywhere near as much grip as the front wheels. This will make the car much more likely to spin out while braking or cornering. Likewise, if you put snow tires on the just back wheels of a rear-wheel-drive car, the wheels that do the steering won’t grip as well as those that provide the power, so the car may not respond when the steering wheel is turned. The secret is to buy a full set of four tyres and they will last you for years.

You can leave your snow tyres on all year, but it’s not usually done. Snow tires are noisier and the softer compounds from which they are made means they will wear out faster, especially in warm weather.

Wear is critical, because winter tires rely on their deep tread to dig into snow and ice. As soon as the snow is gone for good, remove your snow tires and reinstall your regular tires. An idea for some drivers is to buy extra wheels with winter tyres on them – making changing them less of a pain!