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Monday 21 January 2013

Winter Tyres - Part 2. Selecting the tyres

What types of tyres are there? 

The M+S mark requirement – to comply with legislation on the Continentreduces the choice down to either the full winter tyre, a so called “four season” or all-season tyre, or surprisingly, in the case of the Michelin offering, a “Camper” tyre.

It could be argued that all-season tyres are a misnomer; they are just “grippier” tyres more suitable for wet and muddy conditions – there being no substitute for a dedicated winter tyre for use in the ice and snow. But for us, the legal requirement is the thing; everything else, as so much in this life, is a compromise. All-season tyres are unlikely to be as good as the best specialist winter tyre but can be expected to work better on wintry roads than a summer tyre, and you will avoid the hassle and cost of swapping wheels/tyres twice a year.

It must also be remembered that modern winter tyres are not just for snow and ice, advances in compound technology and tread pattern design mean that they provide higher levels of safety in cold and wet conditions too; as we ourselves have now found, the improved levels of grip even with an M+S tyre can be remarkable over a standard summer tyre. 

I did at one stage contemplate fitting a full winter tyre, and Continental is one source that says if you are unable to swap tyres, you can use winter tyres all the year round, but there are issues here. 

Winter tyre compound contains a higher percentage of natural rubber and is designed to remain flexible below +7 degrees Centigrade, as this is the temperature below which – research has shown – potentially hazardous conditions are most likely to be encountered. However it will wear faster and run warmer, compromising the handling in the summer, possibly even making the vehicle feel unstable – such as through small steering movements on long corners – because the rubber has become so soft. 

But, opinions differ as to what is a safe upper limit for these compounds, 15° C is one recommended figure, though the performance of compounds will vary from one manufacturer to another, and tyre type to another.

Secondly, there are trade-offs on grip and braking distances as well. Winter tyres will always out perform summer tyres on snow and ice covered roads, but what you gain in superior grip with a winter tyre under braking in wet and wintry conditions, you will lose in the warm and dry compared with a standard summer tyre. The reductions in stopping distances for winter tyres in the summer though, are smaller than for the opposite case of summer tyres in winter conditions. 

On wet roads the differences will be much smaller or insignificant, the summer tyres losing out to the winter tyres at 5°C, but coming marginally on top at 20°C. Thus, winter tires on a wet road in the summer show only minor disadvantages compared to summer tires.
However, on dry roads the summer tyres will beat the winter tyres on braking distances by an increasing margin with rising temperature. This is hardly surprising as modern tyres are highly developed for their designed task. As most accidents happen in wintry conditions however, you may consider this to be a compromise worth making.

Thirdly, a softer, more open, “blockier” tread is likely going to be noisier, wear faster and give rise to higher fuel consumption, despite reassurances to the contrary – see the section on EU label ratings.

Some or all of the above comments maybe applicable to four-season tyres as well and you will have to seek out assurances from the manufacturer as to their suitability for the conditions in which you intend to drive.

Finally, another conundrum. Winter tyres lose their suitability - and legality - for winter conditions when the tread depth falls below 3 or 4mm (depending on the countries’ legislation), but the partially worn tread blocks no longer deform so much when braking and so their performance in the dry actually improves. This has led to owners with worn winter tyres “using up” their winter tyres in the summer, albeit accepting the reduced performance in the wet and longer braking distances compared to summer tyres. 

So, it makes sense to buy your winter tyres at the beginning of the winter season, however long you keep them. Remember though, every year the rubber compound will have matured and hardened a little more, reducing its grip at low temperatures! Michelin say it is impossible to predict the usable life of a tyre as there are so many variables affecting its condition, but after 5 years they should be inspected by a professional every year.

However, for motorhomers like us, the all important issue is the M+S symbol for compliance with the Law in continental countries.

What are the new Euro label markings?

The new Euro label ratings came into force on 1st November 2012. They measure three factors: Fuel Efficiency and Wet Grip (on a descending alphabetical scale, similar to the efficiency/environmental ratings on washing machines, etc,) and also Rolling Noise in decibels. They quickly and easily indicate distinctive differences between regular “summer” and “winter” tyres, and the performance of tyres at the cheaper end of the market!

They are crude yardsticks however, not taking into account other important factors such as handling and driving stability; resistance to aquaplaning; braking performance on dry roads; and durability. 

Winter tyres are designed to perform to their highest abilities in temperatures below 7°C, and the rubber compound is able to retain its elasticity – unlike a summer tyre, which is prone to solidifying in freezing conditions!

Caution is therefore also required in reading too much into the differences in EU Tyre Label scores for winter tyres, as the tests are carried out in the same conditions as all-season and summer tyres i.e. relatively warm. Winter tyres do not perform to their best abilities in these conditions, so it is very likely that they will continually score poorly against summer tyres.
When selecting a winter tyre it is more important to investigate and take into account the type of compound used in the tyre's construction, the size of the tyre's contact patch, the tread pattern and the sipe design, and of course, how the tyre has scored in the specific winter driving tests.

Can I just fit winter tyres on the driving wheels?

One consistent piece of advice I came across was always put your best tyres on the rear, even if you have front wheel drive. However, it is definitely not recommended to fit winter tyres on just two wheels – and some tyre fitting companies may refuse to do so – because of the unbalancing effect on the cars handling.

The logic behind this is to avoid “oversteer”, or the rear wheels overtaking the front, rather than “understeer” when the front tyres are slow to respond to the turn. If you think about it, oversteer is more likely to be disastrous if carried to its ultimate conclusion in a spin, especially with a rear-heavy motorhome, than if the front wheels just ploughed on a bit when they should be turning. Either way, having different tyres front and rear is likely to upset the proper handling of the vehicle.

What makes of tyre are available?

Knowing that I needed an M+S marked tyre, and thinking along the lines of an all season tyre, my research started by sending the same email enquiry to six of the major tyre companies: Continental, Dunlop, Goodyear, Hankook, Michelin and Vredstein. 

Interestingly, Continental, Dunlop and Hankook responded immediately with useful information and Vredstein 10 days later (having been forwarded from Holland to their UK office). Goodyear and Michelin did not respond at all, which is very disappointing for Michelin as they produce a very specific tyre to our needs.

After a preliminary look at the tyre ranges, three brands appealed to me: The Continental Vanco series - a huge German company with a well deserved reputation, the Vredestein Comtrac series - a Dutch company with an excellent reputation, and the ubiquitous Michelin Agilis series. I liked the look of the Continental and Vredestein tread patterns on their all-season tyres, less so the Michelin range.

Michelin produce a specific motorhome tyre, the Agilis Camping, which is often categorised as a summer tyre, but magically it has the M+S symbol and hence would apparently be acceptable as a winter tyre in the above countries. Michelin do not make an all-seasons tyre, neither do Dunlop or Hankook.

Continental also make a “Camper” tyre, as does Pirelli. However the Continental “Vanco Camper” and Pirelli "Chrono Camper" tyre do not carry the M+S marking and so fell out of the running

I discarded the Continental Vanco Winter, the Vredestein Comtrac Winter and the Michelin Agilis Alpin winter tyre for the reasons of uncertain performance in high summer temperatures.

That left me with the Continental Vanco Four Seasons, the Vredstein Comtrac All Season and the Michelin Agilis Camping, that meet the winter legislation requirements.

Continental Vanco Four Season (215/75 R16 113R)

The Continental Vanco Four Season tyre, with the M+S symbol, has a softer compound and a coarser tread pattern, but is suitable for summer use, and was for me the leading contender. In the words of their technical representative: “it has some great benefits: high safety in the summer due to improved handling characteristics, high safety in winter due to reliable traction and braking on wintry roads, good grass contact and is very quiet. This tyre works to the same level as a summer tyre and has no limit on temperature, so you don't have to worry like you would a winter tyre.” 

The EU ratings for Vanco Four Season are: 

Fuel Efficiency: (E)
Wet Grip: (C)
Rolling Noise: (72 dB)

When I raised the issue of the EU ratings, he responded:

The Four season tyre will give you all the applications you are looking for annually, this tyre is great all year round. The EU ratings measure three aspects only, wet braking on a 1mm of water on a particular flat road surface, rolling resistance, and external noise levels measured in decibels, there are so many other factors which make up a good premium tyre. The EU label is just a guide and should not be used for the only decision when purchasing a tyre.

(for some reason this link does not show the Four Season tyre, but it is easily found on supplier’s websites)


The Vredstein Comtrac All Season also greatly appealed to me, particularly as it carries the mountain/snowflake marking, which means that you are absolutely sure it will be accepted as a “winter tyre” by the authorities. The fact that there is no regulatory control over manufacturers applying the M+S symbol to their tyres means that in the future only the certified snowflake symbol may be acceptable.

The specification reads: “The Vredstein Comtrac All Season is a van tyre that offers both summer and winter performance in equal measure. This tyre suits van drivers that want to benefit from enhanced winter safety without having to run 2 sets of tyres and avoid the costs of swapping these over each season. The Comtrac All Season has a carefully designed sipe structure, which is a key feature of winter tyres and offers great traction on snow and ice. This tyre has the mountain/snowflake and therefore fulfils the requirements for designation as a winter tyre in countries where winter tyres are mandatory. It has a directional tread design that is great at clearing slush in the winter and rain any time of year. The tyre offers comfort, excellent handling and stable road holding. The compounds in the Comtrac All Season are balanced for both winter and summer use and allow for a high degree of wear resistance for a long life span. As with the Comtrac it benefits from a steel reinforcement strip, making it suitable for all modern delivery vans

The EU ratings for Comtrac All Season are:

Fuel Efficiency: (E)
Wet Grip: (E)
Rolling Noise: (71 dB)

Michellin Agilis Camping Green X (215/75 R16 113 Q)

The Michelin Agilis Camping is a one off, it is the only “Camping” designated tyre to carry the winter M+S (Mud and Snow) rating. How Michelin managed this, I don’t know, as neither the Continental Vanco Camper or the Pirelli Chrono Camper achieve the same feat. This is classed as a summer tyre with a more “grippy” tread suitable for light snow and wet, muddy surfaces, but Michelin would have you believe that the compound is something special as well.

The Michelin Agilis Camping is designed especially for motorhomes, for long tyre life and very safe journeys! Product benefits include: Long life, Robustness & Versatility (M+S marked) The design and technology is derived from the new Michelin Agilis van tyre range. New technology, such as the DCP (Durable Contact Patch), equals a long lasting tyre capable of use over several seasons. The reinforced construction using two casing plies enables the use of higher inflation pressures to provide resistance to heavy loads (up to the tyre's rating). Protected sidewalls: 8 kerbing protectors have been positioned on each sidewall to increase resistance to sidewall scuffing. A tread pattern with 30% more sipes and 20% more grooves, combined with a rubber compound capable of operating over a wide temperature range, provides sufficient grip for occasional use in difficult conditions. Simply the best tyre on the market for camper vans or motor homes.”

The EU ratings for Agilis Camper are:

Fuel Efficiency: (C)
Wet Grip: (B)
Rolling Noise: (70) dB)

Other Factors

The manufacturer's claims for reinforced construction and protected sidewalls open up another can of worms when it comes to the difference between “Camper” designated tyres and “Commercial” LCV tyres – there really is a fog of contrary information as to the real and important differences. 

Suffice to say, perhaps, that the old 8 and 10-ply designations have fallen into disuse (they only really applied to cross-ply tyres anyhow), and that the manufacturers’ are well aware of the abuses that “white van man” puts their tyres to, so the technology going into “Camper” tyres is unlikely to be significantly different to LCV tyres, other than a few tweaks aimed more at the marketing angles for motorhome owners.


Paul s said...

Thanks Ian and Sue for a very informative article, it gives me a lot of the information I was looking for.

Anonymous said...

Thanks Guys for all the effort in compiling and posting this info, is just what I was looking for.

Tires Ottawa said...

Great post.
I like your blog.
Thanks! for sharing good information.

Alastair said...

Thanks Ian and Sue. This is a brilliant article and has saved me ages of research! I have been running winter tyres on my car for years so am a convert already, but have never fitted them to my Adria Twin before. i have ordered the VREDESTEIN COMTRAC ALL SEASON tyres from a firm called mytyres.co.uk (actually German - I tried to get them from the firm you recommend in Falmouth - Xpress Tyres - but they are not available in the UK. Xpress very helpful though). Got them at a great price - RRP £175.00 down to £105.00 each.) I'll let you know how I get on with them once fitted. Thanks again for the advice. Al.

Anonymous said...

Fantastic article. Thanks for your efforts.

Dave Ansell said...

Very interesting and useful article. Having lived in Germany for many years where it is compulsory for winter tyres, I have been swapping over summer / winter tyres every year. The winter tyres I presently have are Pirelli Chrono, these are specific winter tyres with the snow flake marking, how ever I find their performance very poor and have had to put snow chains on at the he first sighns of snow. The tread, in my opinion, is just not trippy enough. I believe the VREDESTEIN tyre looks much more promising and will switch to these in future.

Duncan Lewis said...

Thank you Ian and Sue for a very useful post. I have recently taken delivery of a new Murvi Morello XL fitted with the Continental VancoFourSeason tyres (225/75 R16C). I have only done a few hundred miles on them but am struck by the relatively quiet and comfortable ride. I might post something on my experience of using them once a few thousand miles have passed. I have no direct plans for travel to countries with heavy snowfall or low temperatures, but thought that occasional trips to the continent in the winter months would make these a must, hence the factory fit from Fiat.

Ian and Sue said...

Hi Duncan. Good choice of Van! We nearly bought one ourselves before being seduced by the Rapido.

Interesting that you have found the Vanco Four Seasons to be quiet and comfortable – on the EU ratings they are (marginally) the noisiest on my shortlist, which gave me a slight reservation about them, but as we found, the Michelin Agilis proved to be exceptionally quiet, especially after the old XC Camper tyres.

The downside of these tyres of course is the tread wear. After 10 thousand miles of (very mixed terrain) driving our front tyres were between 3 and 4 millimetre and I decided to change them before we went on another long trip. Essentially, we had two years use out of them. The rear tyres were virtually wear free and these went on the front. The new ones were put on the rear as is the almost universal recommendation – and also ensures that the tyres never become aged as they might do if just left on the rear axle.

Unknown said...

Hi Ian and Sue,

Thank you for article great review :-)

I have been researching tyres all winter and have three in the running - the exact 3 you narrowed down too. Michelin Agilis camping, Verd. Comtrac and Conti four season.

I spoke with Costco re Michelin last week and rather than coming back and confirming date of manufacturer they went and ordered tyres so they are sitting ready to be fitted.

After thinking about load and sway when overtaken by a lorry (sidewall flex) I had resigned myself to the Michelin, however after putting more pressure in the air suspension this seems much better, although of course much bumpier ride - making me reconsider the Michelin and leaning back towards the Comtrac's ....

Do you find the side wall and ride particulary tough in comparison to a non camping tyre? I also have the very same reservations about tread pattern of the Michelin vs. Conti's and Comtrac's the comtrac's looking perfect for mud and the benefit of alpine marking.

Decisions decisions....

Ian and Sue said...

Hi Ross

Glad your research tallied with mine! I am no tyre guru, I can only comment on our experience, and that is that the Michelin Agilis Camping have given a performance light years removed from the old XC Camping: far superior grip in all weathers, improved stability and much quieter.

The downside has been the relatively short lifespan, but we do give our tyres a hard time: fully loaded up to 3850 kg MPTLM, lots of rough tracks and up and down mountains.

I did have a long chat with a Dutch motorhomer in Portugal. He had a large and heavily laded Hymer with Vredstein Comtracs fitted and was delighted with his choice, claiming he had got 40,000 km out of them!

Personally, I tend to side with the people who say that the additional “Camper” specifications are just marketing hype, and they are unlikely to have a major technical difference because of the set up costs of manufacture for a relatively small market – if they build a tyre to survive White Van Man, then they will surely give a good performance on a motorhome which is cared for by its owner.

Unknown said...

Thanks for reply Ian really appreciate it :-)

Comments re the heavily laden Hymer are reassuring, we are new MHer's sadly we only anticipate maximum mileage PA of 3k - the furthest trip is likely to be an annual visit travelling from Birmingham to your home county.

Our Hymer must travel over our lawn (I’m quite obsessive about the green stuff) each time we use it to get it from its parking spot in the rear garden to the road - Vredestien win points here. We may choose to try skiing at some point, again Vredestein win top marks for alpine markings.

The Michelin’s are wk48/15 which is appealing ...buy really tempted to go with Vredestein route now, I guess the unknown date of manufacture from My Tyres is a worry though.

"unlikely to have a major technical difference because of the set up costs of manufacture for a relatively small market " never considered this but certainly makes sense :-)

All are well priced for 225/70/15 priced between £360 Vredestein, £380 Michelin (Inc. £25 Costco cash back deal) and £420 – Continental . Most tyre fitting depots in the UK talk the Vredestein down suggesting being a budget tyres – I think that is mainly because they cannot source them though.

Think you have swayed me back to my original choice …Vredestien….

Any comments on side wall stiffness of the Michelins?


Ian and Sue said...

To be honest Ross, I think tyre technology has come on a great deal in recent years, particularly in the chemistry of the compounds used, and any of these tyres will give you good service.

Like you, I found availability of the Vredsteins was an issue, which was why I ended up with the Michelins. Vredsteins would have been my first choice, mainly because the tread pattern looks really “grippy” and they carry the Alpine symbol to indicate they have actually been tested as a winter tyre. That may become an issue down the line if legislation is tightened up, but who knows? I have met a couple of van owners who had the Vredstein full winter tyre fitted and they professed to be very happy and certainly didn’t admit to any problems in summer use.

That said I cannot fault the Michelins apart from the wear rate, last year on Portugal’s west coast we drove down a lot of sandy lanes to get to the cliff tops/beaches (signposted 4x4’s only!) and although I was sweating a bit I was amazed how good they were in loose sand – the grip mats and snow chains stayed in their bag. That does not mean of course that the Vredsteins and Continentals wouldn’t have been even better!

I have inadvertently hit a couple of kerbs with the Michelins and they didn’t seem to be affected at all, the steering remained stable and there was no apparent damage. They are also extremely quiet.

Your choice!

Silvers said...

A really interesting and useful article Ian, I am looking to renew all 5 of my tyres due to them being almost as old as I am!
Although a subscriber to you blog it was recommended as the most comprehensive article Jay from 'Our Tour' has read on MH tyres. he was not wrong.

Many thanks

Unknown said...

Hi Ian and Sue,

Just to update you we ended up getting the Vredestein comtrac's they came back up at a good price with Camskill who confirmed they would get them direct from Vredestein. Service was good tyres are dated 52/15 - they even threw in a winter drivers pack with bits and bobs contained in a nice bag :-)

Tyres were fitted by my local garage at the weekend and so far so good - thanks for the article and your comments :-)

Silvers said...

Following up from my last post I did the rounds on the phone and internet and today ordered full set of the Vredestein Comtrac all season from BlackCircle.com. They came in at £102.71 per tyre complete but with my CSMA discount I paid £99.63 each, result!
Having them fitted locally next Wednesday.


Ian and Sue said...

Hi Mike and Ross

Thanks for your kind comments, nice to know that all that hard work researching and collating has been useful to others.

I would be very interested to hear of your practical experiences with the Vredsteins when you do get out into the mud and snow! You certainly got some keen prices;-)

All the best


Tim Sinclair said...

At last - found an excellent take on an important m-home subject after scouring the web. Thanks Ian and Sue.

I found interesting that out of the big names, Goodyear wasn't favoured. Its 'all season' Cargo Vector ones were fitted to my 2014 VW Westfalia Club Joker. They have so far done 35,600 miles over two years six months.

With 3mm tread (front) and 4mm (rear) I reckon there's another 2k miles to be had, but as I'll be doing a lot more than that in the New Year (off to the sun) I'm looking to replace them.

My subjective Goodyear experience is wear must be regarded as fair, grip on grass and in snow poor, noise poor, ride hard (then that may be down to air pressure).

So, I like the sound of Michellin Agilis Camping ones but am put off by your finding that you used up more than 4mm of tread covering only 10k miles.

So, going by your research, that leaves me with either Continental Vanco Four Seasons or the Vredstein Comtrac All Season. As a constant wanderer, I'm usually never in a hurry - my driving could be generally described as gentle-ish. So I guess my priorities are 1, wear, 2, grass/sand grip, 3, noise 4, comfort.

All best,


PS Tyre pressures another difficult/thorny question! The guide numbers on the plate inside my driver door has tyres far too hard.

Ian and Sue said...

Hi Tim

Apologies for not responding sooner, and thanks for your kind comments.

I can’t remember why Goodyear fell out of the running, probably because they didn’t make an all season tyre or not in the required size. The tyres I actually wanted were the Vredstein but they weren’t available in our size at the time.

The thing to take into account about our tyre wear is that we continually drive loaded near our maximum of 3850Kg and for some reason we are always going up and down steep hills and mountains and along rough tracks, even in the summer – I blame Sue and her guide books!

So I think our wear would be expected to be on the heavy side. It also has to be remembered that it’s only the driving front tyres that wear significantly, so you are not faced with buying a full set every time. When I need to replace the front set I have the rear ones brought to the front and fit the new to the back. This ensures that the rear ones don’t die of old age and you always have your best (as recommended by the authorities) on the rear.

Hope this is of use!

Unknown said...

Many thanks for your interesting article now I have added the Vredestein to my selection :/
I have recently purchased a second hand VW T5 California and after having read around I came up with the following 5 choices:

- Pirelli Carrier All Season ( apparently very low noise and very good wet grip)
- Goodyear Cargo Vector 2 ( I have tried the Vector 4seasonn gen 2 on my car and they are great also in the snow, not sure about these though}
- Continental VancoFourSeason 2 (new generation not so many tests around)
- Nokian Weatherproof C ( the non-C version made it as a 3 place into the best 3 all season tires after Michelin CrossClimate and Goodyear Vector Gen2 - aquaplaning and snow it's the's their strenght)
- Vredestein Comtrac 2 All Season

Any recommendation?

Ian and Sue said...

Hi Antonio

Thanks for your comment. Unfortunately, my article and the research behind it is now 4 years old and I haven't kept up with what is available, I suspect that you are probably now better informed than I am!

That said, some things don't change and I am a great believer in that you get what you pay for – quality rarely comes cheap. Sales figures and availability also tell you a lot.

Thereafter it is down to personal requirements – a more grippy, softer, more blocky tyre will wear quicker and be more noisy – everything is a compromise, your choice will depend on what your key needs are.

Good luck!

Tim Sinclair said...

Antonio - I have a Westfalia camper on a T5. After similar research, I found the wheel size ruled out many of those recommended or ones I had in mind. I ended up replacing the factory-fitted Goodyear S&M ones (after 36,000 miles) with the same. As it happens, I'm happy.