So once again we have temperatures below freezing (hey, it’s January, that sometimes happens at this time of year) and a lot of drivers don’t know what to do in such a situation. At the same time, it is not that complicated. All of us (or at least most of us) have been to driving school and have already covered some kilometers behind the wheel. So we know that it slides on snow and ice and that it needs decent tires to keep the car on the road and not behave like a sled every time you try to slow down.

But it is with those tires that we run into a big problem. The political pressure on “mandatory winter tires” has only caused Czechs, according to tradition, to skimp on it and buy some cheap scumbag for their car, just to fulfill the legal obligation. Czechs simply do not behave normally on the road. They only act according to whether there is a fine for it or not.

And so they drive sixty on the highway in light snow, because no one will give them a fine for it. If they bought better tires for their car, they could easily drive at 100, picking their noses while doing so, and not have the terrified expression of someone who is waiting for an early death under the wheels (or fists) of a nervous delivery driver who is unable to fulfill his daily schedule because of such .

And so I ask. “Guys, do you really have to ride that compressed Chinese darkness just to save three hundred?”

The 4-4-4 rule? Not really, but something will come of it

Surely you remember the media massage about how winter tires must be on all wheels, must have a tread pattern of at least 4 mm and must not be older than four years. It is excessive, well stored or rarely used tires do not have to be thrown away after four years. Tire condition and tread depth are important. But even the limitation of four millimeters is not entirely accurate.

Photo: Jan Majurník

It always depends mainly on the sample, but of course the age of the tires also has an effect. But consider that, for example, ten-year-old tires were made with older technology, and even if they belonged to the top in their time, today they would be barely enough for average.

New tires have a pattern about 8 mm deep and of course their natural wear occurs during operation. However, very high-quality winter tires work fairly well only up to a 3 mm sample, then their “efficiency curve” begins to decline rapidly.

We were once testing new winter tires from Continental and had the opportunity to try the same tires with different tread depths from new to run down to 2mm. It must be said that on the snow there was no noticeable difference between the new tires and the ones worn down to 4 mm. Perhaps the new ones performed a little better during the initial traction. Up to the mentioned 4 mm, the tires performed very well, on wet or dry roads as well as new. Only with tires with a sample of about 2 mm it was no longer a glory and you could tell that they were due for replacement.

Photo: Continental

Is it better to have old tires on a new car or new ones on an old one? Modern tires can turn even such an old shard as the E36 Compact into a perfect driving tool that will drive a new Bavarian on old tires in the snow. We tried it once when testing new continentals.

But the age of the tires is not so decisive. If you dig up some ten year old tires somewhere and they still have enough tread (say 6mm) they will still perform better in slush and snow than relatively new tires run at 2mm. Of course, it depends on what kind of tires it is. Comparative tests do not focus on the quality of tires according to their age, and it would be interesting to see how the same rubber will behave when it has a new sample, but is ten years old.

But our experience can indicate something. As part of the mentioned tire testing, we were able to test what a “new” tire made according to technologies from the late 90s does compared to the newest tire. This will mainly concern the overall quality of production technologies and materials used. The development of tires is moving forward so quickly that even a top product fifteen years ago would hardly be enough for an average today. So yes – the newer the tires the better. But that doesn’t mean you have to throw five-year-old tires in the trash. Feel free to put them on the car if they have enough sample and are fine.

Benchmarks are a good guide

It’s never too late, and if you’ve got some dark spots on your car or really old and worn tires, you can still buy new ones. In addition, the initial frenzy has long since ended in tire repair shops, so you won’t have to wait 14 days for an appointment and they will usually take you right away. The stock of e-shops with tires is also decent, and thanks to the huge competition, prices are kept within reasonable limits, and not even service centers bid thousands of crowns for tires as before.

Comparison tests, which you will find plenty of on the Internet, will help you choose tires, and we also try to bring the most important ones. For example, the German ADAC is a very good source of information, and if you remove the ideological tinsel from the current results, you can still find out which tires are really good and which are not worth a damn. You can see some of the tests below.

Also decide according to the conditions in which you will ride. Those who drive a lot and cannot look back at the conditions should really choose the best tires with the most balanced characteristics, i.e. those that work well on water, ice and snow. On the contrary, people riding practically only in the mountains will definitely go for the characteristics on snow and ice. It must be said that some tires prefer specific conditions and are not worth much in the dry, but they are excellent in the snow. Others, on the other hand, are suited to rather milder conditions.

All-season tires? Why not, but they’re not for everyone

The quality of all-season tires has also greatly improved. Even if the tires are compromises and are not miraculous in extreme conditions, really high-quality “all-season” tires with sufficient tread are still better on the car than crappy or run-down winter tires. For people who don’t have anywhere to store a set of wheels, tend to ride short distances, and don’t ride at all in very bad conditions, one high-end all-season tire is a really good compromise than tossing between a pair of bad cheap tires.

The advantage of all-season tires is that you simply drive them all the way through. In 6 to 8 years, you will throw them away not because of their age, but simply because they are worn out. Although we have already indicated that well-stored tires will last a long time, the rubber will naturally age, and even ten-year-old tires will not really perform as well as new, even if they still have enough tread.

Save on tires? It makes no sense!

Of course, tires cost something, but so does gasoline, as well as insurance, maintenance and many other things associated with vehicle operation. The car also loses value (unless you have a collectible Ferrari 250 GTO, but you probably won’t be driving to Lidl for milk on sale with that in the winter). When you include all the costs associated with the operation of the car, you will find that the tires are a negligible item. In short, it makes no sense to skimp on them and go ahead and buy the best ones available.

Photo: Shutterstock / JakubD

Just because you have an old and cheap car does not mean that the cheapest tires are enough. Even such a Thalia deserves decent winters. It is not only about you, but other road users as well.

Yes, you will pay extra, but not that much. Let’s take an example, such as an Octavia III with 205/55 R16 tires. The cheapest “no name” Chinese rubber today costs about 1,300 CZK per piece. If we look at Barum Polaris, popular in the Czech Republic, which are not bad tires, a piece costs under 1,900 crowns in e-shops.

But even the top tires that win comparison tests are not as expensive as a golden pig. Continental TS870 tires cost less than 2,500 CZK per piece, comparable competition from Goodyear, Michelin, Bridgeston or Nokian costs approximately the same, if we stick to the same speed index (and T up to 190 km/h is really enough for the Octavia in winter, or H up to 210 km/h). Even tires with a higher speed index V up to 240 km/h (does anyone need this for winter?) cost up to 3,500 CZK, runflats around 4,000 per piece.

So to sum it up. Objectively bad tires, with which you only fulfill a legal obligation, cost CZK 5,200 in a set on an Octavia. At the same time, for 7,600 CZK you can have a decent middle ground in the form of new bars. And for around 10,000 crowns, you can have a whole set of truly top-notch tires that take pride of place in the front ranks in renowned tests. Do you really want to save a few hundreds a year on tires and live with the risk that it will be harder for you to brake, the car will be harder to control and you will have trouble getting out of the parking lot? Just laugh, but the five-meter difference in the braking distance is exactly what you will regret when you look at another car in the trunk.

However, even great tires won’t automatically get you out of trouble

But even if you put the best gear on your car, that doesn’t automatically mean you’ll be invulnerable. In winter, it is always slippery on ice and snow, and you have to take that into account. On good tires, you simply have a better chance of braking, turning and going up the hill. But it still depends on that piece of bone, skin and fat between the seat, steering wheel and pedals. That is, on the driver.

Photo: Ivo Hercík

Owners of four-wheelers in particular often overestimate the capabilities of their vehicles. And also yours. And it’s the same with winter tires. Even really good rubbers cannot perform miracles and cannot overcome the laws of physics.

We have already written about how to drive on snow or ice. We only remind you that fluency, predictability and preparedness are important. Concentrate on driving, take into account the pitfalls of winter roads (ice on bridges and in the shade), do not stick to others, make your intentions known in time and do not hold anyone up unnecessarily. If others can drive smoothly on a cleared highway ninety, so can you with your Karoq or other modern SUV.

Because conditions are constantly changing, feel free to “kick” the brakes at a safe moment to see if the car is holding or if it has started to slide a lot. And it is also a good idea to test the behavior of your car at the limit somewhere in a safe place (unused road, empty parking lot, parking area…).