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Sally Wilson

Sally is a key member of the MoneyMaxim editorial team. She is a frequent hire-car user and often goes on holiday with her family. With an interest in getting great value for money, Sally shares her hints and tips for travelling and insurance.

Should I ask for winter tyres or snow chains when I hire a car?

If you are off on holiday this winter, particularly if you are heading to the slopes, then you may want to make sure your rental vehicle is prepared

car wheel with snow chains on a snowy road

When you hire a car in the winter months you may find you are offered the chance to add winter tyres. But do you need them and what is the difference between winter tyres and snow chains?

Driving in the UK with the exception of some locations, we rarely get enough snow to worry about changing our car's tyres in order to cope with snowy conditions. However, when you are driving abroad, especially if you are going on a skiing holiday, it is important that your car is just as prepared for the environment as you are.

In some countries, such as Germany and Austria, winter tyres are compulsory during the colder months and, therefore, rental cars are automatically provided with winter tyres. However, in many locations you can add winter tyres or snow chains as an additional extra to your booking. Sometimes this is known as a Winterisation fee.

What is special about winter tyres?

The design of winter tyres means they are softer and have deeper grooves which provides better traction and grip when it is cold. They are able to disperse rain and snow more easily which improves the tyres contact with the road surface.

Winter conditions are not just about ice and snow, standing water in the road and piles of wet leaves can also be a hazard to drivers. With winter tyres on your hire car, you are less likely to skid or lose control of your vehicle.

When should I use snow chains?

Snow chains are used when there is deeper, compacted snow on the ground. If they are used on clear roads they can damage the wheels as well as the road surface.

Chains offer even better grip than winter tyres and can be very useful if you are driving through a remote area where the roads have not been treated. If you then reach roads which have been gritted or have less snow then you will need to pull over and remove the snow chains.

If you are not familiar with using snow chains then it is a good idea to practise doing it before you are in a situation when you need to put them on in a hurry. And we recommend wearing a thick pair of gloves to protect your hands and, also, wear a high-viz jacket if you are by the side of a road.

When your wheels have snow chains on you will need to drive at a steady slow pace under 30mph and make gentle turns.

There are countries, such as France and Italy, where in mountainous regions it is compulsory to have snow chains in the car during the colder months if you are driving a car which is not already fitted with winter tyres..

Our 7 Top Tips for Winter Driving

1 - Remove all snow from the car before setting off

2 - De-ice your windscreen

3 - Ensure windscreen wipers are working

4 - Take plenty of warm clothing

5 - Use dipped headlights in heavy snow and use fog lights if the visibility gets worse

6 - Drive at a slower speed, leaving a larger gap between vehicles, and avoid sudden turns and sharp acceleration to prevent skidding

7 - Watch out for patches of ice on the road where the sun has not broken through to melt it.