The winter weather in December and January cost businesses more than £1 billion, according to some estimates.
And with disruption caused during February 2009 fresh in people minds, it was perhaps inevitable that questions would arise about whether different tyres would have kept fleets on the road.
For many northern European countries, tyres are switched for the winter as a matter of routine.
And for next winter, ATS Euromaster says at least one leasing company will offer a cold weather tyre option as part of its maintenance package.
Mention ‘winter tyres’ and for many people the perception would be a knobbly tread, or perhaps even studs.
ATS Euromaster says ‘cold weather tyres’ is a more accurate description – tread patterns are not dissimilar from standard tyres, but the rubber compound is different to allow improved performance in all conditions when the temperature is below 7°C.
Even on a dry road, stopping distances are shorter – at 0°C, by just over three metres at 40mph – and grip and traction are better than standard rubber.
Steve Bury, head of national car at ATS Euromaster, believes education about the safety benefits is key to uptake by fleets.
He points to Holland where cold weather tyres are not mandatory, but are used by more than half of vehicles on the road after becoming widely available about 10 years ago.
He says Holland has a similar average temperature to the UK and evidence shows tyres make a difference in the winter.
Research by ING Car Lease in Holland for its leased vehicles fitted with cold weather tyres recorded that accidents were cut by almost 2% during the whole of 2009, with 5.4% lower costs per incident (£50).
However, in winter the average damage claim by cold weather tyre users was £100 lower, with a 40% reduction in vehicles sliding off the road, and an almost 20% cut in rear-end collisions.
Bury told Fleet News: “The practice of changing tyres for the winter started in the car leasing sector.
"This winter we fitted tyres to a home delivery fleet in the UK that found side streets impassable on standard tyres.
“But the safety benefit in cold weather is very important. Cold weather tyres are more effective at stopping a vehicle when the weather is cold and offer a clear advantage over standard tyres.”
He said there would be no significant increase in cost, as the cold weather tyres would be included in the number of sets a vehicle would go through during its life on a leasing fleet – while it was using the winter tyres, the ‘summer’ tyres would be stored for re-fitting the following spring.
Any extra charge would be related to storage and fitting. In Holland the typical charge is an extra 10-15 Euros (£9-13) a month.
If a vehicle is ready for defleeting and has a set of tyres in storage, those tyres – which are always owned by the leasing company – may be allocated to another leased vehicle with similar specifications that would be within a few months of defleet.
Bury said tyre companies manufacture cold weather tyres only during summer, so will need to order within a few weeks.
Tyre switch takes just 15 minutes
Euromaster’s flagship centre near Utrecht in Holland was opened in 2009 and deals only with leasing company vehicles switching between summer and winter tyres.
It’s about 10 years since vehicles began switching to cold weather tyres for the winter in Holland, and for more than half the vehicles on the road this has become routine.
The Euromaster centre has six lanes and storage for 30,000 tyres. Three technicians work on each lane and can change a car’s four tyres in 15 minutes (or up to 20 minutes for run-flat tyres).
Drivers make an appointment either by using a dedicated call centre or through an online portal.
When tyres are removed, they have a sticker applied with the registration of the vehicle and the tread depth.
If this is less than 4mm (the minimum tread depth for safe use of cold weather tyres) the leasing company is advised that replacements are necessary.
These tyres will be ready for the same vehicle when an appointment is made to switch back to them.
In the UK there is likely to be centralised storage and use of existing ATS Euromaster sites as the practice begins.