What Kind of Winter Tires Are Best for You?
As the temperatures begin to drop, those living in cold-weather climates may start to worry about driving in snow and ice. Even if you have four-wheel or all-wheel drive, your traction is only as good as your tires and how well they grip the road. From all-weather tires to adding chains, here’s what you need to know about choosing winter tires for your car:
All-weather tires are a type of all-season tires specifically designed to handle winter conditions, says Consumer Reports. One upside is that they can be used year-round, so there’s no need to switch tires when the weather changes. All-weather tires provide better braking and traction than regular all-season tires in moderate snow, says Consumer Reports, but they do not provide as much traction or braking capability as winter tires.
Bottom Line: If winter near you means moderate temperatures and some snow and ice, all-weather ties may be a good choice, according to Consumer Reports. If you consistently experience cold temperatures and snowfall, however, Pep Boys says that you may want to consider a set of basic winter tires.
Winter tires, which used to frequently be called snow tires, are designed to work in lower temperatures even if the roads are dry, says Road and Track Magazine. Specially designed with large treads and deep grooves, Pep Boys says winter tires help prevent snow and ice from getting packed into the tires so that they can grip the surface of the road. Winter tires also utilize sipes, which are small grooves in a tire’s tread that increase the number of edges that bite into snowy roads. Pep Boys notes that these treads and grooves help provide better traction, braking and handling as compared to non-winter tires.
Bottom Line: If freezing temperatures, snow and icy roads are common where you live, you may want to consider swapping your summer or all-season tires for a dedicated set of winter tires.
Winter tires with studs — small metal points that are fitted into a winter tire’s tread — are meant to help your tires grip snow and ice. These studs, which should be installed by a professional, are designed to pierce ice as you drive over it, according to the NAPA Know How Blog. However, studded tires may not offer much additional traction on snow and may prevent the treads from working as designed, added NAPA.
Each state has different laws regarding studded tires, as NAPA notes that the metal stud may damage asphalt and cement when the roads are not covered in snow and ice. Some states may not allow them at all, while others only allow their use during certain months. Make sure to consult your state’s department of transportation website to see if and when studded tires are allowed in your area.
Bottom Line: For the nastiest winter weather, studded winter tires can be used if you face freezing temperatures and lots of ice. Be sure they are legal in your area before having them installed.
Removable tire chains are temporary traction additions, but they should only be used if there is snow and/or ice on the road and while traveling at no more than 30 mph, says NAPA. Since you should not use chains on dry or clear roads, the NAPA Know How Blog notes that you’ll need to be fairly efficient at putting them on and taking them off your tires. Because they can be damaging to roads and your tires, according to NAPA, tire chains aren’t a day-to-day answer to winter conditions. They’re only for the worst of the worst weather — treacherous roads covered in ice and deep snow.
You’ll also need to be sure whether tire chains are allowed where you are driving, says NAPA. In some places they may be illegal or only allowed in certain conditions, while in other places they may actually be required for passage. Contact your state’s department of transportation or local department of motor vehicles for up-to-date regulations.
Bottom Line: If you’re traveling mountain passes and other remote, snowy areas, packing a set of chains to bring along may keep you moving down the road — so long as they are legal where you’re driving. Of course, if conditions are extreme, consider waiting until conditions improve before you hit the road.
Winter driving can present some challenging questions, but you may be better prepared for snowy, icy roads by equipping your car with tires designed to handle the colder temps and slippery road.
Originally published on November 18, 2013.