Winter is here, and with it, the annual discussion about winter tires. Most car enthusiasts know that dedicated winter tires are the best choice for driving in deep, unplowed snow. But there’s so much more to it than that.
For example, there’s a lot to consider when making a winter-tire purchase. And what makes a winter tire different from an all-season? Finally, how do I convince my non-car-savvy acquaintances that their factory all-seasons
won’t do the job in a blizzard? Driving in winter weather can be very dangerous. However, there are steps you can take to make winter weather driving a safer more enjoyable experience. Near the top of that list is investing in a quality set of winter (snow) tires.
First things first: Do I need winter tires?
If you live in an area where temperatures regularly dip below 45 degrees F in winter, YES!
What if I live somewhere cold that doesn’t get much snow?
You still need ’em—there’s a reason they’re called “winter tires.” The rubber compound in auto tires is only formulated to work within a specific temperature range.
When you’re designing a tire and a rubber compound, the first thing to think about is the glass transition temperature, What’s the “glass transition temperature”? It’s exactly what it sounds like: the temperature at which the rubber in your tires starts to behave like glass. Below that temperature, the tire “gets very, very hard and very brittle, and it will start to crack,”.
This, as you can imagine, is not ideal. Generally speaking, the rubber in summer tires is formulated to perform well at temperatures from 50 to over 100 degrees. Winter tires use different rubber formulations that stay soft below 50 degrees.
A common misconception about winter tires is that you only need them when roads are covered in snow or ice. That’s simply not the case. The best winter tires will provide good grip in all cold weather conditions, whether the road is wet or dry.
Aren’t they called snow tires?
A lot of people refer to winter tires as “snow tires,” but that’s actually a misnomer.
“We no longer call them snow tires, we call them winter tires for a reason, and one of those main reasons is winter tires aren’t only good in snowy and icy weather, they also improve security at lower temperatures. So even if you’re driving on dry road but it’s below freezing, your winter tires are going to give you the best chance of traction that you can.”
Winter tire sidewall markings
You can identify winter tires by one of two symbols on the sidewall. These are the M+S symbol and the three-peak mountain snowflake symbol, and both are industry standards. If they do not display either of these symbols, they are not suitable for use in winter.
1. M+S symbol
Tires with the M+S symbol have a tread pattern, tread compound or structure that is engineered to deliver better performance in snow conditions than a regular tire, especially in terms of its ability to initiate or maintain vehicle motion.
2. Three-Peak Mountain Snowflake symbol
The three-peak mountain snowflake symbol is a more stringent certification that identifies winter tires according to UNECE regulations (valid in the EU and various other countries) and the tire regulations of the USA and Canada. The snow performance of these winter tires is proven by objective tests to meet or exceed defined limits. These tires provide high performance with regards to safety and control on snow, on icy roads, and in general at low temperatures.
Winter tire size and pressure
When buying a new set of winter tires for your vehicle, be sure to check the size specifications as provided by the manufacturer. These details can be found in the owner’s handbook, the door frame on the driver’s side, or under the fuel cap. To keep things simpler, using the same tire size as the original equipment (OE) tires is the best course of action.
For winter tires, the recommended tire pressure in PSI is the same as for summer tires. Again, you can consult the owner’s handbook, the driver’s side door frame, or under the fuel cap for this information. You cannot avoid fluctuations in air pressure; for every drop in 10 degrees in air temperature, the tires will drop one PSI.
The important thing is to monitor your tire pressure every two to four weeks and top it up as necessary. Driving with under-inflated tires impacts fuel economy and treadwear, and could even lead to a puncture.
The best snow tires have
- Strong grip on snow and ice. Almost any winter tire will grip better on snow and ice than an all-season tire. With the best snow tires, you’ll see a dramatic difference.
- A comfortable ride. In the past, snow tires’ chunky treads made for a punishing ride, but the best studless snow tires roll quietly and comfortably, although studded snow tires still clatter noisily.
- Durability. Snow tires’ softer rubber wears out faster than all-season wheels, but good models should last 20,000 miles or more (about three winters, as a rule of thumb).
- A warranty. Winter tires don’t usually carry tread-wear warranties (although a few do), but the best ones always carry at least a five-year warranty against defects in materials and workmanship.
Install Four Matching Tires
Variations in tread pattern and wear can affect your vehicle’s handling. If you’re going to own your vehicle for longer than five years, one way or another, you’re going to be getting two sets of tires – the set that comes with the car and another when that set wears out. Buying a set of winter tires now can double the life of your all-seasons.
Grab an Extra Set of Wheels
A pair of black steel winter wheels will save you time and money in the long haul. This is because tires that are already mounted on wheels take Revive Auto repair around 15 minutes to switch, whereas a tire-only changeover takes 60 to 90 minutes. Plus, you’ll lengthen the life of your summer wheels by not exposing them to the salt, gravel and scrapes of winter.
Check Your Pressure
As the temperature drops, so does your tire pressure, so check it at least monthly (don’t forget the spare) – more if temperatures are fluctuating, since you can lose two to five PSI when temperature shifts are drastic.
Tread Compound & Design
Most winter tires feature specialized tread compounds and advanced tread designs that help provide superior traction and stopping distance. In a contest between all-season and winter tires, winter tires improved braking performance by up to 20%. And tests in snow conditions revealed that vehicles with winter tires stopped around 28 feet shorter than the same vehicle with all-season tires. Winter tires tend to have better traction and handling in colder temperatures. The tread compound maintains its flexibility, which allows for enhanced grip on snow and ice. Learn more about the differences between Winter and All-Season Tires.
In addition to harsh winter weather, if you encounter many hills or sharp corners in your area, you might want the winter-ready traction and control of winter tires. Additionally, unplowed snow, slush or ice can be a hazard to you when driving, and winter tires can help you face that challenge.
Many people wonder how harsh the weather needs to be in order to get winter tires. The general consensus is that if you live in a place where the temperature is consistently below 45F/7.2C, or when you must drive in challenging winter conditions, winter tires may be a good choice for you. While all-season tires can provide some traction for wet and snowy conditions, there is no denying the enhanced traction and grip that winter tires provide to help create a safer and more comfortable driving winter experience.
When shopping for tires, keep in mind that your vehicle’s starting, stopping and turning abilities ultimately come down to the amount of traction your tires can offer on snowy or icy road surfaces.
Winter Tire Facts & Safety Tips
Here’s a simple tip and fact that you should keep in mind when driving with winter tires.
- Even if you have traction control or four-wheel drive on your vehicle, these features can offer a false sense of security in winter conditions. Traction control/ABS are designed for vehicle stability, power transmission and controlled braking. They do NOT optimize traction or grip during all types of winter driving maneuvers.
Winter Tire Care
When to Put On Winter Tires
You’ll want to mount your winter tires before the bad weather hits and you’re caught off guard. When the outside temperature drops consistently below 45F/7.2C, it is time to install your vehicle’s winter tires.
When to Remove Winter Tires
Keep your winter tires on your vehicle until the driving conditions have improved and the temperature is consistently above 45F/7.2C. Then, replace them with either summer or all-season tires.
Where to Store Winter Tires
Once you have removed your winter tires, you’ll have to store them until next winter.
- Keep them in a cool, dry location (ideally in a basement or garage).
- Keeping them in the heat can be detrimental to the rubber compound.
- Storing them in black storage bags prevents the rubber from drying or cracking.