Its Not Too Late For Winter Tires

winter driving
Icy road conditions mean winter tires a must.

Winter has arrived (despite what the calendar says) and the holiday season is in full swing. From Thanksgiving through Christmas and on to New Year’s Day, many families will be traveling at distances not seen since the summer.

If your travels include driving, you need to ensure that your car is up to the task. And if you live where winter conditions are present, then a set of winter tires are an important consideration. Its not too late for winter tires — here’s what you need to know about them.

All-Season or Winter Tires

Nearly all new cars sold today are outfitted with all-season tires. The name implies that these tires are sufficient for spring, summer, fall and winter driving, and they are. But if you live in an area where icy conditions are present, all-season tires do not provide the level of traction needed. Even with traction control systems present in today’s cars, you may need winter tires.

Winter tires — also known as snow tires — have a different tread pattern and are composed of a softer rubber compound than all-season tires. This means winter tires are more supple in frigid weather and take hold of the road better than all-season tires. This evidence becomes especially important when frozen precipitation such as snow and ice pellets are on the road.

Hyundai Genesis
All-season tires as pictured are not sufficient when ice is present.

Studded or Studless

There are two types of winter tires made — studded and studless.

Studded tires come with metal studs embedded within the tread. The studs are composed of small, but durable pieces of metal, ideal for digging into ice. The drawback with such tires is that they can damage the road, especially when they’ve been cleared of ice and snow. That’s why in some states studded tires are legal only for select times of the year. For instance, Oregon allows studded tires from November 1 through March 31.

As the name implies, studless tires do away with the road harming studs found in studded tires. Instead, such tires are composed of special compounds and are flexible, and are better able to handle a variety of road conditions. Typically, such tires have deep tread depths, a design that disperses snow and slush under the tire. The tread blocks in such tires are designed to pack in the snow to provide better traction. Such tires are also imbued with thousands of sipes or tiny slits in the tread pattern that help with vehicle acceleration, deceleration, and stopping.

Two or Four Winter Tires

In times past, especially when most cars were rear-wheel drive, owners would mount their winter tires to the rear wheels and leave the front tires alone. The problem here is that traction and handling capabilities are different from axle to axle, making such a vehicle more difficult to control.

If you have a front-wheel-drive car, placing winter tires on the front axle will lead to similar control issues. In this case, the rear wheels will slip, whereas the front wheels would slip in the example of the rear-wheel-drive car.

The best approach here is to always operate “like” tires on all four corners of your vehicle. The tires should be the same size and make, have identical tread, and be worn equally. So, if you opt for winter tires, then go with four or have none at all.

Safe Travels

Now that you know the difference between tires and the placement of same, you can typically find deals when buying four tires instead of two. Some car owners prefer to have a separate set of rims for each tire set, storing their offseason tires in a cool, dry and sunless area, such as in a garage or a shed.

Stack tires flat so that the bottom tire maintains its shape. Lower the air pressure of each tire to 10 psi and if you have storage bags made specifically for tires, then use them.


See AlsoHigher Education: Winter Driving School

Author: Matthew Keegan
Matt Keegan has maintained his love for cars ever since his father taught him kicking tires can be one way to uncover a problem with a vehicle’s suspension system. He since moved on to learn a few things about coefficient of drag, G-forces, toe-heel shifting, and how to work the crazy infotainment system in some random weekly driver. Matt is a member of the Washington Automotive Press Association and is a contributor to various print and online media sources.

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