Prepare Your Tires for Winter Weather

Last winter, my car really took a beating. Having just moved back to Chicago, I’d forgotten the total havoc months of ice, sleet and snow can wreak on metal and rubber. But the next Snowpacalypse won’t catch me off guard. To get ready, I started by weather-proofing my car tires. Try these tips to help maintain your status as king of the road, no matter what Mother Nature brings your way:

Test Your Tire Tread

One of the first ways to tell if your tires are ready for winter roads is to examine the wear on their tread. If your wheels are properly aligned and you’ve rotated your tires regularly, the tire tread should be worn evenly on both sides. If yours isn’t, this could be a sign that your wheels are out of alignment and need adjusting before the big freeze hits. Uneven or excessive tread wearing can cause major problems during the winter months, as roads get slicker and your tires require more grip to brake and accelerate.

Take the “penny test:” Take a Lincoln penny, hold it between your thumb and forefinger so that Lincoln’s head is showing. Place the top of Lincoln’s head into one of the grooves of the tire’s tread. If any part of Lincoln’s head is obscured by the tread, you have a safe amount of tread. If you can see above Lincoln’s head, then you need a new tire.

Become a Tire Pressure Aficionado

One cause of uneven tire wear is under-inflation. Did you know that tires lose about 1 pound per square inch of pressure for every 10 degrees the temperature drops? While this might not sound like much, it can be, considering that a drop in tire pressure as small as 5 psi can alter a car’s safety. Plus, keeping your tires properly inflated can help them last longer—and might even save you a few dollars at the pump.

Consider Buying Snow Tires

You might think snow tires are only for mountain men who live in the tundra. But the truth is that regular tires just don’t perform as well during the winter as they do the rest of the year. In fact, colder temperatures can cause standard tires to become too hard and lose their normal traction, even when there’s no snow on the ground.

The service department at your local car dealership can help you decide whether snow tires make sense for your area’s weather, and can also recommend the best tires for your make and model. I opted to put snow tires on my SUV this year, and I don’t think I’ll ever look back.

While preparing your car for the winter whiteout takes a little extra work, it’s definitely worth it in the long run. Better tires means fewer breakdowns—so you can spend less time at the side of the road and more time hibernating in your man cave.


Snow tire photo courtesy of Alexander Olm via Flickr