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Winter Tires: Which Is Best for You?

Temperatures are beginning to drop, so those living in cold-weather climates may consider swapping their regular or all-season tires for a dedicated set of winter tires.

Specially designed with rubber that stays soft in cold temperatures, winter tires grip the surface of the road – including compact snow and ice – with more surface area, allowing for better traction, acceleration, stopping and steering compared to non-winter tires. And don’t think that your four-wheel drive or all-wheel drive will compensate – you’re only as good as the contact point where each tire grips the road.

All-Weather Tires

A set of these tires can get you by, especially if you have all-wheel drive, but if you live someplace where the temperatures consistently drop into the low 40s, you’re likely overestimating their performance. All-weather tires aren’t constructed of the same type of rubber as winter tires and don’t execute as well in cold temperatures – they harden and don’t flex as well, reducing contact with the road.

Bottom Line: If you consistently face even moderately cold temperatures and snowfall, you may want to consider a basic snow tire instead of depending upon an all-weather version.

Snow Tires

Winter tires don’t just use different rubber compounds; they feature more aggressive tread and siping for increased traction in snow and ice. Siping, a technique of cutting small slits into a tire’s tread, increases the number of edges that bite into the frozen conditions.

Bottom Line: If you live in an area that is challenged by temperatures that drop below freezing, and snow and ice frequently coat your roadways, you’ll likely want to invest in a set of winter tires.

Studded Tires

Winter tires with studs – small metal points that are fitted into a tire’s tread – offer the ultimate in daily winter driving safety. Not only do you have the softer rubber compounds, siping and more aggressive lug of regular winter tires, but the metal points can cut into ice, grabbing it to help gain traction for both accelerating and stopping.

Each state has different laws regarding studded tires. Some don’t allow them at all, while others only allow their use during certain months. Make sure to consult your state’s department of transportation website for proper tire usage.

Bottom Line: For the nastiest winter weather, studded winter tires can be used if you face freezing temperatures and lots of snow and ice.

Tire Chains

Removable tire chains are temporary traction additions for winter tires. They’re like the bigger, stronger brother of studded tires. Because they can be damaging to roads, these 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. Roads may not be marked as to allow/disallow the usage of chains.Contact your state’s department of transportation or local department of motor vehicles for up-to-date regulations.

While you’re likely to rarely use them, tire chains can offer piece of mind when traveling though tough winter conditions – short of a road being completely closed, you’re going to be allowed to travel it.

Bottom Line: If you’re traveling mountain passes and other high-risk areas, packing a set of chains to bring along may keep you moving down the road when even drivers of studded winter tires are forced to wait for conditions to improve.Of course, if conditions are extreme, consider hunkering down at a gas station, diner or hotel until conditions improve.

 

Photo courtesy of Highways Agency

Brian Lynn
As an editor and writer for such publications as ESPN.com and Outdoor Life, Brian has extensive experience in the outdoors realm. However, his knowledge comes with at the price of experience. You can learn a lot from him because he’s done most of it wrong the first time and can tell you all about what you should do instead.

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