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 blizzard won’t catch me off guard. I started winterizing my car with the tires, and found some helpful tips to improve the grip on the road in the cold, wet winter weather.
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 problems during the winter months, as roads get slicker and your tires may 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, according to Bridgestonetire.com. If you can see above Lincoln’s head, then you need a new tire.
One cause of uneven tire wear is under-inflation. Tires lose about 1 pound per square inch of pressure for every 10 degrees the temperature drops, according to Goodyear. While this might not sound like much, it can be, considering that a small drop in tire pressure may 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.
You might think snow tires are only for mountain men who live in the tundra. But the truth is that all-purpose tires just don’t perform as well during the winter as they do the rest of the year, according to Edmunds. In fact, colder temperatures may 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. Snow tires boast a more aggressive tread pattern that increases traction on snow and ice, says Cars.com.
While preparing your car for the winter whiteout takes a little extra work, it can be worth it in the long run. Better tires may mean fewer breakdowns—so you can spend less time at the side of the road and more time hibernating in your man cave.