Table of Contents
What Are Snow Tires?
Snow tires are usually marked with a snowflake in their sidewall to signal that they are built for snow.
Snow tires, or winter tires, are manufactured with a different compound of rubber than normal tires.
This different compound of rubber maintains high flexibility during cold temperatures which maintains traction better during the cold months, compared to all season tires.
All season tires are built to function all year around and provide traction in cold and warm weather, but winter tires provide traction better in the winter than all season tires can.
Another thing about winter tires is that their tread face is built specifically to handle ice and snow.
The tread on winter tires has deep grooves that remove ice and snow from the center axis of a tire and remove it using the centrifugal force of the tire’s momentum when it’s in motion.
Winter Tires Vs All Season Tires
All season tires are tires that perform best in warmer temperatures. All season tires are meant to be driven in all seasons, therefore, they perform well in warm weather and cold weather. Though, they do not perform as well in cold weather as do winter tires. All-season tires are meant to stand up to all sorts of mild conditions such as light rain and snow, and some heat and hard braking.
Though all season tires can weather these conditions, doesn’t mean they are the best choice for the roughest of conditions.
For extreme cold, say below 44 degrees Fahrenheit, winter tires will be your best bet since the rubber in winter tires is built to be more flexible and provide more traction during the colder months.
But for a casual driver driving during casual conditions, an all season tire will suit their needs just fine.
If the driver is driving in severe conditions such as extreme cold, icy roads, and snowy weather, investing in a winter tire is a better option. While all season tires imply that they will be acceptable during all seasons, this just isn’t the case.
The term all seasons really means “acceptable for mild conditions all year around. If you come across severe conditions you should probably throw your winter tires on”. But that’s just not as catchy as ‘all-season’
How To Use Winter Tires
Working in a shop, I saw what a lot of customers did was buy two sets of tires at once.
They purchased a set of all season tires, and they purchased a set of winter tires. Our shop would sell them at a discount if you purchased both at the same time, so check if your shop will too.
Depending on the season, the customer would take a set of tires home in the trunk of their car, and put a set of tires on their vehicle.
For example, if it was around November and the customer just bought a set of winter tires and a set of regular tires, they would put the winter tires on their car and put the regular tires in their trunk and store them at home.
Then when the car would come back for what we called a seasonal “change-over”. A changeover was just a free service our shop offered for when a customer would want to switch out their winter tires for their all season tires.
In our shop, we had two tire technicians working on the same car, so the process would take about 30 minutes.
The tires would be in the trunk of the car bagged up, we’d pull the summer tires out, take the winter tires off, place the all season tires on, bag up the winter tires, and send the customer on their way.
Not only does this method add extra safety to your car since you're getting the best traction for the weather, it also saves on tread life as well, since you’re not driving on the same tire all year around.
A lot of shops will offer this change over service for free since you purchased two sets of tires at once, so make sure to ask. If they do offer the change over service, all you have to do is pack up your winter or summer tires in your car, and take them to the shop after you schedule an appointment.
After that the mechanics and shops will take care of the rest!
Tips For Driving In Snow
Driving in snow can be extremely dangerous whether you have winter tires or not. Here is some information about stopping distances in different climates and weather.
Mind you, this chart is the same information whether you have winter tires or not. This chart also assumes you are driving at 30mph.
As you can see, driving in snow is dangerous, so the first tip is to slow down. The slower you drive the better chances you have to stop when you want.
Another thing to consider is if you have front wheel drive cars, since the tires that are driving the car are connected to the steering wheel.
If you have a front wheel drive vehicle you may want to consider being as smooth as possible. For example, don’t hit the throttle or brake too hard.
If you do, you may risk spinning out your tires. Another tip for driving in the snow is to plan far ahead. When you see a stop sign brake earlier than you normally would.
Also, brake in a straight line. Try not to hit the brakes when you are taking a corner as you have the potential to spin the car out.
Snow diminishes cornering performance greatly so avoid hitting brakes when cornering if you can. If you have all wheel drive, you may have an easier time driving in the snow, but all wheel drive won’t solve all your problems.
Winter tires on all wheel drive vehicles will offer you a substantial amount of more control, so braking and cornering will be easier, but really the number one rule of driving in snow is to drive as slow as possible. All the winter tires in the world cannot beat physics.
Are Winter Tires Worth It?
Should you buy winter tires? Winter tires might be a good investment if you live in an area has lots of curvy roads and lots of inclement weather. It might be impractical to invest in snow tires if you only get snow once or twice a year.
Tire shops will always try to push snow tires as they are a money maker, but tire shops are in the business to do just that, make money! Not every car needs a winter tire. You should consider investing only if your winter weather gets bad consistently.
All season tires can be satisfactory for some areas that experience mild winter weather symptoms. Other cars that have studded tires gain better traction than plain old snow and winter tires so that might be another consideration you might want to make.
If your area receives snow covered roads about three times a year, you might not want to invest in winter tires. For many drivers in areas with slick roads on a consistent basis that don’t have four wheel drive, winter tires might be a good investment.
About The Author
Christopher Sparks has been servicing vehicles since 2012. After completing the automotive studies program at Camden County College, he was awarded an Associates's Degree in Applied Science. His first job was a lube-tech at Jiffy Lube, and is currently an independent B-Technician servicing vehicles for the United States Postal Service. Christopher is ASE certified and loves rebuilding engines.Read more about Christopher Sparks