December is here and it’s time to talk about winter tires! We’re not talking about all-season tires here, but tires that are dedicated specifically to winter. Modern winter tires do a terrific job in a wide range of winter conditions. At temperatures below 45 degrees Fahrenheit, regular tires become hard and inflexible. When normal tires reach this condition, they cannot provide the road grip you need. Even if you don’t live somewhere with a lot (or any) snow, you’re safer with winter tires in lower temperatures.
Winter tires are specifically designed to more effectively move through snow and water. That’s the key to traction on ice, packed snow, and even wet roads. A rounder casing cuts into the snow’s surface and a micro-pore compound allows the tire to bite into ice and snow. They also have wider grooves around the circumference of the tread to better expel snow from the tire. The lugs and grooves on winter tires have a special shape that throws the packed snow out of the tread as your wheels turn. The tread is then open when it comes back in contact with the road and can provide great traction.
Winter tires also contain many sipes—thin slits in the tread, which play an important role in your safety. The edges of the sipes grab ice and packed snow and provide the necessary amount of traction to keep water and slush out of the tread.
The treads on summer tires allow snow to build up and become impacted, which will make them very slick. Winter tires offer 25-50% more traction than all-season tires, and when it comes to stopping power, all-season tires take 42% longer to stop than winter tires. That could be the difference between getting home safe and warm or spending the night in a snow bank. Speaking of which—no matter what tires you have, make sure your car is equipped with a safety kit!
Since winter tires provide so much more traction than all-season or summer tires, there’s a huge difference between the traction at the front and rear ends of the car if you only put winter tires on the drive wheels. This could lead to sliding, hydroplaning, and fishtailing.
For example: if you take a corner on an icy road and the rear end starts to slide out, essentially the rear is trying to pass the front because it is going faster. If you have high-traction, winter tires on only the front, they are going to transfer cornering grip and stopping power, thus causing the rear end to whip around more. This is a major safety concern! So, tire manufacturers instruct their dealers to install winter tires on both the front and rear wheels.
Many modern cars have traction control and anti-lock brakes, so people may think they don’t need winter tires. However, the tires have to provide adequate traction to give these features something to work with. You need the proper traction combination to accelerate, steer and stop safely.
So when the temperatures drop below 45 degrees, be sure your vehicle reaches its maximum performance capabilities on snowy, icy, wet and seemingly dry (black ice is not a myth!) roads with a set of four winter tires.