Snow Tires

    Andreas Rentz, Getty Images

    by: Tom Torbjornsen | AOL Autos

    Do you live in the “Snow Belt,” that part of the U.S. where a few inches of overnight white stuff is considered a light snowfall? Then it’s time to buy your snow tires. What’s that? You don’t use snow tires? Then let’s bone up on why these specialized tires should find a place on the wheels of your vehicle.

    Who Needs Snow Tires? You

    Perhaps you drive a vehicle that has all-wheel-drive and consequently you assume that you don’t need snow tires? Or maybe the all-season tires that came on your front-wheel-drive sedan have always served you well? Think that the stability control of your rear-wheel-drive luxury sedan will keep you out of trouble? You might want to rethink your position after hearing my argument for snow tires.

    The bottom line is that anyone who routinely drives in snowy, icy winter weather can benefit from snow tires. Modern winter tires are totally different animals from the summer tires or all-season tires fitted to most cars when they come from the factory. Simply put, they are designed for winter conditions, without all the compromises that get made in designing an all-season tire. But what does this mean?

    Special Rubber And A Different Design

    Typically, winter tires are made of a rubber compound that does not lose its flexibility below 32 degrees. This is important because the rubber compound in a winter tire must be able to move and flex in order for the special tread design to effectively clear the road surface of snow, ice, water, and slush, as well as bite through that muck to gain traction.

    This sort of rubber compound is only found in winter and all season tires. It is not found in summer tires, which is why they’re not for use in temperatures under about 40 degrees.

    The tread design of snow tires is also different. This makes them much more desirable because they can self clean, channeling water out from under the tire’s footprint, while also biting into ice for better traction. This is accomplished by designing the tread pattern to move as the tire rolls down the roadway. The special rubber compound allows for this flexing, while an ingenious design element called “siping” is utilized on snow treads.

    Siping is a semi-segmenting of each tread lug to make it flexible and movable while the tire rolls down the road. It looks like little slits have been carved into the tread blocks. This allows for the tread lug to open and close, causing a pumping and squeegee action, moving water away from the tire’s surface while the tread lug squeegees the road surface.

    Some snow tires even have ice cleats built into their tread lugs. These cleats, or “studs,” are sharp metal edges that bite downward into the icy road surface giving you maximum traction on ice covered roadways. They’re not legal everywhere, however, as they contribute tearing up road surfaces much more than normal tires.

    Buying The Right Tires

    Now as much as this article is written to convince you that winter tires are a good thing, depending on where you live, all season tires might be fine for you. If winter is just a few light dustings of snow in your neck of the woods, then I would say that all season tires would probably work, especially if you have an all-wheel-drive vehicle.

    One of the other big questions drivers have is whether they need snow tires for all four tires? The answer is yes. Ideally, you should put four snow tires on the vehicle because the axle set that has the regular tires on it will not be able to maintain the same level of traction and consequently those wheels will slip and slide.

    If the snow tires are on the front, the rear of the vehicle will tend to spin out, which is the worst case possible. If the snows are on the rear, the front will tend to push or slide, instead of turning. So four snow tires are best.

    Once you have your snow tires, you’ll have to remember to take them off in the spring. Since snow tires are made of a softer rubber compound with a softer, more flexible tread design, driving them on warm, dry roadways will wear them out prematurely. The siping or semi-segmenting of each tread lug is usually at about a 50 percent depth (sometimes slightly more) of each tread lug. Driving them constantly on dry roads would wear out the tread lugs in a short time.

    A Word Of Caution

    Lately, there has been concern that some tire dealers are selling tires that have been in stock a long time and the rubber has dried out, making them unsafe. For peace of mind, ask your sales person to show you the date code on the tires. It is usually found on the sidewall close to the rim bead area.

    When tires sit for a long time in a dry, warm environment the oils in the rubber dry up. This causes a condition called “dry rot,” causing the rubber to crack, usually close to the rim bead area or in the sidewalls where there is more flexing. This condition compromises the structural integrity of the tire's sidewall and makes it vulnerable to blowout.

    Tires are one of the most important safety features on your vehicle. It is vital that you choose the best tires for the roads and climate conditions where you drive.

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    1 - 20 of 74 Comments
    Shortystirek Dec 18, 2010 10:08 PM
    What snow? I live in Phoenix.
    Report This
    hilites495 Dec 11, 2010 12:44 PM
    I like rubber tires.
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    normgarry Dec 09, 2010 4:50 PM
    I'm buying a set of RS-A for my SRT8 since I currently have Ventus V12's. I recently noticed in 33 degree weather that my tires are losing grip and i can't take off from lights like I did in the summer. I'm taking no chances. All Seasons or bust. I live in NYC so I don't need Winter Tires. Not to mention buying spare wheels large enough to clear my massive Brembo brakes would be expensive.
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    dmj71761 Dec 09, 2010 3:44 PM
    the "siping" is what gives the grip. when you are looking for tires, ask if they can sip them (cost is about $10. per tire). Discount tire and it's affiliates have done it in the past, not sure if they still do. siping also gives a quieter ride, in any weather (have experimented myself as a postal courier using my own vehicle). siping also got me more milage out of the tires. with the technology now- most tires have some type of "sip".
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    vlady1000 Dec 06, 2010 11:27 PM
    If your tire has M&S on the side does NOT mean it is a dedicated winter tire. Many (if not most) All- season tires have M&S on them. I believe (check on Tire Rack, they are very good source of info) that just has to meet with what the DOT requires for a tread pattern (to meet M &S classification). It has nothing to do with the rubber compond, optimal tread pattern for snow, etc.
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    vlady1000 Dec 06, 2010 10:04 PM
    eastorbunscrazy1.. Daugher had a used '95 Mustang when she was in high school, college and it even made it thru med school (great car, still going strong when sold at 180K miles!!). I set it up very similiar (V6 so it was 225/16 summer and 205/15 in the winter) and added a little weight in back. It went great in the snow. She never got stuck in 12 years and I drove it to work one day in a bad snow strom to see how it went. Drove right past a couple front wheel imports with all season that were stuck in the unplowed parking lot at work.
    Report This
    vlady1000 Dec 06, 2010 9:49 PM
    For my performance cars (that get driven in the winter Michigan), I always have 2 sets of wheels/ tires. An all-season tire is a " no season" tire. They may be OK for both seasons but does neither one well. There is a BIG difference in both the summer and winter handling when a tire is used that was actually designed for just that condition. The size makes a difference too when it comes to setting a car up properly for each appilcation. Tiers are the most important part of how a car handles, etc as the used to say........ "it is where the rubber meets the road"!! My truck I use all season as I do not drive it in the same manner.
    Report This
    vffghmjk Dec 05, 2010 9:36 AM
    Type your own comment here.
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    vffghmjk Dec 05, 2010 9:35 AM
    Type your own comment here.
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    dylan5000 Dec 04, 2010 6:36 PM
    thanks but ill stick with all seasons. you just need to know how to handle them
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    galbraith1065 Dec 04, 2010 5:54 PM
    I live in Minnesota. Our "great" leader Tim Pawlenty does not take care of our roads during the winter to save money for the wealthy. So needless to say I decided to buy snow tires. Don't buy Toyo tires. They are no good. Halfway through the winter, after two of my Toyo tires blew, I bought a new set of Goodyear snow tires. Much better.
    Report This
    radio80tunes Dec 04, 2010 3:52 PM
    Alot depends on the type of roads and terrain which you drive. Experience plays a big part also. How many times have I been blocked by someone with less experience or just panicks . Especially if you travel in an area with alot of hills. As a former highways plow operator I have about seen it all .
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    fongdh Dec 04, 2010 2:17 PM
    The transition from gravel road to state highway was alway a problem with studded tires. I now drive an off-road 4WD pickup with downhill vehicle control using BF Goodrich all-terrain tires, rated M+S. If there is a lot of snow, I put on a pair of premium chains from Les Schwab. There is some good advice in these blogs: Drive a 4WD as if it were 2WD, watch out for black ice and frozen spots at intersections, Always keep your distance. And if you like gadgets, change to a rearview mirror that gives the outside temperature and alerts you to ICE; also, a backup camera so you don't slide into someone in an icy parking lot.
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    tomr2fam Dec 04, 2010 1:54 PM
    Live in Washington DC metro area. Have all season tires and have never owned a set of winter tires. This area has had record breaking snow storms recently. Streets not plowed, no one gets anywhere but once they are plowed with cautious driving I have never had any problems with my front wheel drive Infinite. Ice is the main problem and no set of tires, snow or all season can solve this situation. Safe driving as many have stated is the best solution
    Report This
    douket1 Dec 04, 2010 1:40 PM
    I live near the norh pole and never use snow tires
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    aicships Dec 04, 2010 1:19 PM
    IF you have frequent or long-lasting ICE conditions- such as icy, sloping driveway, very hard packed snow on your roads ( such as at intersections, stop signs/lights, parking lots, etc), or thaw/freeze conditions where some water drains across a corner then re-freezes at night on your roads, you should really consider STUDDED tires - all 4- and change back and forth every season. They are a bit noisy on a dry surface, but they will cut your stopping distance on ice, prevent most skids in corners, get you up that sloping driveway, or out of the little dip in a parking lot where some dummy spun his/her wheels and dug a hole that it is tough to get out of- and if you happen to get into rain or sleet freezing on the road surface some night, (when stopped cars can slide on the ice on any slope) you might be the only one moving at all ! I have experienced all these extreme conditions, in NY, CT, Vermont, and now Colorado mountains- believe me- studs and 4WD are a great investment. Note- they will NOT help much in regular snow unless they are actually contacting a hard/ ice surface below the snow- and DON'T assume they make you skid/accident proof. It also helps to put a bag of course sand in your trunk, (or in a couple of empty bleach or laundry detergent bottles) - especially if you don't have studs or chains, the course sand will get you out of a parking lot rut, or a slick spot on a highway slope when the entire traffic is stopped because you (or another car) get stuck in someone's little depression in the ice.
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    johnjaft Dec 04, 2010 12:56 PM
    TO Taxocrat: They are from India or somewhere else in that area and can't comprehend the english language. They sent me an E-mail a month ago threatening to close my AOL account because I asked some one If he was an idiot.
    Report This
    gordianpiusiii Dec 04, 2010 12:55 PM
    I have always relied on my trusty all season radials....and I live in the Great Lakes region of western New York. Never had a problem, unless the snow was so deep that the entire car bottomed out.
    Report This
    jade4953 Dec 04, 2010 12:54 PM
    I cannot drive my BMW without them. Most people think that is only a fair weather car...not so, but snow tires are essential in winter months.
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    taxocrat Dec 04, 2010 12:42 PM
    And, of course, the snow tire shills would have us believe that NO snow tire technology, such as rubber compounding and tread design, has found its' way into all season tired in the past 25 years. None, nada, naught, right?
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