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Are Winter Tires Worth It?

So what’s the difference between winter tires and other designs, such as all-season tires or mud tires?

Winter tires have come a long way since your dad’s clunky, heavy-treaded “snow tires” or “mud grips” of a generation ago. Winter tires are specifically designed with a rubber formulation that stays flexible in sub-freezing temperatures. That flexibility is essential for proper traction on dry or wet pavement either one; other tire designs will become stiffer and hard at low temperatures, encouraging wheelspin and a poor connection with the pavement.

The down side of this is that winter tires tend to harden at temperatures above about 40 degrees or so, meaning poor handling properties and an unforgiving ride, as well as premature wear. The rubber formulation they use really is suited only for temperatures above freezing.

So, to address the question of whether winter tires are worth it:

If you live in an area where you might see subfreezing temperatures or a few inches of snow a couple of times a year…probably not. Remember that those tires will have to be replaced and stored until the next winter (and that they need specific conditions for storage), and then ask yourself if it’s really worth the trouble.

If you live in the upper Midwest, New England or other areas where winter is a fairly serious matter, with heavy snowfalls that may stay on the ground for weeks at a time, then yes, winter tires could very well be a good investment. Even if you’ve just got a rear wheel drive sedan or SUV, winter tires can help with your control and handling in winter conditions, just as much as with traction to actually get you down the road.  The choice is yours!