Winter Tires: Driving in the Cold? You Need Them!
Having the right tool for the job is always the best idea. Sure, you can use a coin to turn a screw, but it’s much easier and faster if you use an actual screwdriver. Sometimes having the right tool means more than just efficiency or convenience. Sometimes it’s all about safety, and that’s where we can begin to discuss why having winter tires on your vehicle is a good idea.
A tire’s effectiveness comes down to two things: the ability of the rubber to grip the road surface, and the tread’s ability to keep the rubber in contact with the road surface. Most people know they need to keep enough tread on their tires, but many people think it stops there. Rubber is just rubber, right? Wrong.
The chemical compound in the rubber determines a tire’s softness (its ability to grip the pavement), and that changes with the temperature. Your tires are always the most important part on your vehicle. Everything you do while driving, accelerating, braking and steering, totally depends on your tires being able to grip the road.
Summer tires are made of harder rubber compound that gets soft enough to grip well when it’s warm out. However, as temperatures drop, they harden and they lose their ability to grip.
All season tires, while they can work year-round in temperate climates, tend to be jacks of many trades, but masters of none. Their winter abilities are compromised by their need to perform when it’s warm out, and vice versa. People trying to use all-season tires in winter conditions will find their performance drops off significantly once the tread reaches a medium amount of wear or when temperatures get well below freezing.
If you want the best possible safety and performance in cold weather, not just snow and ice, then you want a set of focused winter tires on your vehicle. Anyone who lives in a climate where high temperatures routinely stay below 45°F will see the benefits. Sure, winter tires are better for not getting stuck in snow and ice, but their real advantage is in stopping distance, with, or without, snow and ice present. Being able to stop effectively and maintain control of your vehicle is imperative to travelling safely on the road.
A common misconception comes from many winter tires being referred to as “snow tires.” While it’s true that winter tires have optimized tread patterns for grip on snow and ice, the rubber compound itself remains soft enough to grip effectively in sub-freezing temperatures. You don’t need snow on the ground for summer tires, and some all-season tires, to turn into hard hockey pucks. The temperature simply has to be cold, and non-winter-tires will have a hard time gripping under hard braking.
Another misconception is that vehicles with all wheel drive or four wheel drive don’t need to bother with winter tires. When you’re braking, none of the wheels are being driven by the engine’s power, and it’s all about how much grip your tires have on the road surface. Acceleration is the only area where all wheel drive will help you, but again, that’s still only if the tires are able to grip the road surface. Grip is everything when driving, no matter what sort of vehicle you’re in.
What Winter Tires Should You Get?
First consider where you live, and your typical winter conditions. Next consider how you use the vehicle you’re purchasing winter tires for.
Those who live in places with harsh winters, heavy snow, and constant icey conditions should consider getting studded tires. These are the big guns of the winter tire lineup, and they’ll help ensure you can always get where you need to go safely, with maximum possible control. These tires have big tread with metal studs, and are designed for optimal grip in the slipperiest of conditions. Studded tires are also a sure bet for fleet vehicles that need to operate in treacherous winter conditions.
For those in areas with moderate winters, consistent cold, and occasional snow and ice, normal non-studded snow tires are the way to go. You want to be ready if you get stuck in a surprise snowstorm, but most places with moderate winters are able to clear their roads, so snow and ice are not always a constant.
If you live somewhere that gets cold, but has little or no snow and ice, then it’s best to get winter tires for the cold rubber compound, but you don’t need the most extravagant tread options. There are even a number of high performance winter tire options for people who like to enjoy their sports cars year-round.
No matter what you’re driving for, if you’re driving in the cold, winter tires are a good idea.