Tire Buying Guides

Should You Get Snow Tires?

Last updated 12/09/2022 - Originally published 12/09/2022
Written by SimpleTire

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All-season tires have always been a favorite amongst tire buyers because they are suited for driving in both dry, wet, and light winter weather conditions thanks to their ability to offer year-round traction. But, it is also true that when it comes to driving during the winter season in conditions like snow and ice, the chances of your car slipping or sliding are very high. In such situations, all-seasons aren’t the real saviors. Commonly known as winter tires, snow tires are ideal for use in these conditions.

Winter tires, as compared to all-season tires, have special rubber compounds and unique tread designs that enable them to effectively perform and maintain grip under weather conditions where standard tires can’t perform. For freezing regions that witness abundant snowfall and have icy roads, snow tires offer better drivability than all-season tires.

What are snow tires and how do they work?

Snow tires feature a natural, high rubber compound that provides a softer structure. Usually, the interplay between the road and tires’ rubber compound changes as the temperatures rise. While summer tires harden below 40 degrees of Fahrenheit, snow tires come with a special compound that provides greater flexibility when the surrounding temperature falls below 40 degrees of Fahrenheit. And, since winter tires are able to keep themselves flexible enough in low and freezing temperatures, they are able to provide superior traction and grip than summer and all-season tires.

Tires for snow also have added siping in the tread that remarkably enhances the steering and braking control in winter weather conditions. The tiny grooves of winter tires bite into snow, ice, and slush, evacuate water at a faster rate, and offer increased traction and superior braking capability. Likewise, the deeper tread grooves collect and hold for increased grip on packed snow and augment water dispersion to reduce the risk of aquaplaning.

When should you get snow tires installed on your car?

Snow tires come at an additional cost because of their special benefits, and once you’re done buying the best tires for snow for your vehicle, it is vital to know when to install them as well as how to store your tires between seasons so that they last longer and offer optimal grip, braking, and traction.

While most vehicle owners might typically think of keeping their winter tires installed year-round to save those extra tire-swapping bucks, it is critical to understand that these tires are designed and developed only for driving in winter weather conditions and have to be removed once the winter season is over. Winter tires aren’t made for temperatures above 45 degrees Fahrenheit and will wear out quickly, return increased braking distance, and reduce handling, if not replaced during warmer seasons.

So technically, if you ask it the other way — “When to install winter tires?”, the simplest reply to this will be “as soon as the temperature starts to drop consistently below 40 degrees Fahrenheit”. Tire experts also suggest that it is good to have the winter tires installed on a separate set of wheels as it will facilitate easy changeover in spring and fall, and avoid dismounting and remounting of the tire on the same wheels. In addition, having two different sets of wheels allows storing tires to be convenient and reduces the chance of damaging them. Whenever either of the tire sets (winter or standard) is not in use, store them indoors at room temperature, away from sunlight. This will control tire aging.

Are snow tires worth it?

Vehicle owners often run into this question when it comes to buying a set of tires for winter weather — “Are winter tires worth it?”. After all, they think they have the option to choose the best all-season tires for snow, or can opt for the best all-weather tire. But, it has to be understood that all-season tires are designed and developed for warm, dry, and mildly wet conditions, whereas all-weather tires are best suited for milder, slushy winter conditions. And out of all these three (all-season, all-weather, and winter), it is the winter tires that are remarkably designed and optimized for harsh, snowy winter conditions.

If you live in a state that has winters with a lot of snow, ice, and slush, snow tires are worth buying because they offer a superior level of convenience and performance. In addition to being optimized to prevent your vehicle from sliding, snow tires are capable of taking you through snow-clogged roads. On top of that, some States may levy fines for driving with summer tires installed on certain terrains during certain months of the year. That’s because of high incidents of crashes reported during winter storms and the vehicles not equipped with winter tires.

All of this is to say that snow or winter tires can make a big difference when driving on snow-packed or icy roads, and can certainly be a wiser investment.

How much do snow tires cost?

In general, snow tires last for around 35,000 miles and, usually, they are only used for a part of the year. Ultimately they might help you increase the life of your high-mileage-rated tires. Consider the number of months snow tires will be used before determining the cost to spend on them. Usually, these sets of tires could be offered between $90 to $400 per tire, depending on your car. If you need a specific set of studded tires for your vehicle, you might have to spend more as studded snow tires are generally more expensive than non-studded tires.

Drawbacks of using snow tires during winter months

Though winter tires come with benefits like better grip and superior braking while driving in extreme winter weather conditions, they also do have some drawbacks.

  • Faster wearing – As compared to all-season tires, snow tires are made using a softer rubber compound which means they wear down faster. With the arrival of the warmer season, it is necessary that you swap the snow tires with your standard set of tires because driving on snow tires when not required might wear down the tread and ruin the tire.
  • Rough on roads – Snow tires’ deep tread grip can dig into the asphalt on the road, therefore they must be used only during the winter weather.
  • Poor handling – No doubt snow tires offer better grip and braking but some winter tires aren’t as good as their all-season counterparts when it comes to handling. While driving on snowy and icy roads, you are required to be more alert as the control and handling aren’t as ideal as driving in better road conditions.

Signs your car needs new snow tires

It is necessary that you keep an eye on your snow tires to check for any issues on time because if they lose winter traction, they may result in unwanted troubles.

Here are the signs that indicate your car needs new snow tires:

  1. Tread design – Continuous running of winter tires wears down the tread pattern and if a winter tire’s siping has disappeared, it is likely to lose grip on icy and snow-covered surfaces. A routine tread design/pattern inspection can warn you well in advance if it’s time to change the tires.
  2. Tread depth – To perform safety, snow tires need deeper tread and most manufacturers suggest changing snow tires once they reach 4/32nds inch of tread depth. A deeper tread depth allows winter tires to achieve increased traction and grip while driving on snow-covered roads. By inspecting the level of tread wear bars regularly, you can ascertain if your old winter tire needs to be replaced with a new one or not.
  3. Tire damage examination – Due to exposure to the environment and aging, snow tires may develop cracks on their sidewall and tread area. Initially appearing as smaller cracks, these can become larger which negatively impacts performance. In addition, these cracks are a form of dry rot that may further turn into blisters and bulges, which can lead to the formation of bubbles that may make tires prone to blowouts and put you at risk. If you notice anything like cracks, blisters, bulges, or bubbles on your old set of winter tires, replace them with new ones as soon as you can.
  4. Vibrations assessment – Vibrations are very common when you drive your vehicle on a routine basis, but if you feel anything uncommon while driving it is best to get your vehicle inspected as it could be due to incorrect alignment or unbalanced wheels. If ignored, uncommon vibrations may damage the internal structure or tread area of your snow tire, which can further lead to tire failure.

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