Tire buying guides
Winter weather can make driving an absolute headache! Losing control on a snowy road, sliding right past a stop sign, or struggling to just make it out of your driveway are all common driving hazards during this time. Too many drivers think that a stressful commute is just a part of winter life and there’s nothing they can do about it, but there's a special type of tire that's designed specifically to make winter driving easier: winter tires.
Winter tires are known by a few other names like cold weather tires or snow tires. But none of these are entirely accurate because winter, all-season, and all-weather tires can be used in these conditions. When temperatures drop below 45 degrees Fahrenheit, winter tires excel on icy, slushy, and snowy roads, while all-season tires might struggle.
Difference between all-season and winter tires
All-season tires are fine in the winter, right? It's right there in the name "all-season". But, here's the thing: while an all-season tire has grooves that are deep and wide enough for rain, mud, and light snow, that's about it. Some even refer to all-season as mud and snow tires because of this, though these tires are primarily built for dry, wet, and light winter weather conditions.
Mother nature throws a lot more at you in the winter than a little light snow; as freezing temperatures, black ice, and even blizzards might plague drivers during their commutes. Unfortunately, all-season tires just aren't designed for these harsh conditions. They also harden at temperatures below 45 degrees Fahrenheit, and a stiffer tire is less able to grip the road. Winter tires are made with special rubber compounds that stay flexible in cold weather. So, even on dry roads, winter tires can improve your handling and stopping power.
You can absolutely use all-season tires in all four seasons, but they might not be your best option depending on what type of winter weather you see each year.
Winter tire features
You now know that winter tires are designed to perform in lower temperatures, ice, slush, and snow, which makes them a better choice than all-season tires in most cases. So, how exactly do winter tires do it?
Winter tire rubber compound
As we mentioned above, winter tires use a special rubber compound that keeps the tire flexible when temperatures are consistently below 45 degrees Fahrenheit. It might not seem like it at first, but this flexible rubber compound is incredibly important since it allows the tire to consistently grip the road, which means you receive consistent traction, handling, braking, acceleration, and cornering performance. All of those are vital to driving, and the rubber compound within the tire plays a big role.
Winter tire tread
Most people don’t look at tires and wonder why their tread pattern looks a certain way, but the angles and placement of grooves, sipes, and tread blocks can tell you how a tire is meant to perform. Winter tires will vary from brand to brand and line to line, but a lot of them will have either a directional or asymmetrical tread pattern.
A directional tread pattern looks like an arrow and will have V-shaped grooves that funnel water, slush, and melting snow out of the tire so that drivers don’t slip on wet roads. Directional tires are the most common type of winter tires thanks to their ability to reduce the risk of hydroplaning and increase handling performance, especially in snowy conditions. Just remember that directional tires can only be rotated from back to front or from front to back.
Some winter tires use an asymmetrical tread pattern, which has two sets of tread blocks (or ribs) that look the same, and another that looks different. This similar and different approach is designed to give drivers the best of both worlds: better grip when cornering and accelerating on dry roads, and strong hydroplaning resistance on wet and slippery roads, which makes the tread pattern ideal for use in winter weather. Unlike a directional tread pattern, an asymmetrical tire can be rotated to any position of a vehicle; you just need to make sure the side labeled outside faces the outside of the car so that you don’t hinder performance.
You’ll likely see a lot of sipes, or small squiggly lines, within winter tires, and that’s by design. Sipes expand as you drive and bite into the road to increase traction, which is incredibly helpful on frozen, icy, slushy, and snowy roads that would normally be hard to grip. Think of a race car tire: its slick tread pattern is designed for use on dry tracks and high-speed driving, so using one on wet and wintry roads would make the car slide. Winter tires, and all-season, all-weather, and other tire types, utilize sipes as a way to increase traction in everyday driving, and more sipes tend to be better when it comes to wet and winter weather.
Studded vs studless winter tires
While a flexible rubber compound and a great tread pattern are very helpful in winter weather, some drivers might need a little extra grip to get through severe ice, slush, snow, and blizzards. Enter studs, which are small metal or ceramic pieces that can be embedded into the tire to increase grip. There are a few things to consider with studs, though.
First, winter tires are broken into three categories: studless, studdable, and studded. Studless winter tires cannot be pinned with studs and look and work like an all-season tire in that they rely on their rubber compound and tread pattern for traction. Studdable tires have tiny holes within the tread that can be pinned with studs by a mechanic. Studded tires come from the factory with studs in them, so there’s no need for a driver to visit a mechanic to have their tire pinned.
You might be wondering why anyone who lives in an area that gets heavy ice, slush, and snow wouldn’t want to use studs. While studs are great for traction, they can also severely damage local roads, which has led many States to ban their use. In addition to chewing up local roads, some tires become noisier when they’re studded which decreases ride comfort for drivers and passengers. All this is to say that it’s very important to consult your local laws before pinning your tires with studs or purchasing a set of studded tires.
I know I need winter tires. Now what?
You’ve determined that you need to purchase a set of winter tires for your ride, so now what? The first thing to consider is what type of winter tire you need: studless, studdable, or studded. Keep in mind that studs are not permitted in all 50 States, so be sure to check local laws before purchasing a set of studded or studdable winter tires.
Once you’ve determined which winter tire type is right for you, now it’s time to figure out which tire meets your driving needs and budget. Fortunately, SimpleTire has 1,000s of winter tires from the world’s top brands like Bridgestone, Michelin, Hankook, and more to help get you through ice, slush, snow, and whatever else Mother Nature throws at you during the winter months.
When should I change to my winter tires?
Winter tires are primarily meant for use in winter weather conditions, but the start of those conditions can vary depending on where you live. The general rule of thumb is to swap your all-season, summer, or ultra-high-performance tires with a set of winter tires once temperatures are consistently below 45 degrees Fahrenheit, as that’s when the rubber compound within a winter tire is at it’s best. That could be as early as October in some States, or as late as February in others; just remember to check your local forecast and weather history to give yourself a good idea of when it’s time for a swap.
It might not seem like a big deal, but how and where you store your tires is vitally important to getting the most out of your purchase. Improperly storing your tires has been known to cause the rubber compounds within that tire to wear down quicker than normal, and that could come from not storing them in an airtight bag, putting them in a garage or attic, or something else. Don’t worry; storing your tires isn’t nearly as scary as it sounds, and there are four simple tips that you can follow to properly store your tires.
Most drivers use all-season tires since they’re more than capable of performing in dry, wet, and light winter weather conditions. Unfortunately, the ability to do a little bit of everything comes at a price, as all-season tires really aren’t the best when temperatures are consistently below 45 degrees or there’s moderate to heavy ice, slush, and snow on the roads. Fortunately, that’s where winter tires come in. Specifically built for lower temperatures, ice, slush, and snow, winter tires can give drivers the extra traction and grip they need when roadways become difficult, making them a great option for winter weather.
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