Tire maintenance & safety

How do mud tires perform in the snow?

You’ve got a big set of mud tires on your truck or SUV, you should be able to go anywhere and do anything with those chunky, meaty treads, shouldn’t you? Not necessarily. Find out why.

Last updated 10/17/2022 - Originally published 9/24/2020
Written by SimpleTire

Are mud tires good in snow?

In short, mud-terrain tires—also known as mud tires—are not good in the snow. Mud-terrain tires can present several different problems when driving on snow or ice. The deep voids and chunky lugs of mud tires are designed to self-clean, meaning they eject soft mud, dirt, and bits of gravel from their voids, just by centrifugal force.

As tires self-clean, they have a fresh surface to bite into the mud with every revolution. Think for a minute, though, about the consistency of snow that’s easy to pack into a snowball—that deep, powdery snow can easily pack its way into the voids and lugs of your mud tires and stay there, drastically cutting down on tire traction. When that happens, the tire will also constantly be pushing a little wall of snow in front of itself all the time, cutting traction, response, and speed.

Mud-terrain tires are also designed and built with a different tread compound than winter tires. Winter tires use a tread formulation that’s designed to stay flexible at subfreezing temperatures, adding a huge edge in traction. Mud-terrain tires can often stiffen up when temperatures get really cold, taking away their ability to conform and flex for traction.

One good rule of thumb is to go with tires that bear the industry’s Three Peak Mountain Snowflake symbol stamped onto the tire’s sidewall. The Three Peak Mountain Snowflake certification notes that the tire performance exceeds industry minimum standards for winter; whether it’s a mud-terrain tire, all-weather tire, or a winter tire, the Three Peak Mountain Snowflake stamp is a good thing.

Can you use mud tires on ice?

The truth is that there isn’t any tire that will perform well on ice, at least not without studs or snow chains—which are illegal in many states. Even a generous distribution of sipes still won’t increase traction very much on sheet ice because sheet ice is just plain treacherous to try to drive on. Studs will increase your chances somewhat—like wearing boots with cleats—but you cannot drive on dry pavement with studs. The upshot is that mud-terrain tires traditionally don’t do well on snow and winter road conditions. A winter tire, all-weather tire, or all-season tire is almost always a better choice for winter conditions, and too often we’ve seen drivers get in trouble in the winter because they thought that four-wheel-drive and mud-terrain tires made them unstoppable!

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