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.
Mud 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 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 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 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 Mountain + Snowflake symbol stamped onto the tire’s sidewall. The M + S symbol notes that the tire exceeds industry minimum standards for winter tire performance; whether it’s a mud tire, all-season tire, or winter tire, the M + S stamp is a good thing.
What about ice, though?
The truth is that there isn’t any tire that will perform well on ice, at least without studs or snow chains (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 up your chances somewhat (like wearing boots with cleats), but you cannot drive on dry pavement with studs.
The upshot is that mud tires traditionally don’t do well on snow and winter road conditions. A winter tire, all-season tire, or all-terrain 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 tires made them unstoppable!
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