Close-up of a winter tire with studs driving on down a snowy road, leaving tread tracks behind.

Tire maintenance & safety

How to choose the perfect set of winter | snow tires

What is the most critical thing you can do to prepare your tire for the wintertime? Top off the windshield washer fluid? Make sure you're running the proper antifreeze? Or maybe give the engine a tuneup?

All of those preparations are important, but the one thing that will make more of an impact than anything else is getting the right set of tires on your ride.

It's no secret that you should ride on winter tires in the winter, depending on where you live. After all, they are called "winter" tires for a reason. What is a little more obscure is selecting a set that matches your demands.

It might come as a shock to find that not all winter tires are the same. Some handle certain conditions better than others, and you want to make sure the set you select matches the conditions you'll face to get the best results.

Relax. You're not dead in the water. Let's talk about the points you need to consider when shopping around.

Icicles and a winter tire in a snowstorm

How do I know if it is a snow tire anyway?

You live in a day and age where all you need to do is type in the right keywords, and the search results will take you to the right places. You can't always count on this being 100-percent accurate, though.

The best way to determine if a tire is optimal for winter weather conditions is to look for the Three Peak Mountain Snowflake logo. This logo is stamped into the tire’s sidewall, featuring the outline of a mountain with three peaks and a snowflake in the middle.

The presence of this symbol tells us the tire has been put through rigorous testing to ensure it can handle harsh weather conditions. Again, though, you shouldn't confuse a tire with the M+S symbol as being in the same league.

M+S ratings are simply a measure of tread void, or space between the grooves, and are not a measure of performance. Earning this badge simply means a tire has enough tread void to handle these conditions. It does not mean the tire can handle heavy layers, nor does it mean it excels with braking or turning in mud or snow.

Okay, so they’re snow tires, now how do I choose among them?

Again, not all winter tires are the same. While modern winter tires should feature the Triple Peak logo for use in winter weather, there are a few different nuances to consider.

The first is tread pattern, and that will typically be directional or asymmetrical for winter tires. A directional tread pattern has a V-shaped tread pattern and does an excellent job of funneling water, slush, and melting snow out of the tire to reduce the risk of hydroplaning on slippery roads.

The Nokian Hakkapeliitta 10 is an example of a directional winter tire. An asymmetrical tread pattern has two tread blocks that match and one that doesn’t, and the idea here is to increase handling capabilities on wet, icy, slushy, and snowy roads. Consider the Yokohama iceGUARD iG53 if you’re more concerned with handling performance in winter weather.

Besides performance features, tread patterns are important to wear and tire rotation. A directional tire must be rotated from back to front or from front to back, while an asymmetrical tire can be freely rotated so long as the side that’s labeled outside is facing out.

Double stud technology Nokian Hakkapeliitta 10 4

Outside of tread patterns, winter tires are typically broken into three categories: studded, studdable, and studless. A stud is a tiny piece of metal or ceramic material that’s embedded into the tire by a technician to increase traction in severe ice, slush, and snow.

The Nokian Hakkapeliitta 10 that we mentioned above is a studded tire, and comes with pieces of metal pre-embedded into the tread. The Yokohama iceGUARD iG53 that we also mentioned earlier is a studless tire, which means that there are no holes within the tread to accept studs.

Not sure which option is for you? Fortunately, studdable tires like the General Altimax Arctic 12 give drivers the most choice as they can elect to pin their tires with studs or leave them as is. Just remember that studs aren’t legal in all 50 States, so it’s important to consult local laws before purchasing a set of studded tires or pinning your studdable tires with studs.

So, where do you go with this information? The first thing to remember is that no winter tire will handle all situations well, and there's always going to be a tradeoff when one feature or characteristic is enhanced. Likewise, it’s important to consider your local conditions since some winter tires are better suited for mild and short winters while others are better in harsher, longer seasons.

It's also worth mentioning that there's no need to panic if the conditions don't exactly match up with your tire selection during some parts of the season. While it's not ideal for tire wear, you're not putting yourself in peril by keeping the tires on until winter subsides.

Remember, winter tires are designed to handle harsh conditions, but manufacturers do keep the fact that road conditions will change in mind, and the tires will accommodate enough that they're safe to drive on. You should only worry about switching winter tires as the season comes to an end and the temperature steadily rises above 40 degrees Fahrenheit.

Snow covered road and parked cars

What about all-terrain or all-weather tires?

Tire technology isn't what it used to be. It used to be that you pretty much had to swap between tire sets as seasons changed. Nowadays, things are a little different, and it's not out of the realm of possibility to travel safely on the same set of tires all year long.

There are plenty of examples of all-terrain, and all-weather tires that have the Three Peak Mountain Snowflake rating on the side. The stamp here means the same thing as it does on any dedicated winter tire. The tire has what it takes to perform in harsh winter conditions.

Will it stack up to a true winter tire, though? That depends. Again, all things come at a tradeoff. If a true winter tire falls on the lower end of the price scale, it might not perform as well as a high-ranking all-terrain or all-weather tire when the roads are wet or snowy. However, a high-end winter tire is bound to outperform those tires as manufacturers aren't forced to make tradeoffs in performance characteristics to handle anything but winter conditions and are using premier resources to develop the tire.

The point is that versatile tires that can handle winter conditions and the remaining seasons can be a great choice. However, if you regularly drive on roads where conditions are a little more severe, you should still move to a dedicated tire to handle that situation.

Winter tire installation

Okay, I got the tires. What do I do next?

Once you have the right tires selected, there are a few things you need to do to get the best experience. That starts by having a reputable installer mount and balance the tires for you — something you can easily accomplish with the help of one of SimpleTire's many great installers.

Next is to practice proper tire maintenance. One of the biggest things to keep in mind is that tires are subject to serious pressure fluctuations during the wintertime.

You can expect tire pressure to drop or rise by one PSI for every difference of 10-degrees Fahrenheit. Considering days can be 20-30 degrees warmer than nights in some areas, this can cause the tire inflation to be out of spec. Therefore, it’s wise to over-inflate your tires by a few PSI to accommodate this change.

However, you shouldn't use this as a permanent fix throughout the season as the climate gradually changes, just as a means to deal with short periods with dramatic temperature changes.

If you're still unsure where to go from here, give our customer service line a call. The reps there are ready to help you find the best snow tire for your application and the part of the country you live in. They can even help you nail down a tire service center that can mount and balance the tires you select.

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