Winter tires are designed with a rubber formulation that stays flexible in sub-freezing temperatures. That flexibility is important to traction in snow and slush, as a summer tire would stiffen and harden below freezing and compromise traction.
Winter tires have a more aggressive tread pattern, with deeper voids to help evacuate slush and snow from the tread. They also often feature circumferential grooves to move slush and water away from the tire’s contact patch to avoid hydroplaning.
Most tires now feature sipes, a network of tiny cuts in the tread that provide additional biting edges for traction in wet conditions. Winter tires usually have a greater number and density of sipes; different manufacturers will often use different shapes or patterns of sipes.
Some winter tires are pre-drilled to make it easy to install metal studs for ice and severe weather. Studs are driven into the tread and protrude about 1mm to help dig in for traction on ice. Tire studs are hard on pavement surfaces, though, and are illegal in many states.
Winter tires will feature the industry’s Mountain/Snowflake symbol embossed on the tire’s sidewall. The M/S symbol means that the tire exceeds the industry’s standards for a non-snow tire, making it suitable for winter use.
Winter tires should not be used in temperatures above 40 degrees, as that will accelerate tread wear.
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