The Case For Winter Tires: Keeping You Safe When the Weather is Far from Friendly

February 17th, 2015

If you live in the parts of the country that are challenged by white roads, slippery conditions, and an all around grueling driving experience; the slightest change in weather can mean difference between a “safe’ driving situation and one that’s potentially dangerous,

In these areas, snow tires can be a lifesaver. You might be saying to yourself, “I’ve never used snow tires, and I don’tneed tires. My tires are just fine for driving in snow.” In this case, it might be high time that you brush up on what you know about snow tires.”

Why You Need Snow Tires

Whether you have a large 4-wheel drive vehicle or a small 2 door sedan, chances are you could still benefit from snow tires. No matter the case, whether you have traction control, all wheel drive, or if the all season tires that came with you have simply served you well so far, if you routinely drive in icy conditions (I’m looking at you New England and the Great Lakes) winter tires will keep you safer. When it comes to the difference between all season tires and modern winter tires, the two do not even stand in the same category. They are entirely different.

Not only do winter tires have thicker, chunkier, and meatier treads, they are also manufactured with special rubber and a different design. Rubber is a pliable material, and certain formulations of rubber have different operating conditions at different temperatures. For example, your all season tires are manufactured of rubber that maintains a certain level of flexibility in various temperatures. This ensures that the tire grips the road properly in each season. However, winter tires are made with a different rubber compound that helps the rubber keep its flexibility in cold weather.

While the rubber in an all season tire might get hard in cold temperatures, the rubber in snow tires is able to flex and move so that the tire’s special tread will work properly to evacuate snow, slush, and ice. At the same time, its flexibility also helps the tread pattern work the tire through whatever winter can put in its path.

You’re probably thinking, “this is all great, but what about how the tire is actually designed?” and that brings to mind one of the most essential features of a winter tire – their tread design. Not only do they use a chunkier design to gain better traction, but they also use a tread pattern that makes sure snow and ice do not become lodged inside the tire’s grooves. This helps the tire keep the treads open and effective, delivering better traction and safety through ice, snow, slush, and water. However, while the tread design is important, one of the unsung heroes of the winter tire is something you might have never heard of, called siping.

The story of the thin cuts in the tread surface of your tire,dates back to the story of John F. Sipe. In most cases, the story says that Sipe worked in a slaughterhouse. Other stories say that sipe was a deckhand. Either way, Sipe needed a solution to stop slipping. To do that, he cut small slits into the tread of his shoes, which provided better traction then when his shoes had uncut tread. Years later, the same concept was brought to the tire industry and driving in slippery conditions all of a sudden got better and better. These cuts allow the tread to pump open and closed, which also creates a squeegeeing motion that moves water away from the tire while simultaneously improving traction on the road surface.

Some common questions about snow tires

Do I really need snow tires?”

If you only get a light dusting of snow every year, probably not. Or if you live in an area with a light amount of snow and you drive a truck or sport utility vehicle with 4-wheel drive, you’ll probably be fine. However, if you find yourself constantly snowed in, if you drive a smaller car, or are stuck in the tire tracks from a bigger vehicle – yes, snow tires will help you.

Do I need snow tires on all four tires?”

Yes. Without matching tires your tires will wear unevenly, they won’t perform properly, and they won’t give you the level of safety you think you’re paying for. When snow tires are on the front of your car (maybe in the case of a front-wheel-drive sedan) the rear end of your vehicle may spin out. If you put winter tires on the rear axle of your car (for a rear-wheel-drive vehicle) there’s also the chance that the front can spin out. In either case, you never want your vehicle spinning out of control.

How long can I use snow tires?”

Because winter tires use a softer and more pliable rubber for the cold months, you have to remember to replace them with all season tires when it begins to get warmer. When driven when it’s too warm out, winter tires will be too soft and will wear much faster than they should.

  Tags: winter tires
  Posted in: Tires 101