This is one of the most frequently asked questions we receive from our customers looking to make the best choice possible when purchasing their next set of tires. They are concerned about the best tire types to use on their car in the wintertime. Are all-season tires okay, or should they switch over to special winter or snow tires, and if so, why?
You ask a lot of your tires during all seasons and conditions. But winter conditions are some of the harshest conditions your tires have to face. In freezing conditions, tires lose some of the elasticity they need to endure extremes of friction and impact. Also, braking on slippery ice, slushy snow, and even muddy, rainy roads can be hard on tires. One of the best solutions for medium to heavy winter driving conditions is installing winter tires. Here at Harris Oceanside Chevrolet Buick GMC, we not only stock and sell winter tires, but we help you optimize your winter tires for better safety, performance, and reliability.
The real answer to this question depends more on the weather when you’re driving than the specific season of the year. All-season tires are designed to work in almost all kinds of weather year-round. The specific tread configurations on all-season tires can handle rain, light snow, and hot or cold weather. However, they are not specialized tires for particular conditions and generally perform well in virtually all driving conditions.
All-season tires help provide your car with stable handling and reduced tread wear in both wet and dry conditions. They usually have a lower rolling resistance, which results in your car getting better gas mileage. And the tires are often quieter, so your car is more comfortable to ride in.
If all-season tires can handle ice and light snow conditions, why should you spend the extra money to equip your car with winter tires? The answer is that even though all-season tires work satisfactorily in winter, they aren’t always the best option for areas that get heavy snowfall or for every wintry weather condition.
Properly inflated winter tires are specially designed to manage winter conditions and give your car more traction when driving in the snow. Their special rubber compound stays flexible when the temperature drops, and the tread pattern is designed to provide you a better grip on snow, ice, and mixed conditions, so there’s no reason to reduce tire pressure for added traction. Whether the road is wet or dry, the design and construction of these tires directly reflects the specific intended use of the tire during winter driving conditions.
Your car will also have better braking performance in icy and snowy conditions using a winter tire. The aggressive tread reduces snow build-up, and the tread design has biting edges for greater traction. Most drivers find that winter tires provide them with a higher sense of confidence and control during challenging wintery weather.
Winter tires, however, are meant for icy roads and snow and have deep treads for greater grip. The tread compound is softer than regular tires, and the tires will wear out faster on warm or dry pavement, resulting in more frequent replacement. So once the road becomes dry again, winter tires wear out quicker and don’t provide as much traction as regular tires. Therefore, the handling and responsiveness of your car will be diminished, and the ride will be noisier.
Using a winter tire with compounds specifically designed to function better in temperatures near or below freezing is your best choice during winter weather in most northern climates. The tread compound will remain pliable despite the cold, allowing adequate traction with the road surface.
In contrast, a dedicated summer tire will harden drastically when the temperature goes to freezing or below. This prevents adequate road surface interaction and can be dangerous while driving. All-terrain tires which are snow-rated do a much better job than summer tires of staying pliable during cold weather and generally provide good traction in packed snow. However, the softer rubber compounds of dedicated winter tires when temperatures drop to near freezing are superior to any other types of new tires.
Most drivers find that winter tires will provide a higher sense of confidence and better traction control during challenging winter weather conditions. Their tread has biting edges for much greater traction on wet roads and ice, and their tread compound is soft in the cold weather, leading to better grip while driving.
Winter tires are usually sold with pen-tip sized holes that are placed so that steel studs can be inserted to contribute an extra level of winter traction, especially in icy conditions. If studded tires are used in non-winter seasons, they can damage the roads, so studded tires are not legal in some parts of Canada or the United States. There are limitations for their use in some provinces and territories regarding which months they can be used in, the size, composition, and the number of studs. British Columbia even has laws in place where unless you have studded tires, you cannot drive on certain roadways in the wintertime.
Modern technology being what it is, tire manufacturers have come up with a modernized version of all-season tires called “Snow-Rated All-Terrain” tires. These new variations of all-season tires are distinguished by a three-peak mountain snowflake symbol on the sidewall, which denotes “severe snow service.” This severe snow rating is a prominent feature that specifies that it is different from regular all-terrain tires because of its excellent severe snow service rating.
Tire manufacturers commonly test their all-terrain tires for performance in the snow before bringing them to market. This continued testing makes certain that all-terrain tires are “snow-worthy” and safe to drive in the wintertime.
However, the “snow-worthy” specification only applies to performance in the snow, specifically packed snow. When winter brings not only heavy snow but also ice, rain, freezing rain, slippery frosted pavements, heavy wet snow, and a combination of any of these, the most useful winter tires’ performance requires more capability than simply making it through the packed snow on the highway.
With weather conditions varying considerably during the winter, the performance merits of a singular purpose winter tire can sometimes be questionable. While some all-terrain tires have the traction capability to be reasonably good driving in a straight-line through snow, they are compromised during most other driving conditions compared to true winter tires.
The reason for this has to do with its design and engineering purpose. All-terrain tires are designed to work in wet and dry road conditions, both on-road and off-road, when the temperature is between 20° F and 100° F. They also are made with a strong puncture resistance for durable off-roading, which makes them somewhat less capable of wintertime traction.
In conditions that feel normal, extra precaution may not be necessary. But when the weather is harsh, we recommend the following, especially for new winter or winterized tires.
After having new snow tires installed, especially after having winter studs installed, keep your speed below 31 mph in challenging conditions and below 62 mph for the first 250 miles. This will give the adhesive time to cure and for the studs to seat fully.
Use snow chains only when needed. Snow chains are hard on the tread of your tires and should only be used during the harshest parts of your daily route.
Remember that winter tires are not built for speed or performance. Rather, they are designed for safety in winter conditions. Therefore, it’s important to treat them accordingly.
Because winter tires are a bit more pricey than ordinary tires, and because we expect more out of them, it’s important to do everything we can to make them endure.
Though tires are a wear item, getting them serviced will help them to last longer and save you money.
Here at Harris Oceanside Chevrolet Buick GMC in Parksville, Qualicum Beach, Nanoose Bay, and Nanaimo, BC, our highly-trained and fully-certified team of tire pros have the knowledge and equipment to make your new winter tires last for the long haul.