Here are answers to the eight most common questions about winter tires: how to choose the right ones, and when they are needed.
Winter tires (snow tires) are important for safe driving, and it won’t be superfluous to find out the conditions of their use. Is it possible to do without winter tires in winter? Let’s answer the most frequently asked questions.
1. Do I need winter tires?
Winter tires are good to use at below-zero °C temperatures in areas with snow, ice, sleet or freezing rain, for routine trips through snow zones or the mountains in cold months.
2. Can I drive on snow, if my tires have the ‘M+S’ marking on the sidewall?
Some all-season tires are rated ‘M+S’ (mud and snow). For better road grip, they have larger tread blocks and wider gaps. Their purpose is to achieve good performance along with optimal tire life in most weather conditions, with the exception of packed ice or snow.
In that case, the tires made of the suitable compound and branded with the Mountain Snowflake are the right choice. Such tires are tested and certified to perform in winter.
3. Are snow tires necessary if I already have all-season tires?
It depends on the climate. All-season tires work well in dry, mild climates where the seasons do not vary much.
But only the winter/snow tires give a good stopping ability, safe handling, confident traction, control and braking on the roads abundantly covered with ice or snow. In places with winter weather, you will need tires marked with the Three-Peak Mountain Snowflake.
Unlike summer or all-season tires, the winter ones are ‘water-loving’. Their rubber is hydrophilic, more pliable, staying softer and getting more traction on snow and ice.
Winter tires provide more aggressive traction than all-season tires due to a higher “void-to-lug” ratio – bigger grooves between the sharp-edged blocks of the tread.
4. Should I get my snow tires siped?
Most snow tires are already siped. If you want to improve starting, stopping and rolling traction, you can do the additional safety siping for a fee. It makes sense to do in the case of regular trips on slick roads.
5. Is it reasonable to buy used winter tires?
Do three things before buying used winter tires: verify their size, measure the tread depth, check if there is a problem with uneven wear.
To verify the size, you can look in the owner’s manual for your vehicle, or see tire size on the sidewall of existing tires, or call a tire dealer if you feel uncertain.
To measure the tread depth, use a tire tread depth gauge. Take measurements in several places in the grooves on each tire. A new tire has 11/32nds of an inch in tread depth. The tire is about to significantly lose snow performance, if this figure is 6/32nds or less.
As for the uneven wear problem, four tires often wear in varied ways over time. Pass on those used tires, if the disparity between any two tires is more than 3/32nds of an inch.
Mismatched, wrong-sized winter tires increase the risk of transmission repair. Moreover, if you put winter tires on only the front or back, be prepared for a large difference in traction between axles that causes less steering control.
6. Can I buy tire chains instead of snow tires?
Tire chains can come in handy for traction during trips on icy roads or mountainous terrain, but they are useless for bare pavement or highways. Chains do not substitute winter tires: they are only an option when you’re riding on snow.
Traction controls in snowy areas range from the minimum (M+S tires) on the drive axle up to chains on all tires. It depends on the conditions and requirements in a particular region.
7. Do I need studded or studless tires?
Follow the recommendations of your tire dealer.
Studless snow tires work well on packed and slush snow. They have wide, deep grooves and many irregular sharp-edged surfaces allowing the rubber to cut through snow and grip the road.
Studs (lightweight, small metal spikes) of studded tires provide the best traction on packed snow and iced roads. Size options for such tires are limited. The times of the year when they are allowed vary by region.
8. Should I buy winter tires with rims?
It is a question of money and time (how long you are going to use your winter tires). Make a calculation of how much you’ll pay to swap out your winter tires twice a year if they are without rims, and then compare to the cost of the rims. Take into consideration the extra wear and tear tires go through during demounting and remounting.
Source: Les Schwab Tire Center