Winter Tire FAQ

Shopping for snows?
We present some common winter-tire questions,
with answers from the experts at The Tire Rack.

0204 Wintertire 1

2004 Subaru Forester 2.5XT



Source: The Tire Rack.

Do I really need winter tires?

The primary concern that our customers express is that they don't want to get "stuck" in the snow (or in the ditch) during the winter.

While in cities like Atlantic City, Memphis, and Seattle located at the extreme edges of the snow belt, relatively new all-season tires will probably work just fine. But the odds change as you move further into the snow belt or the all-season tires have a few years of wear on them. And who wants to gamble...especially when their collision deductible and future insurance premiums are on the table.

We all know that tires are a compromise. One tire can't be the fastest on the track, most controllable in the snow, and longest wearing. The ultra-high-performance tire that grips the track with tread temperatures of 200 degrees is incompetent as its tread compound becomes like "hard plastic" at below 32 degrees. Today's 80,000-mile tires require tread designs and compounds that maximize long, even wear... not winter traction. And while many of today's all-season tires (original equipment, touring and performance) address some of these issues, they still emphasize longer wear, a quieter ride or greater performance...not winter traction.

Only winter tires are designed to excel in the colder temperatures, slush, snow and ice that many parts of the country experience for three or more months a year.

It's also important to note that the recent advancements in electronic driver aids, such as ABS and traction control don't provide more traction. They only help prevent drivers from over braking or overpowering the available traction of their tires. The only thing the driver can do to increase traction...to actually get more grip and control... is install better tires.

0204 Wintertire 2

2004 Mercedes-Benz C320 4Matic



Won't all-season tires work just fine?

By design, all-season tires are a compromise intended to provide acceptable traits under a wide variety of conditions. However, that compromised goal prevents them from being a master of any one of them. The all-season tire tread designs and compounds that are engineered to provide extended mileages and durability under the summer's sun are less effective in winter's freezing temperatures, and through snow and on ice. Specific winter tires deliver much better snow and ice performance than all-season tires because their tread designs and tread compounds are engineered to master those conditions, while summer tires are engineered to deliver better handling in the rain and on dry roads. Why not have the best tires for each of the conditions you'll encounter?

Why four winter tires? I thought I would need only two.

Today's winter tires are better at providing ice and snow traction than ever before. The technology used to develop the tread designs and tread compounds has evolved beyond what you may have used previously. Every one of our tire manufacturers and seven out of ten vehicle manufacturers recommend four winter tires be used on rear-, front-, or four-wheel-drive vehicles. This is because if you use two dissimilar types of tires on your vehicle, you'll have a vehicle that has a "split" personality. One end of the vehicle won't react and perform the same as the other in the dry, wet, slush and snow conditions you'll encounter before the end of winter. Especially in emergency situations, you'll find that your vehicle will probably understeer in one condition and oversteer in another. It is preferable to keep your vehicles handling as consistently as possible by "matching" all four tires. Our customers who have matched their tires tell us they're glad they made the extra investment in four winter tires (and wheels) so they can accelerate, brake, handle and better control their vehicle through winter's challenges.

What if my car has traction control?

While traction control will help keep you from overpowering your tires, it doesn't actually improve your tire's traction; it simply limits your car's acceleration to the traction level of your tires. The only way to maximize your vehicle's winter performance is to provide your traction control with more grip to work with by using tires specifically designed for your driving conditions.

0204 Wintertire 3

2004 Volvo S60 AWD



What if my car has anti-lock brakes?

While ABS brakes will help keep you from locking up your tires, it doesn't actually improve your tires' traction; it simply limits your car's braking to the traction level of your tires. The only way to maximize your vehicle's winter performance is to provide your ABS brakes with more grip to work with by using tires specifically designed for your driving conditions.

What If my car has front-wheel drive?

Front-wheel drive is certainly an advantage, but its advantage can be multiplied by using winter tires designed for the road conditions you'll encounter. Part of a front-wheel-drive car's acceleration advantage is because it has 60 percent of its weight over the drive wheels. And while this helps you get started, it does nothing to help you stop. And a front wheel drive car's weight distribution is not the best for handling and cornering. Many of the reasons that encouraged you to select a front-wheel-drive car are the same reasons that dedicated winter tires will make your winter driving more enjoyable and enhance your car's braking, handling and cornering traits.

What If my car has all-wheel drive?

All-wheel drive is certainly an advantage, but its advantage can be multiplied by using winter tires designed for the road conditions you'll encounter. While more tires share the torque of your vehicle, think of the ice and snow performance that winter tires provide. All of the reasons that encouraged you to select an all-wheel-drive car are the same reasons that dedicated winter tires will make your winter driving more enjoyable and enhance your car's braking, handling and cornering traits.

Isn't it just better to stay off the roads if it's really bad?

While it's great to have the luxury of staying off the roads when it's snowing, it's even better to have the freedom of movement that winter tires provide. Because it is difficult to accurately predict winter storms just ask any weatherman if he's willing to place a bet. How do you know where you will be when one hits...maybe at home—or at work—or out of town visiting relatives for the holidays. And who ever had an emergency that they could schedule around the weather?

Won't it help if I just drive slowly and carefully?

That very question verifies that you recognize the risk you feel when you don't use winter tires. Why not take some of the tension out of your winter driving and provide yourself with a greater margin of control to avoid the unexpected—or dodge an accident. And if you aren't able to keep up with the flow of traffic as you accelerate from a traffic light or up a hill, you pose a risk to yourself and all of the other vehicles around you.


For more advice on making the best winter-tire purchase for your vehicle, visit The Tire Rack.

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