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Pickup Trucks Need Winter Tires Too

Testing the Nokian Hakkapeliitta LT3

Scrolling through the BBC News app on my iPad as the snow fell to the ground outside my office window, my eyes came upon one particular headline—Van Slides into Lake Michigan. Watching the accompanying video, I could only think about two things: A Chevrolet pickup is not a van and, more significantly, it's clear the heavy-duty dually wasn't fitted with winter tires. That's not a good thing.

I'm a tire geek. As I walk through parking lots and sit at traffic lights in my car, I pay attention to the vehicles around me. I'm perched low in my winter tire-equipped Toyota 86, which makes it easy to notice the type of tires my fellow motorists run. I can't remember the last time I spotted winter tires on a pickup truck despite the large amount of snow, ice, and below-freezing days we get in Michigan, especially West Michigan. This includes three-quarter and 1-ton plow trucks and salt trucks—the vehicles that go out in the worst of conditions to improve road conditions for others.

One of the original-equipment (OE) tires that comes on a Chevy Silverado 3500 (1-ton) dually pickup is the Michelin Primacy XC. Reading through the TireRack reviews online, there are multiple references to the all-season tire's poor winter performance. Over at Ford, an OE tire for the 2020 F-350 dually pickup is the all-season Michelin LTX M/S2. TireRack specifically notes in the description of that tire that it "is NOT a dedicated winter/snow tire. It does NOT meet the severe snow traction requirements and is NOT branded with the three-peak mountain snowflake (3PMSF) symbol."

That's no fault of Michelin and doesn't make either the Primacy XC or LTX M/S2 a bad tire. They're simply not winter tires. And you can't expect the GM or Ford factory to fit dedicated winter tires or winter-focused all-weather tires to a truck that could be shipped anywhere in the country. Another thing to keep in mind is that just because an all-season or all-terrain tire carries the 3PMSF stamp doesn't mean it's up to the job in the winter. That "winter rated" designation only has to do with longitudinal snow traction under acceleration. The stamp has nothing to do with ice performance and does not include snow braking or snow cornering assessment—which is exactly why proper winter tires need to be fitted to your truck if you live a climate where you get more than an occasional snow and ice episode.

Early this year, I traveled to Colorado and tested the latest winter truck tire from Nokian Tires—the Hakkapeliitta LT3. This new heavy-duty winter tire completes the Finnish company's recent update of their entire Hakkapeliitta lineup and replaces the Hakkapeliitta LT2, which launched in 2012. "We engineered the LT3 for working vehicles such as heavy 4x4s and pickup trucks," said Steve Bourassa, Nokian Tires director of products and pricing. "It's designed to provide stability for tasks that require heavy loads during the cold winter months such as plowing roads or towing a trailer."

Certain innovations on the LT3 are borrowed from other Nokian tires. Other technology is fresh to the market. Like their SUV tires, the LT3 utilizes Aramid Sidewall technology, protecting the tire from impacts and damage. Arctic Grip compound also fits the heavy-duty nature of the LT3, increasing the tread's tear and cut resistance as well as helping wear characteristics.

Customers living in areas where studs are permitted can also take advantage of an industry first—stainless steel studs. "We developed the Arctic stud concept after consumers demanded more durable studded tires," said Bourassa. "Traditional studs rust and corrode after prolonged contact with salty roads. Our stainless-steel studs remain strong and stylish amid heavy use and winter conditions." The innovative studs are also longer. Plus, they take advantage of a new stud base and increased tire tread depth.

Nokian's passenger vehicle winter tire lineup includes the studded Hakkapeliitta 9 and studless Hakkapeliitta R3. Customers can choose either option depending on their performance needs and local stud legislation. It's a different story in the heavy-duty Hakkapeliitta world. "We challenged our R&D team to design a winter tire that could be studded or non-studded (with the LT3)," noted Bourassa. "Although our studded winter tire products focus heavily on minimizing road impact, studded tires remain outlawed in some areas. In those areas and for some consumers, non-studded tires are preferable. We endeavored to engineer a versatile winter tire that provides the same level of stability and strength for winter work independent of whether it's studded."

I asked Nokian how they went about engineering the LT3 to work in both studded and non-studded configurations, especially as they offer the two unique winter tires for lighter-duty applications. "The key is the compound," said Bourassa. "To make a tire that performs optimally with or without studs, we needed to craft a delicately balanced rubber compound with ideal studless traction but also strong stud retention."

Nokian claims the LT3 makes particular performance advancements over the LT2 in the areas of packed snow grip as well as ice traction and ice handling. I sampled the studded LT3 on a Ram pickup in Copper Mountain, Colorado. On an undulating and challenging rally cross-like course, I found a stable tire with consistent grip and progressive on-limit handling on both groomed snow and in deep snow. Runs through a slalom set up on hard-packed snow and ice revealed reliable handling and impressive braking performance. Overall, the Nokian winter tire performed miles better in the winter conditions than any all-season or all-terrain truck tire I've experienced.

As I tested the Hakkapeliitta LT3, I kept going back to the same thought—it's crazy that most pickup trucks running around in the snowbelt of the USA aren't fitted with winter tires. That needs to change. These are big, heavy vehicles that travel on the roads in all conditions. I'm sure the driver of the Chevy dually that ended up parking in a frigid Lake Michigan wishes their truck had winter tires.