If you are like me then you had no idea winter tires existed for most of your life. The circular rubber that encompassed the rims on your car were always all-season and only got changed when the mileage was too high. The idea of changing tires based on the season might seem like an unnecessary task, especially if you opt for an AWD or 4WD vehicle, but allow me to make the case that winter tires are cool and might even be necessary depending on where you live.
First, what are winter tires? As the name suggests, winter (snow) tires are engineered specifically to handle adverse cold-weather conditions such as snow or ice better than any other tire. Generally, the tread is larger than conventional tires and is angled in such a way that snow gets pushed out from the vehicle instead of underneath it. This is known as an asymmetrical tire, and some of the most capable snow tires are engineered this way. Although, you can find winter tires with a directional tread as well. While directional and asymmetrical tires are great for better grip and performance, just remember that they cannot be rotated in the same manner as symmetrical tires.
Within the snow tire category there are three different styles: studded, studless, and stud-able. This is the point where every dad turns to their kid or the nearest human being and says, “I don’t need studded tires, I am a stud!” while making fake beeping noises and holding their Craftsman stud-finder up to their chest. When it comes to tires, studs are small, lightweight and durable pieces of metal embedded in the tire to give extra grip, similar to football cleats.
Studded tires are best for harsh winter driving. Instead of placing and removing chains onto your regular tires, studded tires always have that traction available. The problem is when there isn’t any snow or ice, studded tires can actually be detrimental to the road which is why many states regulate and limit their use. They are more expensive and weigh more which increases rolling resistance and fuel consumption. The majority of drivers do not need studded tires, primarily because advances in tire technology and rubber compounds have limited their necessity.
Studless tires do not have studs and have to rely on the winter rubber compound and tread to provide necessary grip. However, as stated earlier, the technology is such that most consumers can use studless winter tires and get where they need to go. If you need proof, watch this vlog-style video where one of our contributors drives his Miata in the snow to get milk. Studless winter tires have a wider range of uses, don’t damage the road, and are less expensive to buy than studded tires. However, we do not recommend they stay on the car year-round unless you live in a place where it snows year-round.
Stud-able tires are a hybrid between the two choices listed above and are a relatively new technology. Their usefulness in harsh winter conditions depends on if studs are attached or not. This is a good option for people who may or may not see harsh weather conditions depending on the year or who live in a state where studded tires are restricted. However, putting the studs in and removing them can be time-consuming, and you might have wished you had just opted for the chains.
Do I Really Need Winter Tires?
Excellent question. That really depends on where you live and what your average commute looks like. For most people, all-season tires will be perfectly fine for what they deal with most of the time. All-season tires are built to handle dry weather and mild wet or light snow. They are built to ride comfortably and perform decently in different types of weather, but this also means they are not stellar in any one dimension.
All-season tires are not to be confused with all-weather tires. All-weather tires can be used in multiple seasons but are engineered to handle snow, heavy rain, and slush better than all-season tires. However, because of this, all-weather tires sacrifice ride comfort, tire noise, and handling sharpness. They also usually have longer stopping distances than all-seasons. Most shops recommend all-weathers if heavy rain or snow is likely during winter months but the customer does not want to swap their tires multiple times a year.
For anyone who lives in an area that sees consistent snowfall then winter tires should be considered. Of course, the capabilities of your car should be factored into the equation, but you could save yourself thousands of dollars by purchasing a set of winter tires instead of swapping that sedan for an AWD SUV. Ultimately, like most things, it depends on your particular vehicle, budget, and geographic location. If you still aren’t sure, talk to your local tire expert and get their advice.
Hopefully the process isn’t too tiring. Ba-dum-tss.