Winter Tires - How Far We Have Come

Twenty years ago, the only difference between winter tires and highway tires was their tread design. We called them snow tires back then and they had big, knobby lugs that were designed to provide good traction in deep snow. They had the same rubber compound as regular tires and they didn’t perform well on ice, packed snow, or wet roads. They also didn’t perform well on dry roads. They were useful for driving through deep or loose snow, but they didn’t perform well in any other conditions.

Eventually, all-season tires came along. All-season tires were developed to perform in all weather conditions. They have decent tread for hot weather conditions, and they function pretty well in mild winter road conditions. But there are still some really good reasons to consider modern winter tires.

Modern winter tires do a terrific job in a wide range of winter conditions. When the temperature drops below 45 degrees, regular tires become hard and inflexible. This means that they don't provide the necessary grip to drive in difficult weather conditions. If you live in an area that drops below 45 degrees, even if it doesn’t get a lot of snow, you are safer with winter tires.

In addition, they are specifically designed to move through snow and water. They use a micro-pore compound that allows the tire to tread through ice and snow. They have wider grooves that run around the circumference of the tread to expel snow from the tire. Winter tires have specially shaped lugs and grooves to help push packed snow and ice out of the tread as the tire turns. The tread opens up, so that it provides adequate traction when it comes into contact with the road.

Winter tires also have a lot of sipes, which are thin slits in the tread. The sipes grab ice and snow to provide adequate traction and expel water from the tread. Winter tires have a rounder casing to cut into the snow's surface, whereas the treads on regular summer tires can actually get packed with snow and become very slick. Winter tires offer 25 to 50 percent more traction than all-season tires, and all-season tires take 42 percent longer to stop than winter tires.

It’s important to remember that if you put winter tires on your front wheel, that you also put them on your rear wheels. This is a major safety concern. The front tires do most of the steering and braking, which means it necessary that all four wheels have the same tires to control your vehicle.

People often assume that if they have four-wheel drive or all-wheel drive then they don't need winter tires on all four wheels. Putting winter tires on one end of your car is like disconnecting your four-wheel drive capabilities in poor road conditions. You need to have the same level of traction and control at all four corners.

It’s such a major safety concern that snowy areas in Canada, like the province of Quebec, issued a law requiring all passenger vehicles, taxis, and rental cars to install a full set of four winter tires throughout their snow season.

Many modern cars have traction control and anti-lock brakes, which is why people often assume that they don't need winter tires. But you need traction to accelerate, steer, and stop. The tires provide the traction to allow your traction control and anti-lock brakes to do their job.
When the temperature drops below 45 degrees, be sure you have a set of four winter tires for maximum performance in snow, ice, wet, and dry roads. Your tire professional can help you find the right winter tire for your vehicle and average driving conditions.