The majority of people drive in all seasons and don’t realize the quality difference that winter tires make in terms of driveability and safety. Even if your vehicle is an all-wheel or four-wheel drive, it can still benefit from a proper set of winter tires. All-wheel and four-wheel drive help with actual driving in the winter weather, not the stopping, which is where the winter tire comes in most handily along with cutting through the slush.

Benefits of winter tires

Installing Winter tires on your vehicle has many benefits. These are primarily, handling, stopping distance, and extending the life of your other tires.

Handling

Winter tires are made specifically to grip into ice and snow with a more aggressive tread pattern to keep snow and ice from building up in and around the tire which also prevents hydroplaning. Winter tires have a specific tread pattern and tread depth to drive through slush and snow in low-traction conditions.

Braking

All seasons and Summer tires become more rigid in cold weather which makes braking, and especially hard stopping, more difficult. Winter tires remain softer and more pliable which allows them to hug the road surface better and afford a shorter stopping distance. Studies suggest an up to 30% improvement in the stopping distance required when winter tires are used.

Tire life extension

Having a separate set of tires for the winter versus the remainder of the seasons extends the life of your tires and allows for you to have rubber that specifically meets the road conditions for each season.

Types of winter tires

There are generally three types of Winter tires: studdable winter/snow, studless ice and snow, and performance Winter/snow. Which type of Winter tire you need depends on the average temperature and weather where you live and drive, and also the type of driving that you do.

1.  Studdable winter/snow tires – These types of tires are made to allow for the installation of a metal stud for enhanced ice traction. Studded tires damaged road surfaces so many states restrict them or entirely prohibit their use.

2.  Studless ice and snow – These tires are for the harshest winter conditions. They work best in colder weather.  Their efficiency suffers in milder weather conditions.

3.  Performance winter/snow – These tires are ideal for areas with cold temperatures but less snow. They have a higher speed rating and while they can perform in ice and snow, they are better suited for city drivers who are worried about being caught in the occasional snowstorm.

When to install winter tires

All seasons can become rigid in the cold and their usefulness reduced.  Look to install winter tires before the snow starts, when the temperatures have dropped. Likewise, winter tires will not perform well in warmer conditions so it is best you are past the date of any late fall heat waves before you have the winter tires installed. Ideally, your winter tires should be installed when the daily average reaches approximately 44 degrees Fahrenheit.

Should you buy new rims?

If possible you should purchase new rims for the winter tires. Some rims can easily be damaged by the salt and other elements that come with snow and slush. Buying a new set of rims specifically just for your winter tires can limit the wear, tear and damage to your regular rims. The benefit is that there will also be a lower cost associated with installing the winter tires. Despite the initial cost outlay, the next and subsequent winters you will pay lesser installation fees as your all-season or summer tire does not have to be removed from your rims to allow for the winter tires to be installed on the same rim.

The actual winter tire purchase 

1.  Determine what type of winter tire you are going to go with. Before choosing studdable tires, make sure that they are legal where you reside. As indicated above, studless tires are for the harshest winter conditions. If you are in an area that receives less snow, you can go with the performance winter tires.

2.  Determine whether you are going to purchase new rims for your winter tires. It is best to make these decisions before getting to the tire shop so you can better anticipate what the costs will be.

3.  Make sure you know what the Original Equipment Manufacturer size of your rim and tires are. Unless your suspension has been altered, these are the size of the winter rim and tire that should be installed on your vehicle. This size is usually noted on a sticker on the inside of the door jamb on the driver’s side.

4. Look for the Three-Peak Mountain Snowflake symbol on the sidewall of the winter tire. This means the tire has passed a standardized traction test. All seasons can also be branded with this symbol so make sure they are Winter tires before you purchase.

Proper tires on your vehicle is one of the most important aspects of driveability and safety. Your choice of tire also has a significant impact on the actual feel of the ride and fuel mileage. The role of your tire should never be underestimated and this is especially true when it comes to winter tires. Before you buy, remember that different areas have different rules and regulations as to if, and when, winter tires must be installed and whether they can be studded or have chains. Be sure to check your area’s requirements prior to purchasing and installing winter tires.