Do I Need Snow Tires?

Winter is coming, and we’re betting you’ve already mastered a few cold weather essentials like dressing for a blizzard, shoveling snow, and whipping up a hot toddy. However, there’s more to winter prep than looking good while concocting seasonal libations. It’s an important time to make sure your car is well-equipped for adverse conditions, and that includes considering winter tires. We’ve compiled some of the most commonly asked questions around them to help you make the right decision for your vehicle.

What’s the difference between snow tires, winter tires, and all-season tires?

Snow tires are increasingly being referred to as winter tires. They’re essentially the same thing, but as winter tires are made for all kinds of cold weather conditions (not just snowfall), the term “winter tires” is broader than “snow tires” and speaks more accurately to the capabilities of these road-gripping wheels. All-season tires, while offering good traction for mild conditions, can’t compete with the traction, ice control, and stopping power of winter tires. Check out this Consumer Reports study to see exactly how winter tires out-perform all-season tires in extreme weather conditions.

Can I just keep my winter tires on all year?

No, it is not recommended to keep winter tires on your vehicle all year long. Doing that will cost you more money in the long run. Winter tires wear much more quickly than all-season tires, especially in warm/dry conditions, so it is best to use them only during the winter season for peak performance. The general rule of thumb is that winter tires can last up to three or four winters if you make sure you remove the tires after every winter and check the tread for wear.

Can I put two winter tires on instead of all four?

Many experts recommend putting all four winter tires on. Whether you have all-wheel drive or not, changing only two tires puts you at risk of “split personality” performance, where one set will grip the road while the other set skids, and vice versa. In icy conditions, it’s important to keep your handling as consistent as possible to avoid skidding and losing control, and that means having all four winter tires on at the same time.

Are chains better than winter tires?

It depends on the conditions in your area. While winter tires will suffice in most situations, in a severe snow storm or in rural areas that are not plowed regularly, chains could be required by law. Check for inclement weather and road condition updates before heading to your snowy destination. It is best to keep a pair of chains in your car just to be safe if you aren’t sure.

What about studded tires?  

Studded tires are winter tires with metal studs mounted into the actual tire, providing maximum traction on ice and snow. They may be a safer option than chains since they don’t carry the risk of breaking and flying off of your car as tire chains can. However, they make for an uncomfortable ride and can damage pavement, so they should only be used in the worst conditions. Studded tires are also pricier than chains, so are best suited for those who drive regularly through mountain passes and heavy snowfall. Some states prohibit the use of studded tires, so it is best to check your local regulations before investing in them.

What is the best winter tire?

Not all winter tires are created equal. Some perform better on ice than snow, while others are created especially for high-performance sports cars. A good place to start is with these 11 best winter tires rated by Gear Patrol. These sticky beasts were rigorously tested and reviewed, taking into consideration the different types of vehicles that will be riding on them.

How do I know if I have winter tires?

According to the US Tire Manufacturers Association, there are two specific categories that denote the type of winter tire. Tires marked with the letters “M” and “S” for Mountain and Snow (e.g. MS, M/S, M&S, etc.) meet specific tread and molding requirements suitable for general winter use. For more severe conditions, the USTMA has defined tires with more specialized traction and those are marked with a sidewall graphic of a mountain with a snowflake inside.

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