Why Go Soft in Winter? It’s a well-known fact that material of any kind gets harder and stiffer in cold weather. For example, water freezes, and the plastic shovel you use to scoop snow from a sidewalk may become brittle and snap in two.
As it is with these things in winter, so is it with the rubber in your car tires. Typical “all-weather” or “all-season” tires made generally for warmer climes become stiff in cold weather. As a consequence of this, they lose their resilience, and in turn are less able to flex to the varying contours of snow and ice on a winter road.
As a further result of this, less of your all-weather tire tread comes into contact with the road. The end result? Your tires deliver overall less traction. If you were to apply the brakes quickly in cold weather, the chances of you losing traction and skidding across snow and ice is markedly higher.
Winter Car & Truck Tires
In order to accommodate for this change in traction, the rubber in winter tires are designed to be softer and thus more flexible for better cold-weather performance. Because their softness allows more of your tread to come in contact with the snow, ice, and what little asphalt may be exposed on the road, they are less susceptible to losing traction. You can apply the brakes, speed up and turn with greater confidence.
When buying a set of winter tires, be sure to discuss the relative softness of the rubber content that tire offers. As a general rule, softer tires offer better traction. For this reason, many tires specifically designed for winter use are somewhat softer than their all-season cousins.
Winter Tire Tread Design
The next major factor to consider when buying winter tires is its tread design.
While most all-season or warm weather tires have a tread that maximize your tire’s contact with the road, they do have channels and grooves to help eject water from beneath the tire. Conversely, those channels and grooves also reduce the tire’s contact with the road to help reduce “rolling resistance”. This reduced drag in turn helps reduce fuel consumption – a benefit for your purse or wallet. However, these factors fall out of play with winter tires.
Given that there will be snow and ice on the road, you will want a tread that generally offers more tire contact with the driving surface. However, increased contact with the road isn’t sufficient. Assuming the road surface may be covered with jagged ice or slushy snow, winter treads are markedly different from their warm-weather counterparts.
Tread for Slushy, Snowy Surfaces
To accommodate slushy surfaces, expect your winter tire treads to offer relatively wide grooves (or more of them). These grooves allow the flat part of your tire’s tread to push through snow and reach down to more solid road.
Tread for Jagged Ice Surfaces
To accommodate jagged-surfaced road conditions posed by ice on well-traveled roads, an aggressive tread comes into play. A good winter ice tire may have treads of varying patterns, angles, and degrees of sharpness. This is all done to accommodate varying ice conditions, and especially ice found on roadways that see ice or snow that melt and refreeze on a daily basis.
Studded Tires for Slick Ice Surfaces
For more extreme road conditions where roads are less traveled, the chance of them being cleared of hard-packed snow and dangerously smooth ice is less than likely. Remote countryside locales are prone to more slick ice and snow, and thus require a tires with a little more “bite” – literally.
Yet another kind of cold-weather tire exists which delivers this kind of bite: studded tires.
Studded winter tires are just that: winter tires that come with sharp metal points embedded into the tread. Studded tires provide extra gripping power by biting through ice and snow.
Studded Tires May Be Prohibited in Your Area
Use of studded tires have their downsides. If the road you drive on isn’t covered with ice or snow, tire studs may noisily start to dig into the road itself. While studded tires are good for ice traction, they’re decidedly not good for ice- and snow-free roads.
Some claim the use of studded tires costs taxpayers millions of dollars in road wear every year. While studded tires chip away at asphalt and concrete, they eventually may cut grooves in the road. These ruts in turn will fill up with water, thus causing a hydroplaning hazard when rain comes. For this reason, some states prohibit the use of studded winter tires completely, or they may restrict them to seasonal use only. Consult with your local law enforcement authority to confirm restrictions in your area.
As a cheaper − albeit less convenient − alternative to studded tires, snow chains are the next best answer.
Keep in Mind: When to Use Snow Tires
Last but not least, keep in mind when to use snow tires. Remember, because they are generally designed for cold weather use, they don’t necessarily work well for warmer seasons. The softer rubber content becomes really soft in spring and summer, and will be prone to wearing out much more quickly than when used during winter.
This said, look upon your purchase of winter tires as a second set of tires for your car or truck. Use all-season tires during warmer climes, and swap them out with your new winter tires at the onset of winter snow and ice.
Ready To Buy?
While some may argue you can go into further detail on the finer points for buying winter tires, by now you’ve read up on the major points. At this point you’ve considered softness versus durability, tread design, the more extreme studded tires, and when to use your new snow tires.
At this point is where I suggest you finally consider the cost. Take your time buying these you new car or truck tires. Weigh what features you get and measure them out against what you pay for the mix.
Ultimately the most important factor is safety. By spending a little more for the improved safety benefits good snow tires offer you, you can drive with greater comfort, confidence and safety – especially with loved ones sharing the ride with you.
(This article is Part 2 of How to Buy Car and Truck Snow Tires by John Melendez. Click here to go to the main article index to search for Part 1 for this title.)
Other Reading / References:
Cold Air Intake to Boost Engine Power!
Thinking About Using Nitrogen for Your Tires?
EWAI for Your Car – Try Before Hydrogen Gas or Water Injection
All the Other Articles