With the name “all-season tires,” you’d think they would be a good choice year-round. After all, that’s what exactly what they’re designed to be. And in many cases, all-season tires get the job done. But in this area, we’ve seen first-hand how owners of European and Japanese car makes benefit from installing snow tires during the winter. In fact, according to a study conducted recently by Popular Mechanics, snow tires improved performance over all-season tires by up to 5 percent during braking and 20 percent when cornering.
One reason to switch is that winter tires have tread designs that grip the snow and ice better than all-season tires. They feature raised blocks of tread designed to channel snow, ice, slush or water away from the tire’s surface and improve “bite” where traction has been diminished by snow or slush build-up on the road surface. Winter snow tires also have razor-thin grooves within the tread that allow better contact between the tires and wet road surfaces.
A second reason is the make-up of the tires. Even at just 45°F, the rubber compounds used for performance and all-season tires start to feel the cold. These compounds start to stiffen, which reduces the tire’s ability to grip the road. Winter tires, on the other hand, are made of softer compounds that remain flexible even in extremely low temperatures.
In fact, a number of European and Japanese car manufacturers recommend the use of snow tires in their owners’ manuals (you have read that, right?!) or on their websites, including Volvo, MINI, Mercedes-Benz, BMW, Audi and Toyota.
Have you seen the benefits of snow tires on your car? Share your experiences with us.
Here are some things to think about when buying winter tires, courtesy of Popular Mechanics:
- Make sure you buy four tires; skimping and putting winter tires only on the drive end of the car will result in unpredictable handling and could be dangerous.
- If you’d rather not remount your tires each season, pick up a separate set of inexpensive steel wheels for permanent winter-tire duty. (This also keeps expensive alloy wheels from getting damaged in harsh, salty winter conditions.)
- Swap to winter tires around Thanksgiving and back to all-season or summer tires around Easter—winter tires’ softer rubber compounds wear quickly in warmer temperatures.
- Store off-season tires in a cool, dry area out of the sun, and consider wrapping them in black plastic bags to reduce oxidation.
- Keep in mind that having two sets of tires isn’t doubling the expense, it’s halving the wear. You’ll have twice the number of tires but buy new ones half as often.
- For safe handling, make sure all mounted winter tires are of the same make and have the same tread design.