Winter is here and that means it’s time to think about spending money on winter tires (formerly snow tires) or can you get by with all-season tires? The consensus is that if you live in an area where you get ice and snow it’s worth the money for winter tires and here’s why.
Most “winter tires” (the new term for snow tires) outperform all-season tires in snow, rain and even on ice. They have a more aggressive tread pattern and are made from a softer rubber compound. The softer compound allows the tread to squash around the snow, compact it, and then toss it out as the tire rotates. Some winter tires even incorporate closed-cell bubbles in the tread material. But as you drive, road friction cuts the outer layer of bubbles and “sharpens” the edges of each one. It’s like having a few thousand freshly made squeegees wiping the road as you drive. The end result is better traction, more stability in turns, and much better stopping power.
Winter tires perform much better than the “snow” tires you may remember (if you’re old enough). They work better in snow, ice, slush and mud and on cold, dry pavement. The rubber compounds are entirely new. Most manufacturers include silica, and some spruce up the formula with traction bits and hollow “cells” that squeegee and suction water off the road. Tread designs are far more aggressive to provide better acceleration and shorter stopping distances
Since snow-on-snow contact creates far more traction than rubber on snow, winter tires are designed to grip and hold more snow. That means better (and faster) acceleration and shorter stopping distances. An independent test by Tirerack.com shows a 33 percent improvement in acceleration over all-season tires (and that’s with an AWD vehicle). Plus, the test tires stopped 30 ft. shorter than the all-seasons. That’s a huge difference—enough to avoid a serious accident or a fender bender.
All-season rubber compounds literally skate on ice. But winter tires are made with softer rubber compounds and added silica to give them more flexibility and grip on ice. And the special tread removes more water from the ice. The test results show that winter tires outperform all-season tires on ice, too.
A set of four winter tires costs $600 or more, depending on your wheel size. If you have the tires mounted on your existing wheels, you’ll have to pay a shop to swap them each spring and fall. Most shops charge about $18 apiece to demount your all-season tires, mount the winter tires, balance and install them. However, if you buy an extra set of wheels and tire pressure sensors ($480 per set), you’ll save at least $50 on each changeover. Don’t think you can skip the tire pressure sensors—the shop can’t legally install wheels without tire pressure sensors if your vehicle was already equipped with them.
Sure, winter tires cost a lot. But consider that you’re getting a lot for your money. When you factor in the better stopping distance and handling in turns, it’s easy to see how winter tires could prevent an “at-fault” accident. If your collision deductible is in the $500 to $1,000 range, winter tires could actually pay for themselves in a single season if they keep you out of an accident.
Tire manufacturers make multiple winter tire models for specific winter conditions. So get expert advice from your local tire dealer to match the tire to your vehicle, your climate and your driving habits.
So get those tires taken care of before the snow starts falling and as always DRIVE SAFE!