Snow Tires: Do I Really Need Them This Winter?
Every fall, in temperate zones all around the world, people get ready in different ways for the oncoming winter months. One thing many car owners do, especially those that live in northern, colder climes, is getting their regular tires switched out in exchange for a set of winter tires. It’s easy to wonder whether this is an unnecessary expense or not; if you already have all-season tires, or if you’ve never been in a situation that has called for winter tires, then you might not think you need to get winter tires at all. And, possibly, you might not have to. However, for a large portion of people, snow tires are the unequivocal correct choice if they need to drive around at all in the coming winter months. Here’s a comprehensive look at snow tires, what the value is to them, what the drawbacks are, and ultimately if snow tires are right for you.
What Are Snow Tires?
Snow tires are, as the name would imply, tires that are specifically designed to deal with the snow. However, a more accurate word for modern snow tires would actually be “winter tires”, as they are designed to deal with all sorts of winter weather, not just the snow. They accomplish this by being designed differently than regular tires in a few significant ways. For one, the actual rubber that is used in winter tires is different. Rubber in a regular tire, and even that of an all-season tire, isn’t designed to deal with extreme cold. That means that, when it gets particularly cold out, a regular tire will stiffen and become harder, and thus will be less able to deal with the road on cold days. Winter tires are made with special rubber that remains pliable even at colder temperatures. Winter tires also incorporate deeper treads with more complex patterns, allowing the tire to grip onto snow more effectively, allowing more ability for locomotion and control. Finally, these tires also incorporate biting edges, tiny slits in the tire that allow for more traction on the ice. All of this together makes snow tires much more effective at dealing with winter weather than any other.
Reasons to Use Snow Tires
The advantages that snow tires confer onto the driver are many, and each of them is individually capable of saving your life. Deal with the snow tires twice a year, once when you get them on and once when you get them off, and you’ll have a larger amount of peace of mind during the winter, when you have no choice but to drive in awful weather.
Not Just Snow
Snow tires, just like all-season tires, have a somewhat misleading name. In reality, snow tires are better referred to as winter tires, because they aren’t just designed with snow in mind. Biting edges have nothing to do with snow, since the slits aren’t large enough to allow snow up in them like the treads are, and everything to do with retaining traction on an icy road. The special rubber, too, isn’t a measure aimed at combating snow in particular, but the cold that comes along with it. That is to say, if you are in a region that doesn’t receive much snow, but does still have chilly winters, then you shouldn’t discount the need for snow tires just because “snow” is in the name.
Better Braking Performance
The number one reason that anyone should be using snow tires is because of the difference that they make on your ability to brake. Being able to safely bring an automobile to a stop is literally the only thing keeping every car trip we take from being a likely brush with death, and adequate braking is intrinsically tied into the connection between the tires and the road. If you slam on the brakes, the brakes clamp down and stop the tires, but the tires are just smoothly riding over the snow or the ice, then you might have well not braked at all, for all the control you now have of your car. You need to know that your wheels stopping will equate to your car stopping, and the only way to be sure of that in the winter is to have tires designed for it. The deeper treads and the biting edges will allow your car to come to a smoother stop in any instances involving snow, ice, or even just a damp, cold road.
Don’t Lose Control
If you’ve driven around in the snow without winter tires at all, then you’ve probably lost control of the car for a few moments at a time. Usually, these moments don’t mean much, just a little bit of skid before your car has reasserted traction. It can happen at the worst possible time, though, and you aren’t guaranteed to always get control back. Winter tires, with their stronger traction on to the road, will lose control less often, and regain it more quickly, than any other tires that you could be driving.
Get Stuck Less
Sometimes, having snow tires has nothing to do with safety, and everything to do with functionality and convenience. When you’re already moving in a car, and you start to lose control or careen towards something, then your biggest priority is stopping safely; when your car is in a ditch, on a patch of ice, or just in an uphill driveway, then getting the car moving at all can be a huge challenge. Snow tires won’t just keep you safe in case of an emergency, they will also give you the necessary traction to get started at all, if you find your car in a difficult position.
Reason Not to Buy Snow Tires
There are, perhaps surprisingly, very few actually compelling reasons to not buy winter tires. There are certainly reasons that people use to justify not buying them, but as technology advances and as retailers start to accommodate customers more, you’ll find that many of the reasons people don’t buy snow tires aren’t as good reasons as people think they are.
Snow Tires vs. All-Season Tires
One common reason that many people cite for not getting winter tires is that they already have all-season tires. That is, unfortunately, due to a misleading name. If you have tires that are called “all-season”, then you’ll naturally want to use them in all seasons; it’s what they’re designed for, right? Well, if your seasons are particularly mild, then they will work in all seasons, but all that “all-season” really means is that the tires will function better than regular tires in the winter. Compared to actual snow tires, all-season tires fall short in every winter-related test. If you want to get the best safety you can for any significant winter weather, then you want to have winter tires.
Another reason that people avoid getting snow tires is the cost incurred by purchasing them. Tires of any type don’t come cheap, after all. If you think about it a bit further, though, you’ll find that it’s a lot more cost neutral than it seems at first. Tires will not last forever. Tires won’t even last the whole lifetime of a car, assuming that car is kept in good shape and doesn’t, for instance, crash in the middle of a snowstorm. At some point, if you keep your car until it can’t drive anymore, you will have to get new tires for it, as the tires you’re riding on will have worn down so much that the tread won’t be usable anymore. If you trade out the tires you’re on every six months, however, both sets of tires that you own will wear down half as fast. Over the course of the tires’ entire lifetimes, you will have spent approximately the same if you purchased one set of winter tires and one set of regular as if you purchased one regular set, ran it into the ground, and purchased another set. The only extra cost incurred will be the price of having the tires unmounted and remounted every six months.
Storage Issues Solved
Another major issue, especially for those living in apartments or those who don’t have storage room, is just where to put those tires. If you don’t have a basement, then you can’t very well keep the tires in the living room, or rent out a storage space just to deal with the tires. Well, in order to make sure more people are willing to buy winter tires, many auto shops and tire retailers are now offering to store the other season tires when one set is in use. Inquire at your local tire retailers to find one where storage for your off-season tires is an option.
Ultimately, the decision whether to buy winter tires or not does come down to one pinnacle factor: location. If you are in a place where there is winter, you want winter tires. Period. If you live in the sunny islands, though, where daily throughout the year is varying levels of hot, then you don’t need to worry about it. If you’re in one of those areas that might have bad weather once or twice a year, then you are in the prime territory to go with all-season tires; otherwise, for your own safety, stick to snows.
- Consumer Reports – Why You Should Be Driving on Winter/Snow Tires
- Edmunds – What You Need to Know About Winter Tires
- Bridgestone – Winter & Snow Tires vs. All Season Tires