WHY DO I NEED WINTER TIRES?
All-season tires are a design compromise which allow you to maintain a basic level of both winter and summer performance, but don’t offer maximum performance in either season. In some ways, all-season tires are like tennis shoes. Sure, you can wear them on the beach and in the snow, but flip flops on the beach and warm boots in the snow provide better comfort and performance in those specific weather conditions. If you live on the fringe of the Snow Belt and drive in snow once or twice in a winter, then all-season tires will suffice as long as they are relatively new. But for those of us who live in the Snow Belt, or who visit snowy areas on a regular basis, winter performance tires (sometimes called snow tires) are the responsible choice.
Summer tire tread compounds and tread designs provide the best performance, handling, and wear in warmer temperatures. However, the very attributes that make summer tires work so well will severely limit their winter performance. A tire that performs brilliantly on high temperature roadways typically has stiff sidewalls and offers a harder, shallower tread compound. This compound becomes even harder, almost like plastic, when exposed to lower winter temperatures. As you have probably seen, plastic sleds slide quite well on snow, and summer tires won’t do anything to help you drive safely in the snow.
The winter tire, or snow tire, is designed to provide maximum performance in low winter temperatures and on ice, snow and slush. This tire performs better due to its combination of more flexible sidewalls, winter tread patterns, deeper tread depth, and perhaps most importantly, tread compounds which remain soft in the lowest winter temperatures. Be wary, though: retailers offer a wide range of tires sold as “winter tires” with an “M&S” rating, but they are not at all equal in performance. Many of these tires are thinly disguised all-season or lower quality tire brands using outdated technology to give the impression that the tires are suitable for winter use.
The best performing winter tires have a mountain/snowflake symbol branded on the tire’s sidewall. The RMA (Rubber Manufacturers Association) designates winter tires that meet the newest severe snow standard with this special symbol. This rating sets the true winter tire apart from other standard M&S rated all-season designs. Tires that have earned this symbol can be expected to provide twenty-five to fifty percent more traction in winter’s worst conditions, which may be easily the difference between driving safely and losing control in the snow and ice. In fact, winter tire technology has improved so dramatically in recent years that several states and provinces are considering requiring the use of winter-specific tires in designated areas to improve traffic safety.
You should always install winter tires on your vehicle in sets of four, whether you have a rear, front or all-wheel vehicle. This is also true of summer tires. Using two different types of tires on your vehicle will negatively affect its handling, as the vehicle suspension will not be able to perform as originally designed. Vehicle manufacturers spend countless hours and millions of dollars to maximize both a car’s handling and the performance of its ABS and stability control systems. Why disrupt this balance by creating different levels of performance on each end of your car? Many tire dealers will not sell sets of two snow tires due to the potential liability of doing so. The goal here is to drive safely on snow and ice!