Getting a grip on the best tires for winter.
December 31st, 2016 | Michael A. Lombardo, III
December 21, 2016 - Attorney Michael Lombardo - Back in the day, there were two basic types of tires for a vehicle - summer tires and winter tires. Then in 1977, Goodyear rolled out the first all-season tires. Designed to be used year-round, they provided the convenience of not having to switch between summer and winter tires. As Goodyear’s sales skyrocketed, other tire manufacturers jumped on the bandwagon. Today, nearly all vehicles sold in the United States are fitted with all-season tires from the factory. And most replacement-tires sold are the all-season variety.
So are all-season tires ideal for all seasons?
Let’s see what tests conducted by Edmunds.com reveal.
Not surprisingly, the “summer” tires, now known as performance or high-performance tires, topped the dry road tests in accelerating, braking and cornering. The all-season tires finished a close second, followed by the winter tires.
One might expect the all-season to do well on wet surfaces, but they finished last in all three test categories behind the first place summer tires and the second place winter tires. (The all-season tires experienced hydroplaning and wheelspin as the car accelerated toward 40 mph.)
In the snow, the winter tires blew away the competitors in all three test categories, finishing ahead of the all-season tires, and last place summer tires. (The average stopping distance for all-season tires was 17% longer than for the winter tires.)
So, what’s the verdict on all-season tires? “Their design doesn’t offer the best of both worlds. They’re fair weather friends, but in the snow, they simply don’t provide the same grip as dedicated winter tires,” says Attorney Michael Lombardo, HKQ Law.
No single tire type excels for all road conditions.
If the winter temperatures where you live are regularly below 45 degrees F, like right here in Northeastern Pennsylvania, it is recommended that you invest in a set of four winter tires. (Using two different types of tires can result in unpredictable handling and could be dangerous.) Winter tires are recommended even if your vehicle has AWD or 4WD as these drivetrain configurations offer no advantage when braking or turning on slippery roads
Keep in mind that winter tires are designed not just for icy or snowy conditions, but also for low temperatures. Their special rubber compounds stay pliable in the cold, giving them better grip and improved braking. The tread compound of summer and all-season tires can harden in low temperatures, decreasing traction.
To avoid the hassle and cost of unmounting and mounting tires twice a year, consider purchasing a set of basic steel wheels for the winter. They are relatively inexpensive, and can spare expensive alloy wheels from road salt and potholes. If you’re going the steel wheel route, you may want to look into “minus sizing” – using smaller diameter wheels with narrower, higher profile tires. Wide tires have to "plow" a wide path through deep snow, whereas narrower tires have an easier time. Consult a tire expert to make sure that the changes don’t create issues with wheel sensors, speedometer accuracy, or ABS functioning.
What about studded tires or tire chains?
The traction of studded tires is slightly superior to stud-less tires on ice near the freezing mark.
On bare pavement, studded tires tend to have poorer traction performance than other tire types, and they are extremely loud. Therefore, they are best suited for locations where ice or hard-packed snow remain on the roads for long periods of time. In Pennsylvania, tire studs are permitted between November 1st and April 15th.
Tire chains are intended for temporary use during extreme conditions, such as several inches of snow on a rural road. They are difficult to attach to a tire, and must be removed once the vehicle reaches a clear path of road. Before using chains, check your owner’s manual to see if they are recommended for your vehicle. When using chains, motorists must drive at a very low speed. In Pennsylvania, tire chains may be temporarily used on vehicles during periods of snow and ice emergency.
If you use winter tires, don’t leave them on too long. The softer rubber compound that works so well in slippery conditions doesn’t provide the same thread life as the compound used in summer or all-season tires. As a general rule of thumb, winter tires go on around Thanksgiving, and come off around Tax Day.
Make sure you check your tire pressure frequently, particularly during the winter. Tire pressure decreases as the temperature falls. (Inflation with nitrogen slightly improves pressure retention.) Proper tire pressure helps optimize tire performance and fuel economy.
“Regardless of what tires you choose, HKQ Law encourages you to exercise extra caution when driving in the winter. Give yourself extra time to get where you're going. Beware of “black ice” and ice on bridges and ramps. Slow down on slippery roads. Double your following distances. Avoid sudden stops and starts. Be sure to always wear your seatbelt, put your cell phone down and be careful,” says Attorney Michael Lombardo.