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The case for winter tires

The best case for winter tires

Winter tires outperform all-season tires in all categories

Here’s why you need winter tires

They used to be called snow tires but that makes you think they only perform better in snow. Now they’re called winter tires because the latest rubber compounds and the tread designs improve performance on snow, ice, slush, and all cold wet roads surfaces.

Older snow tires were just made with a softer rubber compound. But the new winter tires are made with innovative rubber compounds incorporate silica, traction bits, and even hollow “cells” that squeegee and suction water off the road. A “multi-cell” rubber compound compresses as it hits the pavement and then sucks the water off the road. The embedded chunks of hard rubber bite into ice to increase traction.Plus, the tread designs are far more

tire sipes

Winter tires have more sipes and they’re more aggressive than all-season tires

aggressive, so they provide better acceleration from a stop, better cornering control, and shorter stopping distances.

Winter tires also have more sipes; those saw-tooth grooves cut into snow and slush to give you more grip. The sharp sipe edges also act like squeegees to scrape water off the road surface and channel it away from the contact area. Some winter tires even include “micro-pump” holes compress under load and suction water off the road.

You need winter tires EVEN IF YOU HAVE a 4WD or AWD vehicle

Your 4WD or AWD vehicle divides the available torque between four-wheel instead of two, so if one wheel slips, the others can still move you. But a 4WD or AWD doesn’t help you stop faster or keep you from sliding in turns. Winter tires do help in those situations.

#1 Advantage of winter tires—they improve stopping power

Winter tire tread designs incorporate wider gaps between the tread blocks to grab and hold more snow than a comparable all-season tire. Since snow-on-snow contact creates far more traction than rubber-on-snow, winter tires provide better (and faster) acceleration and stop faster than all-season tires. Tirerack.com conducted real-world tests showing winter tires improve acceleration on snow, over all-season tires, by as much as 33% (and that’s with an AWD vehicle). Plus, winter tires improved stopping distance by a whopping 30-feet. That’s enough of a safety margin to avoid an accident, meaning the winter tires can actually pay for themselves by preventing winter accidents.

Click on the video to see TireRack.com’s test results

#2 Advantage Winter tires improve performance on ice

Regular all-season rubber compounds harden at temps below 40°, so they tend to skate on ice. Modern winter tire compounds incorporate silica and hard pieces of rubber to give more flexibility and better grip on ice. Tirerack.com tested ice performance on an indoor skating rink. They timed the acceleration from a dead stop and measured stopping distances 10-mph. The winter tires outperformed the all-season tires in both tests. Then they tested the cornering ability of winter tires versus all-season tires. When taking a ninety-degree turn at 10-mph. the car with winter tires stayed within the marked driving lane, while the car with all-season tires skidded out. In the real world, that kind of cornering performance can mean the difference between avoiding an accident or being the cause of one.

#3 Advantage—Winter tires can save you money

Installing four winter tires on your car or SUV can cost upwards of $800. But you’re getting safety and security in return that can prevent an accident. Think about this; a slow 10-MPH slide into a curb can bend suspension components, costing you about $1,1500. If you hit another car because you can’t stop, you’ll have to pay the collision deductible and the accident will increase your insurance rates for several years.

However, if you’re a typical driver (18K miles/yr) and your winter driving season runs from mid-November through mid-March, winter tires only cost about $150 more per year than all-season tires. That’s a worst-case scenario where you decide to buy new wheels and additional tire pressure sensors, and the tires only last five years. If you keep the same vehicle, re-use the wheels, and buy a new set of winter tires, the cost difference falls to just $65 per year. So the question boils down to whether you think it’s worth $150/yr. to get much better-stopping power and better handling in turns so you can possibly avoid an accident? If you avoid just one accident or curb-kiss over the length of ownership, the tires actually pay for themselves.

How to choose the right winter tire

Tire manufacturers make multiple winter tire models. Each is designed to match the type of vehicle and work best in specific winter conditions. For example, some winter tires are designed for constant use in heavy snow conditions, while others are designed to be more effective in slush and ice. So get expert advice from your local tire dealer to match the tire to your vehicle, your climate, and your driving habits.

For a list of winter tire brands, see this post

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