Snow tires outperform “all-season” tires
If you wonder whether your “all-season” tires perform just as well in snow as snow tires, we have the answer. They don’t; not even close. 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.
Of course, you’ll have to fork over the dough (about $600 or more for a set) to outfit all four wheels (yup, you have to put them on all four). The best approach is to mount them on a spare set of used wheels to avoid the spring/winter,
Not just for snow
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Photo 1: Tread that saws and pumps
Winter tires have more
sipes (cuts in the tread)
than all-season tires to
squeegee more water off
the road. Saw-tooth sipes
provide more surface
area and cut into snow
and slush better than
straight sipes. The “micro
pump” holes in the tread
act like plungers to suck
water off the road and
then spit it out as the
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 (Photo 1).
Increased performance on snow
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Figure A: Winter tires stop sooner on snow
In one test, vehicles accelerated to 30 mph, and both drivers slammed
on their ABS brakes at a marked spot. The car equipped with winter
tires stopped 66 percent faster (30 ft. shorter) than the vehicle
equipped with all-season tires.
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 (Figure A). That’s a huge difference—enough
to avoid a serious accident or a fender bender.
Better performance on ice
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Figure B: Winter tires grip better, too
In the same test, the car with winter tires accelerated 44
percent faster and stopped 48 percent faster (18 ft. 8 in.
shorter) than the car with all-season tires.
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.
Tirerack.com used an indoor ice rink and timed the
acceleration from a dead stop and measured stopping distances
from 10 mph (Figure B). Winter tires accelerated
faster. When taking a 90-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. That kind of
cornering performance can mean the difference between
avoiding an accident and causing one.
Cost vs. benefits
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.
Here’s another way to analyze the costs. Winter tires last
about five years or 35,000 miles. Those are miles you
won’t be putting on your all-season tires. So if you go the
full monty and buy new wheels, the true cost of winter
tires comes out to about $150 per year for the first five
years. Then if you buy a second set for those same wheels,
the cost drops to just $65 per year. We think it’s worth the
relatively small annual cost to get the extra stopping
power and better handling in turns that can help you avoid
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.
Save money on the changeovers
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Buy extra wheels
It’s more cost
effective to mount
winter tires on a
set of extra wheels
save time and
money on the
Mounting winter tires on a second set of wheels saves money over
swapping tires on a single set of wheels. But you can save even more if
you negotiate a package deal with the tire shop. Get a price for the tires,
wheels, sensors and free seasonal mounting. If your shop offers a “Tire
Hotel” service to store your off-season tires, ask them to throw that into
the package as well. That way you won’t have to haul the off-season
tires back and forth or store them in your garage.