The end of the year is always a busy time. With the plethora of holidays, seasonal events and parties, and a never-ending shopping list, it can be difficult to feel really prepared. There is one task, however, that should not be allowed to fall under the radar. Before the full majesty of winter is upon us, it is important to put winter tires on your car. Doing so can protect property and people you care about from some of the hazards of winter roads.
How Does a Tire Work?
The tires on your vehicle have four basic functions. They support the vehicle’s weight and the weight of any cargo, they guide the vehicle along the trajectory set by the steering wheel’s action, they absorb the shock of irregularities of the road’s surface, and—perhaps most importantly—they transfer accelerating and braking force applied by the driver to the ground.
They do all of this with a contact area that is only about the size of an adult hand, making them pretty remarkable pieces of engineering. A tire’s composition, air pressure, wear, tire depth, and tire patterns determine how well it can do its job in any given weather.
The Ins and Outs of Winter Tires
Winter tires are specifically designed to perform optimally in conditions of light to moderate snowfall and cold. They are sometimes called snow tires, though some manufacturers reserve that designation for tires designed for heavier winter weather. Winter tires have deeper treads than regular tires, treads that are actually designed to be softer in the cold.
These design elements allow winter tires to better grip icy and snow roads. However, winter tires can often grip the road more effectively than summer tires even when there is no snow present. If the road and the surrounding air is cold, the rubber compounds in the tires’ makeup allow them to remain ideally flexible against the pavement.
You can tell winter tires from regular tires by the incorporation of the letters “m” and “s” on the tire’s labeling (MS, M/S, M&S, etc.) or by the standardized graphic of a mountain with three peaks and a snowflake inside stamped into the tire’s sidewalls.
Do I Need Snow Tires with AWD?
All-wheel drive is a magnificent tool for vehicles looking for a lot of power. AWD offers double the power that either front-wheel drive or rear-wheel drive can provide, so many owners of AWD vehicles wonder if winter tires are really necessary for them. The short answer is yes—even four-wheel drive vehicles should use winter tires when the weather turns chill.
The reason lies not with power but with traction. Even the best 4WD or AWD systems can’t overcome traction limitations posed by tires that are not equipped for icy or snowy roads. This has been indicated by a copious amount of independent research. Even if you don’t have AWD, experts recommend putting all four winter tires on. This limits the possibility of your car having a split performance, with only two tires effectively gripping the road.
What Is the Difference Between Using Chains and Winter Tires?
Snow chains are metal chains designed to wrap around your tires to help them better cut through deep snow. Their use is not universal: some areas require them in the winter months, and in other places they are illegal. Check the regulations in your area, especially if you are going to be driving in an unfamiliar place. Chains can harm some tires, so do not use them with anything other than winter tires specifically approved for chain use.
Are Winter Tires Good in Summer?
With all their benefits, it might be tempting to simply keep your winter tires on the entire year and not bother with the trouble of switching. However, doing so is not cost effective or wise. The very advantages that make them so superior in the snow make winter tires wear down more quickly in dry and warm conditions, especially at high speeds.
Since they are also initially more expensive, it is unwise to leave them on all year. It is far better to put them on for only the winter season, checking each year for tread wear. If you follow this pattern, a full set of winter tires is generally good for three or four seasons.
Are Winter Tires Worth It?
While most people are hesitant to add one more thing to their holiday season to-do list, neglecting to switch to winter tires is a guaranteed way to get into trouble as the winter weather rolls in. Safe driving in the winter means no shortcuts, and in Utah especially where snowy roads are inevitable, safety should come first. Prioritize the safety of your vehicle and its occupants this season and make the switch.