Winter Tires: Everything You Need to Know This Season
It’s about that time of year again! The temperatures are beginning to drop, and while you’re thinking about breaking out your winter coat, you may want to consider investing in a set of winter tires, as well. While they’re much better than they used to be, there are quite a few things you need to know about winter tires that don’t necessarily apply to all-seasons.
The professionals here at Jack Williams Tire are always happy to answer any questions you have, but here a few key winter tire facts to know in the meantime:
Most cars come out of the factory equipped with all-season tires, which are good for the majority of driving conditions as is. When it comes to cold temperatures, however, all-season tires start to lose their impact.
Although they can handle rain and very light snow, a good rule of thumb is that once the temperature begins to consistently dip below 40, you’re going to want to change over to your winter tires. If you live somewhere that stays above 40 degrees all year then you’re most likely okay using your all-season tires all year long.
The tread on winter tires is made specifically to handle snow and ice. They can retain their pliability in cold temperatures, whereas all-season tires do not. As all-season tires begin to stiffen up and lose their pliability, they lose grip and are prone to sliding.
Winter tires have narrow grooves in their tread called “siping.” These grooves are designed to funnel the snow through the tire and keep your car sticking to the road.
Winter tires are still prone to sliding on steep inclines or extremely icy conditions, so if you drive in particularly rough winters, it could be smart to invest in tire chains or studded tires. The latter is illegal in certain states because of the damage they can potentially cause to the road, so check the law before you decide to invest in them.
Just as you shouldn’t use all-season tires in low temperatures, you also shouldn’t be using your winter tires all year. When temperatures rise, winter tires can become very soft and tend to wear more easily than all-season tires. Most winter tires start with a tread of 11/32 and, once they’re worn down to 5 or 6/32, they lose their effectiveness on the road. It doesn’t take long to wear them down to that depth if you’re using them well into spring, so make sure you’re checking often.
If you don’t have a tire depth gauge, most tire shops will check your tire depth for free. It’s important to note that winter tires are also not equipped to handle wet roads at high speeds, especially while braking. If you live somewhere that has more rain than snowfall in the winter, you’ll want to think twice before switching over to winter tires.
The pressure in your winter tires also needs to be checked more regularly than all-season tires. Air pressure decreases as the temperature drop, which means your tire pressure decreases quicker, as well. Low tire pressure can affect everything from the longevity of your tires to handling and traction.
You’ve probably heard someone say that vehicles with four-wheel or all-wheel drive don’t need winter tires, but this is a myth. Even if you have four-wheel drive, you still need winter tires if you live somewhere cold. Four-wheel or all-wheel drive is great for acceleration, but you still need to be able to stop on icy roads. Without the proper tread, your four-wheel drive won’t be able to help you there. This is also true to an extent for acceleration. Your tires need to be able to stick to the road in order to get serious speed, so either way, you’re going to want to invest in a set of winter tires.
While we’re on the topic of common myths, many people seem to think that using snow tires means you can safely travel at or above the speed limit during rough conditions. This simply isn’t true. Just because they provide better traction during winter weather does not mean they aren’t still prone to sliding, especially if the snow or ice is fresh and the area does not receive regular plowing. Always exercise caution!
While having two dedicated sets of tires will save you money in the long run because the wear is split between them, you will have to factor in the costs of mounting a new set twice a year. You could potentially buy a second set of rims and keep your winter tires mounted all year, but the upfront cost can be steep. Either way, you will often end up paying more in maintenance costs while using winter tires than you would by using all-season tires all year long.
Maintenance costs are always better than the cost of repair after an accident, though, so don’t let that scare you out of a purchase. Know the typical winter conditions of your area and prepare accordingly.
When picking a new set of winter tires, look for the 3PMSF (3-peak mountain snowflake). This symbol is on the side of all winter tires that meet the performance standards of the U.S. Tire Manufacturers Association.
Other than that, the difference between specific tires is hard to determine just by looking at them. Always ask a tire professional if you aren’t sure what the best choice might be for you.
We stock a variety of winter tire brands at Jack Williams Tire, like Continental, Nokian, and Bridgestone, to name a few. While all of the winter tires we stock are effective, not all of them will be the right choice for you, your car, or your expected driving conditions.
We’re always happy to answer any questions you might have, both in and out of the store. Drive safely this winter, and don’t forget to schedule an appointment for complete car service before things get dicey!