Winter Tires – Now is the Time to Plan

Winter DrivingFalling leaves and crisp temperatures are sure signs that winter driving season is just around the corner. If you are considering investing in a new set of winter tires this year, now is the time to plan. Waiting until the snow and ice hit to shop for winter tires could be risky. Winter tires are typically manufactured during the summer, so quantities are usually limited. If you wait too long to shop for your winter tires you may not get the best tires or the best deal.

In making your plans for winter driving, the first thing to consider is whether or not you actually need winter tires. Think about the weather in your region. Do you frequently drive in snowy or icy conditions? Do you find yourself worrying excessively about sliding off the road, being able to brake, or making it up even the slightest grade?  If the answer is yes, winter tires would probably be a wise investment for you. Winter tires provide a superior grip when driving, stopping, and cornering. Their specially designed tread bites into snow and ice and they are made with a softer rubber, which is formulated to stay pliable at freezing temperatures. These features also mean that winter tires wear faster than all-season tires, however as long as you change back to your all-season tires in the spring, your investment should last for several seasons.

When timing the purchase of your winter tires keep in mind that retailers begin to stock the newest models of winter tires in the fall, so that is when you will find the best selection. If your tire retailer does not have the tires you want in the size you need, you can usually order them, and your retailer will install them, at your convenience, before the winter weather season.

When shopping for winter tires, look for a mountain/snowflake symbol on the sidewall. This symbol lets you know that the tires have passed an industry test for severe snow use.

Tire Types Explained

tire-typesThere are many factors to consider when it comes to selecting tires. While it is important to choose a quality brand and get a good value, it is equally essential that you buy the right type of tires for your vehicle. The tire type you select should be not only be recommended for your vehicle, but also suited  for the kind of driving you do. A wide range of tire types are available to suit every kind of vehicle and all driving conditions.

Below is a listing of the most common tire types, as well as the corresponding speed rating. The speed rating and tire type are both identified in the tire code, found imprinted on the side of all tires.

All Season Tires

The most common speed ratings for all season tires are S and T. All season tires deliver a good all-weather grip and long mileage. They are most commonly used  standard cars and SUVs.  All season tires are designed to perform in a wide range of conditions from dry pavement to wet weather and light snow. A good choice for a comfortable and quiet ride, all season tires offer reliable handling and long tread life. For year-round traction in moderate climates, all season tires are an excellent choice.

Performance All Season Tires

Performance all season tires have H and V speed rating and are a popular choice for cars with enthusiast appeal or upgraded wheels. These tires feature a better cornering grip than regular all-season tires, but typically need to be replaced more often.


Winter/ Snow Tires

Winter or snow tires are identifiable by a mountain and snowflake symbol displayed on the sidewall. Winter tire tread is designed with gripping edges for better handling on snow and ice. They are made with a softer rubber compound to stay flexible in extremely cold temperatures. Winter tires do not perform as well on cleared roads, lacking the solid grip of all season tires. They also tend to wear more quickly. Winter tires should be exclusively used during extreme cold weather driving conditions.

Summer Tires

Summer tires usually have speed ratings of ZR, W, and Y,  for sports cars and performance sedans. For all-around best performing tires in mild climates and seasons, summer tires offer a performance level above all season tires. As the name implies,  summer tires are not suited for driving in snow and ice, but they offer solid handling on dry and wet roads in mild temperatures. Summer tires are also made with softer compounds however, unlike those used in winter tires, they become harder in colder temperatures. Though they tend to have shorter life span and more rapid tread wear, summer tire do offer enhanced driving performance.

All  Terrain Truck Tires

All terrain truck tires are available in larger sizes and designed for light duty hauling and towing. They are a great choice for light-duty pickups and SUVs. All-terrain tires usually have a more aggressive tread pattern to aid off-road traction. All-terrain tires usually have A/T or All Terrain in the model name.


The Cold Facts About Tire Pressure

It is always alarming to see one of the gazillion warning lights on your dashboard illuminate. If you drive a newer vehicle that has an integrated Tire Pressure Monitoring System (TPMS) you may find you’ve been recently haunted by the light shown on the right. Seeing the TPMS light more often in winter is not uncommon, but it is also not something you should ignore.

First, it is important to understand how your TPMS works. The system use sensors technology to alert drivers when tire pressure in one of the tires goes below a predetermined level. When tire pressure in one or more of your drops, the light comes on.

Since air pressure decreases in frigid temperatures, drivers tend to see the TPMS light illuminate. According to tire experts, air pressure in a tire goes down 1-2 pounds for every 10 degrees of temperature change. While you need not necessarily be surprised if  you see the TPMS light come on during cold spells, you should be sure to manually check the air pressure of your tires.

It is very important to check the pressure of your tires when it is cold outside and to keep tires inflated to the proper levels. Reasons include:

  • Low tire pressure can make a vehicle handle poorly
  • Tires tend to wear out much faster when they are not  properly inflated
  • Under inflated tires tend to overheat, which could lead to a blowout
  • Low tire pressure reduces gas mileage and costs you money

Check the pressure of your tires monthly. In order to obtain the most accurate pressure level, wait until tires have cooled – about 30 minutes after parking.

Fall is the Time to Think About Winter Tires

Whether we are in denial about the end of summer, or just busy thinking about a million other things, most of us don’t give any thought to winter tires until the first snow or ice hits. At that point, everyone is thinking about them, panic ensues, and winter tires, like shovels, suddenly become very difficult to find.

If you are in need of new winter tires, fall is the time to shop for and buy them. Retailers begin to stock the newest models of winter tires in the fall, so you will have the best selection from which to choose. If your tire retailer does not have the tires you want in the size you need, you can typically order them, and your retailer will install them, at your convenience, before the winter weather strikes.

Since winter tires are usually manufactured during the previous summer, quantities are most often limited. If you put off shopping for your winter tires too long, you may not get the tires or the price you want.

Not sure if you need winter tires? Consider the weather in your region. Do you often drive in snowy or icy conditions? In the winter time, do you find yourself waiting to leave until the roads in your area have been cleared? If so, then winter tires probably make sense for you. Winter tires offer superior grip when driving, stopping, and cornering. Winter tires do have the drawback of faster tread wear than all-season tires. This is because the tread is designed to bite into snow and ice, and the softer rubber is formulated to stay pliable at freezing temperatures. As long as you change back to your all-season tires in the spring, your investment should last for several seasons.

When shopping for winter tires, note that they have a mountain/snowflake symbol on the sidewall. It assures you that they passed an industry test for severe snow use.

Storing Winter Tires

Could it be true? It looks like winter may finally be behind us! As thoughts turn to warmer weather and Springtime, there is something you may not be thinking of, but probably should consider – your winter tires.

An important part of tire maintenance, proper tire storage is typically overlooked. Storing your winter tires the right way will keep them looking great and performing well.

Tires should be stored in a clean, cool and dry place. Keep them away from sunlight and be sure they are not exposed to strong air currents. It is true that the rubber used to make tires is engineered to resist the effects of sunlight, ozone, and water, however these elements still cause wear. Seasonal storage time provides a great opportunity to minimize exposure to these stresses and give your tires a break.

The following are some storage tips to keep in mind:

  • Tires stored while mounted on rims should be inflated to 10 psi.
  • Tires that are put in storage during warm weather should be inflated to about 15 psi to offset the pressure drop during cold weather months.
  • Cover or wrap tires for storage. Many types of covers are available from auto parts retailers.
  • If tires are mounted on rims, they should be stacked four deep underneath a tire cover.
  • Tires should be stored upright and under a cover if they are mounted on rims, rather than stacked or suspended from the ceiling.
  • Tires with whitewall or raised white lettering should be stored with the whitewall or raised white lettering facing each other to avoid black rubber staining.
  • It is best not to store tires outside, but it is unavoidable, keep them raised off the storage surface.

Snow Tires for an SUV?

Dear Tracy,

I thought that having a 4-wheel drive vehicle meant that I would not need snow tires, but my SUV’s handling on icy roads is not as great as I thought it would be. Would having snow tires installed help?

Rob T.

Dear Rob,

An SUV does offer many winter driving advantages. When you drive on snow covered roads, or try to get up  an unplowed driveway, you will be especially appreciative of that 4-wheel drive. Unfortunately, when it comes to slippery ice and slush, the power advantage of the 4-wheel drive system does not provide much benefit.

SUVs and other 4-wheel drive vehicles usually come equipped with large, wide all season tires. While great for driving in most conditions, these standard tires are less than ideal for winter driving conditions. The type of rubber used does not grip well in cold temperatures, and the tread pattern is not designed to channel large amounts of water on the road. Also, tires with a larger surface area may not cut through snow effectively, and be likely to hydroplane.

Snow tires, or winter tires are developed from a softer rubber than all season tires. This allows them to provide better road grip and handling. Winter tires also feature an open tread design, which gives them better handling capability on slush and snow. When it comes to stopping and cornering on snow and ice,  winter tires will give you a definite advantage, especially with four-wheel drive vehicles, which tend to be heavier and take longer to come to a stop.

If you are doing a lot of driving in slick and icy conditions, winter tires are well worth the investment. Using them will also help you extend the usable life of the your all season tires!

Winter Wash

Dear Tracy,

I am concerned about the salt that has been building up on my car this winter, but I am reluctant to wash it because I have heard the locks, trunk, and gas cap can freeze. Is freezing a problem or is it okay to wash during winter? I am really worried about the salt damaging my car and my tires!

Rachel B.

Dear Rachel,

It is definitely a good idea to keep your car washed in the winter. While salt is a quick and effective way for municipalities to make roads safer during periods of ice and snow, it is also a very caustic substance that can lead to pitting and rusting on your car’s finish. To prevent lock freezing and other such issues, you can apply WD40 to help water from penetrating these areas.

If you have newer winter tires that have a decent amount of tread, you shouldn’t have to worry about salt damaging your tires. But the metal surfaces of your vehicle, including your wheels, are vulnerable to salt damage. Salt can ultimately lead to rust occurring on the body and underside areas of your car.

Fortunately the process of salt leading to rust takes time. The coatings and paint finishes used today do a very good job of providing protection.  With regular washings during the winter months your car should handle the salt abuse just fine. How often you need to wash the car will depend on how much salt and road sludge you encounter. Since salt is particularly hard on chrome, it may be worth swapping your wheels out it the winter months, if you have really expensive wheels. Also, waxing your car during the autumn months will provide extra protection that will make your winter washes more effective.

Tire Siping for Winter Driving

Dear Tracy,

I recently heard about process called tire siping. Apparently this is something you can have done to your tires to improve traction and handling on snow and ice. Is this something I should do this fall, before winter arrives?

-Duncan S.

Dear Duncan,

Tire siping is a process that involves cutting slices across the tire tread. The idea is that the slice spreads open on the road surface, griping it and dispersing water to improve tire traction.

The concept of siping actually began with shoe rubber, not tires. In the early 20’s a slaughterhouse employee by the name of John Sipe found a solution to the problem of his shoes slipping on the wet floor. Sipe tried cutting groves into the bottoms of his rubber shoes and discovered that it greatly improved their traction. Mr. Sipe had the foresight to realize that his discovery would be useful and had the concept patented. About 30 years later, by the 1950’s, tire manufacturers were widely using the siping concept in their tire tread designs. Specialized siping patterns are still used today for a variety of tires.

As to whether or not after-market tire siping is a good idea, opinions differ. Tire siping machines have been developed do a variety of configurations for after-market tire modification. Those who believe in tire siping contend that it offers significant performance and safety benefits. The problem with siping, others say, is that today’s tire manufacturers already use siping in the design and manufacture of new tires. Extensive engineering and performance testing goes into modern tread design, so many experts believe there is no need for after-market modification. Another consideration is that after-market siping could void your tread-wear warranty.

When considering tire siping, first talk to your tire dealer about  the type, condition, and age of your tires. Rather than make irreversible changes to your tires, consider purchasing a quality set of winter tires, which are designed to incorporate siping features and benefits.

Summer Time, Summer Tires?

Dear Tracy,

I live in the Midwest and as long as I’ve had my car, I’ve always put on snow tires during the winter and changed over to all-season tires for the spring, summer, and fall. Recently a friend told me he was shopping for a set of summer tires for optimal driving performance in the summer months. I’d never heard of summer tires and now I’m wondering if the all-season tires are best for spring and fall only. Can you shed some light on these different types of tires and how to make the right choice?

-Chuck A.

Dear Chuck,
Understanding the differences between winter tires, summer tires, and all-season tires will help you in selecting the right tire type for your vehicle. The climate in which you live, the season, and the type of driving you do are important factors in your decision.

Winter or snow tires are a necessity in areas that get a significant amount of snow and ice. The softer rubber used for winter tires is developed to grip better in low temperatures. The tread design features small tread blocks with tread cuts called siping, to promote better traction and help prevent hydroplaning. Winter tires wear faster because of the soft rubber, so they should be only used during the winter temperatures and conditions.

Though called summer tires, these performance tires are not necessarily the best choice for all summer driving. The name “summer” is more of a limitation than a recommendation, meaning  that these tires are appropriate for warm seasons and climates only. Summer tires do offer excellent driving performance by enhancing handing, acceleration, and braking response. These features aside, they are probably not the most practical choice for the typical driver due to expense. The rubber used in summer tires is soft like winter tires, but summer tires are subject to more heat and friction so they wear out  even more quickly.

All-season tires are designed to provide the best ride and driving performance in a range of climates and weather. The rubber composition and tread design are engineered for reliable handling and grip in a variety of temperatures and road conditions. I’d say your current tire game plan is probably the best approach for you.

Winter Driving & New Studded Tire Technology

This crazy winter has presented drivers across the nation with some serious driving challenges. While the Northern states have been hit hard, they have the advantage of ready road crews, vehicles fitted with snow tires, and drivers experienced with maneuvering through sleet, slush, and snow. The worst issues seem to have been for Southern states, which are not prepared for winter driving. In many of these areas, preparation for snow and ice is just not normally necessary, for both municipal budgets and individual drivers.  A recent development I read about got my wheels turning on this subject. It is a retractable studded tire:

These tires are fitted with studs that extend and retract with the push of a control button located on the  dashboard. Studs are ready for use when needed, and gone when not needed. This tire technology is currently under development by Nokian Tyre, a tire manufacturer that specializes in products for snow and other harsh driving conditions. While these non-studded tires with studs are probably not going to be available to the public any time soon, they may be a common feature in cars of the future, meaning snow and ice will be less of a problem for all drivers, no matter where they live.

As we await the development of technical solutions to winter driving woes, here are a  few safe winter driving reminders:

  • Take it easy –  always drive a little slower during winter conditions.
  • Keep in mind that it takes longer to stop a vehicle on ice and snow. Double the anticipated stopping distance when braking anytime conditions are not dry.
  • Don’t expect a four-wheel drive vehicle to have better braking ability than a two-wheel drive vehicle. An SUV will not stop faster than a sedan.
  • Be sure to install four winter tires, not just two. You need a full set to gain all of the handling and traction benefits, and to be sure all tires have the same grip capabilities.