Tire Siping – Is it Necessary?

Dear Tracy,

I am wondering if you can tell me what tire siping is? I have heard it improves traction and tire performance, and improves handling when driving on snow and ice. Friends of mine were talking about having their tires siped this fall, before the winter weather hits. Is this something I should be doing?

-Tony B.

Dear Tony,

When tires are siped, it involves a process of cutting slices across the tire tread. The concept is that the slice opens up on the surface of the road, griping the road and dispersing water to improve traction.

The idea of tire siping goes back to the early 20’s when John Sipe, a slaughterhouse employee, had problems with his shoes slipping on the wet floor. Sipe discovered that by cutting groves into the sole of his rubber shoe, he could greatly improve their traction. Sipe was so confident in his discovery that he had the concept patented and it became officially known as “siping.” By the 1950’s, tire manufacturers were using siping in tire tread designs. Today specialized siping patterns are used for a variety of tire types.

There are varying opinions on as to whether or not after-market tire siping is beneficial. On the pro side, those who believe in tire siping say that that it offers real performance and safety benefits. There are actually tire siping machines that can do a variety of configurations for after-market tire modification. On the con side, many argue that today’s tires already use siping in the way that there are designed and manufactured. There is a lot of engineering and performance testing behind modern tread design, and many think that there is no need to modify it. It is also said that after-market siping could void your tread-wear warranty.

Tony, as to whether or not you should sipe your tires, your best bet will be to talk to your tire dealer who knows the type, condition, and age of your tires. It might make more sense to purchase a quality set of winter tires that are manufactured to incorporate siping features and benefits.