Do I need to buy winter tires or can I just get snow chains?
What the heck is siping?
When do I have to have studded tires and when will studless do?
If you’re wondering how to pick the right tires for winter, or whether you need them at all, here are answers to the eight most common questions about winter tires.
Some all-season tires are rated M+S, standing for mud and snow. This means the tread design delivers better traction in wet conditions than non-M+S tires.
But it doesn’t mean they’re adequate for winter driving. In slick conditions, they don’t deliver the traction, control and short stopping distance that you get from a snow tire.
If you want safer driving on packed snow or ice, look for tires made with the right compound and branded with the Mountain Snowflake. This means they’ve actually been tested and certified to perform in winter conditions.
If you’re driving on snowy or icy roads, only winter tires will give you good stopping ability and secure handling. This is because they’re built very differently. How?
Different compound. Summer and all-season tires are made with a stiffer rubber compound. This helps the tire retain its shape when it’s rolling on hot pavement. Winter tires are made with hydrophilic (that’s “water-loving”) rubber which stays softer and more pliable in winter weather. This more flexible rubber is one reason you get more traction on snow and ice.
Another reason is tread design. Winter tires have a higher “void-to-lug” ratio, meaning there are larger grooves between the blocks of tread (the lugs). The tread blocks also have irregular, sharp edges.
5. “Is it okay to buy used winter tires?”
Before you jump on that set of “lightly used” winter tires on Craigslist, do three quick checks. First, verify they’re the right size. You can look in your vehicle owner’s manual or right on your existing tires’ sidewall close to the rim for the series of numbers. If you’re not sure the tires you’re considering are the correct size, call a tire dealer and make sure.
Second, measure the tread depth by using a tire tread depth gauge. You can pick one up at any auto parts store for under five bucks. Or have a tire store tech do it; it should be free. Take measurements in multiple places in the grooves on each tire.
A new tire typically has 11/32nds of an inch in tread depth. A rule of thumb is that if there are 6/32nds of an inch or less in tread remaining on a winter tire, it’s about to lose a good deal of snow performance. So think carefully about whether you’re going to get what you’re paying for.
Third, be sure there’s not a problem with uneven wear. Did your tread gauge measurements show any tread depth difference between the four tires? It’s really common for tires to wear differently over time. If the disparity between any two tires is more than 3/32nds of an inch, pass on those used tires. Driving with mismatched tires or putting the wrong size on your vehicle will NOT save you money in the long run. You’re risking big repair bills for your transmission.
It’s also a bad idea to put winter tires on only the front or back. This creates a big difference in traction between your axles. And this will mean less steering control, not more.
Don’t think of chains as a substitute for winter tires but as an option you need to have ready when you’re driving on snow.
Depending on the conditions and your state’s rules, traction controls in snowy areas will range from requiring only the minimum—like M+S tires on the drive axle—up to chains on all tires, including all-wheel and four-wheel drive vehicles.
Studless snow tires work well on slush and packed snow. They get traction through wide, deep grooves and lots of irregular surfaces with sharp edges. This allows the rubber to cut through snow and grip the road.
Studded tires provide the best traction you can get, even when you’re encountering ice. Studs are lightweight pins that are arrayed across the tread. Like claws on a snowshoe, they dig in to slick surfaces. Note: Extra tread depth is needed to accommodate studs, so studded tire size options are limited. Also, the times of year when studded tires are allowed on the road vary by state.
8. “Should I buy winter tires with rims?”
It’s a question of time and money. Here’s a way to decide:
Also consider the extra wear and tear on your tires that comes with unmounting and remounting tires on only one set of wheels. Especially with low-profile tires, it’s not uncommon for an inexperienced tire tech to damage the inside edge of a tire near the beads, the places where the tire gets pried off and pushed back on.
Gorm Dagoe and