Winter is fast approaching here in Utah, and you may be considering winter tires (also called snow tires) for the first time. You probably have asked yourself at least a few of these questions:

Best Winter Tires

(Pixabay / dse1)

  • Are winter tires worth the hassle?
  • How are they different from other tires?
  • Aren’t all-season tires good enough?
  • Are “S” tires the same as “M+S”?
  • Couldn’t I just get snow chains?
  • How long do snow tires last?
  • What are the pros and cons?

Let’s answer that first question right off the bat: YES! They are definitely worth the hassle!

Winter tires are different from other tires because they are specifically designed to perform better and more safely in cold weather conditions. When you start getting into the season where the average temperature is 40°F or colder, it is time to haul your tires to your favorite Utah tire shop to make the switch over. Unfortunately, tires are bigger than they used to be, and vehicles have less trunk space, so you may end up making more than one trip, but believe us: it’s worth it.

Which brings us to the next question: How are winter tires different from other tires?

As you know, tires are made from rubber, and like just about everything else when the temperature drops, rubber tends to get stiffer the colder it gets. Snow tires, however, stay soft when things start to freeze, which helps your vehicle grip the road even in icy, slushy, or snowy conditions. The extra-large, irregular-shaped grooves in the tread pattern help force the snow away from the tire’s surface to help you maintain contact. If you’ve ever hit a slick patch or felt your tires shift or seize as you approach a stop sign, you know how important short stopping distances and good traction are during inclement weather.

We mentioned earlier that snow tires do best when the average temperature is 40°F and below, and that’s because when it’s warm outside, the soft rubber on snow tires wears a lot faster than standard or all-season tires.

That may get you wondering if all-season tires are good enough for the winter months. The long and short is no, they’re not. If you are driving on a lot of sleet and snow, all-season tires just won’t give you the same level of traction and safety as snow tires will. All-season tires will serve you well if you only encounter the occasional flurry during the winter season, but for Utah winters, you’re better off using snow tires once the weather gets cold.

When you’re researching snow tires, you might come across the symbols “S” and “M+S” and wonder if they’re the same. Tires with the letter “S” mean that they’re technically “Snow” tires versus “M+S” which means “Mud and Snow.” While the word “snow” is in each tire’s description, “M+S” tires don’t hold a candle to plain snow tires in terms of stopping and traction. If you want to be extra safe, look for snow tires that have a three-peak mountain with a snowflake in the middle because that means they’ve been tested and certified specifically for snowy winter conditions.

Which brings you to another question: couldn’t you just use snow chains instead? It seems like a good question to ask if, for no other reason, because chains are so much easier to store and haul around. Add that to the fact that they’re so much less expensive, and it feels like a no-brainer! Unfortunately, things aren’t as simple as affordability and portability. Putting chains on your vehicle’s tires gives you unparalleled traction in really snowy, icy, and slushy conditions, but they’re not practical (or even legal in some places) for everyday use. For dry in-town or highway driving, chains could tear up the road and your car and make for an altogether slow and uncomfortable experience. Except for in extreme conditions, snow tires should get you where you want to go safely and comfortably, though it’s always good to pack your chains in the trunk just in case.

Lastly, how long do snow tires last? They are such a big investment that it’s only natural to ask how long they’ll keep doing what they’re supposed to do. If you’re diligent in putting them on when the weather gets cold and taking them off as soon as it warms up again, and they’re good quality, you can expect them to last anywhere from three to six winters. It may not seem like a very long time, but switching to snow tires will extend the life of your warm weather tires as well, so that’s a win!
Sometimes when you’re making a decision, you just need a good old pros and cons list, so we’ve compiled one here for you:

Pros

  • Best traction in snow, ice, sleet, and cold road conditions
  • Better stopping power in cold weather than all-season tires
  • Softer, more flexible rubber grips the road better
  • Help your warm weather tires last longer

Cons

  • You have to have a place to store them (best indoors and away from sunlight)
  • They’re expensive, and you have to purchase four even if you don’t have all-wheel drive
  • You have to switch them out twice a year

Snow tires may seem like a bit of an unnecessary hassle, but they offer unparalleled safety when you’re out there on Utah’s winter roads. They don’t provide a failsafe against all snow-on-the-road related dangers, but they can help you navigate most of them and come out on top.