When it comes to staying safe on the roads during winter weather, there’s one vital component you might overlook: your tires.
While you may think all they do is keep your vehicle rolling, they actually play an important part in how your car handles different weather conditions. Whether you drive a sports car or SUV, your tires are designed to provide everything from traction and handling to shock absorption and load support.
When it comes to cold weather tire options, a few major contenders stand out: winter tires, snow tires, and all-season tires (sometimes called “off-season tires”). But what actually sets them apart and, more importantly, which ones should you be using?
What’s the Difference between Winter Tires and Snow Tires?
Before we delve into the differences between the tires you should use for cold weather and year-round tires, let’s first understand whether there is a difference between winter tires and snow tires.
The terms “winter tires” and “snow tires” mean the same. These tires are designed to boost your traction and handling when you’re navigating through snow, ice, slush, and other winter conditions. So, you can either use the term “winter tires” or “snow tires” at tire shops because they are interchangeable.
In some regions, winter weather can be so relentless that there are laws and regulations about using winter or snow tires during specific months. Here in Utah, a law that was passed in 2019 states that all vehicles in the canyons and on certain highways are required to have snow tires or traction devices (like chains) fitted.
Winter and snow tires, however, may come with some drawbacks. You may experience less precise handling and the tread may wear down more quickly. But those are small prices to pay for improved safety and traction on icy roads.
What Sets Winter and Snow Tires Apart from All-Season Tires
While winter and snow tires are essentially the same thing, there is a big difference between your winter tires and the all-season tires (or summer tires) you’ll use during the rest of the year.
Here are some of the major differences between how all-season tires and winter/snow tires perform:
During harsh winter conditions, vehicles face a unique challenge: maintaining a grip on cold, slippery road surfaces. This is where winter/snow tires come into play with their purpose-designed tread compounds.
You might have heard that winter/snow tires contain a softer tread rubber compound, which sets them apart from their all-season counterparts. But what exactly makes the tread rubber in a winter tire different, and why is it so important in winter conditions?
Most of us are aware that rubber can lose its flexibility in freezing temperatures. The same principle applies to tires, which are made of a rubber compound.
Unlike all-season tires, winter tires are specifically engineered to combat this loss of flexibility in icy conditions by utilizing softer rubber compounds. These compounds keep your winter tires flexible and provide optimal traction when it matters most.
Many experts recommend switching from all-season tires to winter tires when the temperature dips below 45°F, regardless of whether the forecast calls for clear skies or extreme cold still seems a way off. The benefits of switching to winter tires include:
- Provides enhanced traction so your tires can maintain their grip in winter road conditions.
- Allows shorter stopping distances that can be the difference between a close call and a collision.
- Enables better handling and control during winter driving conditions.
- Provides increased confidence and peace of mind while driving.
Not only do winter tires contain a unique rubber compound, but they also have a different tread pattern to all-season tires. Winter tires feature deeper tread depths and more complex tread patterns that are purpose-built for navigating icy and snowy conditions:
Deeper tread depths
Increased tread depth is a game-changer when it comes to gripping slippery surfaces. Because it has deeper grooves, it provides better traction and stability than all-season tires, especially on snow and ice-covered roads.
Detailed tread patterns
The tread pattern design of winter tires is tailored to tackle the challenges of winter head-on. The patterns feature deep grooves and countless small, densely packed sipes. These elements enhance grip on snow and ice by literally biting into the surface.
Although all-season tires are more versatile than winter tires, they may struggle to maintain the same level of grip and control as their winter-ready counterparts.
One of the key factors in tire performance is the presence of biting edges. These small, jagged slits cut into the tires play an important role in enhancing traction by gripping the road surface.
If you examine the surface of a tire tread up close, you’ll notice them, and they come in various forms:
Sipes are thin, slitted incisions within the tread blocks. These slices in the rubber create thousands of additional edges that engage with the road as the tire rotates. Sipes are particularly effective at gripping slippery surfaces like snow and ice.
The grooves in a tire’s tread are essentially elongated edges. They create channels for water, slush, or snow to be directed away from the tire’s tread, which allows the tire to maintain contact with the road. The deeper the grooves, the better they can clear away these hazardous elements.
Irregular tread patterns
Some tires feature unconventional and irregular tread patterns. These patterns create unique edges that grip the road surface in distinctive ways, which enhances traction under specific conditions.
Biting edges are an important feature of winter tires because they provide better grip on snow and ice. Because all-season tires perform in all weather conditions, they may not have as many biting edges, although they still do feature them to a lesser extent.
Are All-Season Tires Really Designed for All Seasons?
The name “all-season tires” might lead you to believe these are the perfect choice for every type of weather, but can they really stack up to winter conditions?
As their name suggests, all-season tires are designed to strike a balance between the performance of winter and summer tires. They provide traction and precise handling in most conditions (including light snow) for easy year-round use.
This versatility makes them a popular choice, as they cancel out the need for switching between summer and winter tires as the seasons change. All-season tires are ideal for drivers who live in climates where they get light snow (or no snow at all). However, your standard summer tire will perform poorly when it comes to packed snow and black ice.
In Utah, where the average annual snowfall is 262″, all-season tires lack the deep tread patterns and special rubber compounds designed to keep you safe during winter driving.
Mounting Winter Tires for Winter Performance & Safety
Before you swap out your all-season tires, you need to pick the perfect winter tire for your vehicle. Start by checking your vehicle’s manual or consulting one of our professionals to determine the appropriate winter tire size and specifications.
Remember, not all winter and snow tires are created equal, so consider how you want your tires to perform during low temperatures or winter snow. Do you need studded tires? Is cornering performance a primary concern? Or do you anticipate icy roads?
Once you’ve made your choice, it’s time to get your hands on a full set of winter tires. It’s essential to install four winter or snow tires (not just two) to ensure consistent performance in cold weather.
- Prepare your vehicle
Proper preparation is the key to successful tire mounting. Here’s what you need to do:
- Gather tools: You’ll need a few tools, including a jack, lug wrench, torque wrench, and wheel chocks.
- Choose a secure location: Find a flat, stable surface to remove your all-season tires. Ensure your vehicle is in park or gear and the parking brake is engaged.
- Loosen lug nuts: Before jacking up your vehicle, slightly loosen the lug nuts on the wheels. This will make it easier to unscrew them once the vehicle is lifted off the ground.
- Jack up your vehicle
Check your vehicle owner’s manual for the correct jacking points and follow the manufacturer’s guidelines for proper lifting. Then, place wheel chocks on the opposite wheels to prevent the vehicle from rolling.
Carefully jack up the vehicle until the all-season tire you want to remove is off the ground. Make sure the vehicle is stable and secure before proceeding.
- Remove the old tires
Now it’s time to remove the old all-season tire.
Completely remove the previously loosened lug nuts and take off the old tire. Mount the winter tire onto the wheel hub and hand-tighten the lug nuts as much as you can in a star or cross pattern to ensure even pressure.
- Tighten lug nuts properly
.Use a torque wrench to tighten the lug nuts to the manufacturer’s specifications. Over-tightening or under-tightening them can lead to problems, so consult your vehicle’s manual for the proper torque value.
- Lower your vehicle
Gently lower your vehicle back down and ensure that all four wheels are firmly in contact with the ground. Remember, cold weather can affect tire pressure, so make sure it’s at the recommended level.
Ready to Switch to Winter Tires?
Ready to equip your vehicle with the best winter tires for a safe and secure ride this season? At Burt Brothers, we’ve been a trusted part of the community for decades, providing top-notch tire solutions.
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