Lots of grip equals little slip: Answering your winter tire FAQs
Whether you're new to driving in winter weather or a veteran in need of a reminder, we've taken the time to answer your winter tire frequently asked questions. Read below to find out the answers to common winter tire questions.
Why do I need winter tires?
All the four-wheel or all-wheel drive in the world won't help your vehicle stop any faster on snow and ice, and the features may actually be detrimental because of their tendency to make drivers feel invincible. Winter tires feature special rubber compounds and tread patterns that help them maintain traction and performance when temperatures dip and the weather turns.
Many vehicles leave the factory with all-season tires, which work well in a huge variety of conditions, temperatures, and weather. They don't, however, do as well in freezing temperatures and snowy conditions.
What's the difference between all-season and winter tires?
The rubber compounds in all-season tires tend to harden in cold weather, which can lead them to crack and fail to provide solid traction. Winter tires are made with special compounds that remain pliable in cold weather to provide the best traction possible. They also have deep tread cuts, which allow for better grip in snow and slush. According to Tire Rack, winter tires provide about 21 percent more grip than all-seasons in similar conditions.
Instead of all four, can I buy just two winter tires?
Owners of front- or rear-wheel drive vehicles may feel tempted to buy winter tires only for the two wheels that are being driven by the engine, but that's a mistake. While it may help with acceleration in snow and bad weather, installing only two winter tires can lead to instability and loss of control, because the two wheels without winter tires will have far less traction. If you're considering buying winter tires, wait until you can buy all four.
Do I need snow tires if I have all-wheel drive? Snow mode?
All-wheel drive is all about traction control. If your vehicle is equipped with tires that don't offer enough traction to get a grip on the road surface, it doesn't matter what the AWD system (or drive modes) get up to. You'll be slipping and sliding wishing for snow tires when the first few inches of snow get packed onto the roadway.
Can I drive on winter tires in the summer?
That depends. Some parts of the country that receive regular winter snow have limitations on the types of tires that can be used in warmer months. Many areas bad the use of studded winter tires outside of cold weather, due to the studs' tendency to damage roads and reduce traction when there's no snow on the ground. Beyond that, standard winter tires don't provide the same level of wet traction and grip that all-season or summer tires do, and they can wear more quickly because of their rubber compounds.
Can I use the same winter tires next year?
If you rotate between summer/all-season and winter tires, you should be able to get a few years out of your winter tires. As they wear, like other tires, they'll offer less grip and the rubber compound will become less flexible.