winter tires

Winter Tires—Your Best Bet for a Better Winter

Hate driving in the winter? One simple thing can transform your winter driving experience: a new set of winter tires.

Even folks like me who normally love winter (ah, the beauty of new snowfall, the still of a snowy landscape, the coziness of warming up with hot chocolate…), all that peace and serenity flies out the window when you’re late for work, your wheels spin every time you hit the gas, and you’re desperately avoiding reckless drivers on the verge of losing control and sliding into you.

Speaking of overconfident winter drivers, you know what most of them have? All-wheel drive. And it’s a false sense of security, because all-wheel drive doesn’t help you at all when you hit the brakes.

You know what does help? Winter tires. Here’s why.


How Winter Tires Help

All winter tires have two unique features compared to other tires: the tread pattern and the rubber compounds.

Edgy Tread Pattern

A winter tire’s most obvious features is the aggressive tread pattern designed specifically for snow and ice. You’ll notice the deep grooves and chunky tread pattern right away.

Take a closer look, and you’ll see tiny slits on the tread pattern too: these are called sipes, and they’re great for improved grip on icy roads.

Softer Rubber Compounds

This one is less obvious, and my drivers don’t realize it. Winter tires are made with a completely different mixture of rubber compounds that are designed to stay flexible in cold weather (unlike all-season tires, which harden when cold).

This means winter tires provide improved traction in cold weather even on dry roads. Yes, believe it or not, you don’t even need snow to benefit from winter tires.


Winter Tires vs. All-Season & Summer Tires

Most American drivers use all-season tires. Your other options are winter and summer tires. Here’s a quick rundown of how each performs in different temperatures.

More stars = better grip.

Winter Tires

All-Season Tires

Summer Tires

Hotter

★★★★

★★★★★

★★

★★★

★★★★

45°F

★★★

★★★

★★★

★★★★

★★★

★★

Colder

★★★★★

★★


Who Should Use Winter Tires

My personal recommendation is to always aim for 3 or more stars using the above chart.

If you have… Consider…
Mild winters that rarely drop below 45°F summer or all-season tires year-round
Cool winters with the occasional freeze all-season tires year-round
Hot summers and cold winters winter tires in cold weather

all-season or summer tires in warm weather

Yes, you can choose to use all-season tires in the winter, but know that they lose grip in cold weather.

And so I cover all bases, if you live somewhere in Alaska where it’s always below 45°F, you have my sympathies, and you should use winter tires throughout the year.


Why Use Two Sets of Tires?

Better Grip

Instead of okay grip in warm weather and sorta-okay grip in cold weather, you can have comparatively great grip in all seasons. And how well your tires grip directly impacts your safety.

More Confidence

Winter tires can even reduce stress, because you’ll feel more in control during those treacherous winter commutes—so much better than starting the workday already frazzled.

Not Expensive

Best of all, it doesn’t actually cost more to own two sets of tires. Winter tires are priced similarly to other tires. And since you’re only using each set for part of the year, both sets will last longer.


When to Switch to Winter Tires

You’ll notice that the chart above is all about temperature. And that’s your guide for when to switch to winter tires: when temperatures are consistently below (45°F).

Some people say to switch at the first snowfall, or after Thanksgiving. But all you have to do is remember to switch when temperatures consistently cross the 45-degree threshold: winter tires when colder, all-season or summer tires when warmer.

I’ve found that you really do have to try winter tires to believe how much of a difference they make. Any winter tire owners out there care to share your personal experience with winter tires?

CAUTION. Confidence from winter tire usage may cause smugness in certain drivers who realize they’re the only ones capable of driving down an unplowed street, getting into or out of a driveway without getting stuck, or actually coming to a complete stop at stop signs. If you experience winter-tire-induced smugness, be glad you have winter tires, but try not to rub it in. Some drivers just don’t know any better.