When the weatherman starts saying the dreaded “S” word, the first thought many of us have is: “How will I be able to drive to work?” Looking out into the treacherous streets, you might begin to wonder if your tires are up to the task. So, what exactly are the differences between tires that can handle all weather versus snow tires? Are snow tires necessary in your region, or will all-season tires suit your needs? Understanding the strengths and weaknesses of each can help you make the decision that’s best for your budget and your vehicle.
At first glance, these tires may look the same, but what makes them different is hidden within.
All-season tires are designed to handle a broad range of conditions. Their treads channel water away and provide traction, and the compound that they are made from is designed for average temperatures and withstands wear for a longer period.
Dedicated snow tires are made from compounds that are softer and more flexible at lower temperatures for better grip. This allows the treads to grab and push snow out rather than channel water.
Look at the sidewall of any tire and you’ll find a set of symbols or letters that indicate the type of tire it is. Markings like “M/S” indicate a tire is all-season and meant for general conditions. A snowflake symbol will be present on any Rubber Manufacturer’s Association-approved snow tire, ensuring that they meet all traction standards. You’ll also find your tire’s recommended PSI in this location.
A common misconception is that AWD and 4WD vehicles don’t need snow tires. These drive systems work well in winter weather conditions, but when it comes time to slow down or steer, snow tires have the extra traction necessary to keep your vehicle under control.
Snow Tires Year-Round
You might be wondering if you can use your snow tires year-round. Snow tires are made of softer compounds that provide additional grip in lower temperatures. As a result, they are liable to wear faster when the weather gets warmer. To preserve your specialized tires, have your local NAPA-affiliated mechanic swap out your snow tires for all-season tires as the seasons change.
Many vehicles today come factory standard with low-profile tires, but you may find that your vehicle’s model supports smaller wheels. If this is the case, you may want to consider buying a spare set of the smaller wheels for your snow tires. Your vehicle’s low-profile tires are great for making the car more responsive on dry roads, but the taller sidewall of a smaller wheel size will offer more flex and grip in the snow. You may also want to consider steel wheels over standard alloy; the closed design of steel wheels prevents snow from building up.
At the end of the day, the choice between buying tires that are suited for all weather versus snow tires will come down to where you live and the climate. If you live in a place where the temperature rarely drops beneath 40 degrees and snow accumulation is minimal, you probably do not need snow tires. If you live somewhere that remains blanketed in snow for months on end, you may want to consider them. Either way, understanding what makes them different and what your vehicle’s needs are will help you make a more informed decision.
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Erich Reichert has been an editor and on-air personality in the radio control car hobby for 12 years. A certified car nut since birth, he has written for internationally published titles such as RC Car Action, RC Driver and Xtreme RC Cars, as well as Stuff Magazine, Road and Track and Super Street. He's covered everything from product reviews and tech articles to high-profile lifestyle pieces and celebrity interviews. Erich found his passion for writing after a successful career as an art director, working with brands such as Pepsico, NASCAR, MTV, Nintendo, WWE, Cannondale Bicycles and HBO. He's also a father, an avid hockey fan and an FIA race license holder who enjoys hiking, playing drums and movies.