Are snow tires worth it? It’s a question that many motorists find themselves asking as winter months creep into view. The idea of purchasing a second set of tires for driving during colder temperatures might not be appealing from a budgetary standpoint, but if you live anywhere that deals with winter weather for a sizable portion of the year, it’s really a matter of safety that can’t be ignored.
Where the Rubber Meets the Road
In fact, “snow tires” is a misnomer, as the correct term is “winter tires.” Sound like a quibble? Really, when asking “Are snow tires worth it?” you’re inquiring as to whether the additional braking, traction and handling capability offered by rubber which is designed to remain flexible at low temperatures warrants the extra cost.
Even on dry pavement, once temperatures drop to 40 degrees Fahrenheit or lower, an all-season tire is going to take much longer to stop in an emergency situation than a winter tire. The reason for this is simple: winter tires have been formulated to retain their ability to grip asphalt at temperatures low enough to stiffen up rubber found in all-season or summer tires.
Stopping is much more important than accelerating, from a safety perspective, but “snow tires” have you covered there, too. The aggressive tread pattern of a winter tire includes something called a “sipe,” which is a part of the tread that flexes to open and grip snow as it rolls over it. With thousands of sipes all over the tire, the surface area of the tread is enhanced considerably, maximizing grip while the tread design works to channel out slush, water and snow on the road, helping you maintain your forward momentum.
What About All-Wheel Drive?
Are snow tires worth getting if you have all-wheel or four-wheel drive? Again, the answer is a resounding yes, because while all-wheel drive might help you accelerate a little quicker in a snowy situation, it certainly won’t help you stop. You need the safety provided by a winter-rubber compound to ensure your vehicle can come to a halt on snowed-over or cold roads — something not even tire chains or studded tires are going to give you.
It’s also important to make sure that you always install a full set of four winter tires, rather than two. If you have to slam on the brakes, and you only have snow tires up front, or at the rear of your car, your vehicle will respond in an unpredictable manner and could potentially put you in harm’s way. Even grip at each corner is the surefire recipe for winter safety.
Finally, if you’re truly concerned about the economics of the winter tire equation, consider this: You’ll only be using them for part of the year, which means during the summer months they won’t be accumulating any miles while they sit in your garage. By the same token, your summer rubber gets a chance to rest all winter long, effectively “doubling” the lifespan of each set. That’s savings anyone can get behind.
While a set of winter tires may not seem like a worthy purchase, especially considering the initial cost, the amount of grip they provide in colder temperatures is unmatched by other the types. Winter tires will offer you improved performance when temperatures drop and on snow-covered roads, ensuring you’ll be able to get to your destination safely, regardless of what Mother Nature has in store.
Check out all the steering and suspension products available on NAPA Online or trust one of our 17,000 NAPA AutoCare locations for routine maintenance and repairs. For more information on whether snow tires are worth the cost, chat with a knowledgeable expert at your local NAPA AUTO PARTS store.
Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.
Having been bitten by the car bug at a young age, I spent my formative years surrounded by Studebakers at car shows across Quebec and the northeastern United States. Over ten years of racing, restoring, and obsessing over automobiles lead me to balance science writing and automotive journalism full time. I currently contribute as an editor to several online and print automotive publications, and I also write and consult for the pharmaceutical and medical device industry.