Studded snow tires are often presented as the ultimate winter driving accessory. It’s easy to understand why: The idea of metal studs sticking out of your tires and clawing their way through ice seems like the best choice for dealing with a cold climate. The truth, however, is far more nuanced. You need to take into account some specifics about your driving situation before deciding whether to shell out for studded tires.
Studded snow tires are traditional winter tires that have metal studs added to their tread. You don’t have to worry — these studs don’t increase the chance of a blowout or leak, as they are always professionally installed. A metal flange inside the tire holds the cylindrical metal jacket of the stud, which itself features a tungsten carbide tip that sticks out past the tread. Larger tires will have as many as 100 of these studs spread across their rubber surface, but most have around 80.
Why Use Studded Snow Tires?
As mentioned above, there’s really only one reason to use studded tires, and that’s to improve your vehicle’s grip on ice. The tungsten carbide tip is designed to pierce the ice, dramatically improving traction when traveling across a frozen surface. If you live in a mountainous area where plows and road salt are rare, then studs might be the only alternative to chains that guarantee safe passage home.
Unfortunately, while studs work great on ice, they don’t help much when dealing with snow. The metal stud tips can interfere with the rubber tread sipes, which are designed to stay soft in cold temperatures, expand and grab onto snow. On dry pavement, studs are a definite liability, as a regular winter tire will do a much better job cornering and braking than one that has studs.
Check Local Laws
Studs are noisy — they click as they roll down the road, and that noise isn’t just an annoyance. That same metal tip that is good at grabbing onto ice can also chip away at concrete and asphalt. For that reason, many states, cities and counties have strict controls on whether studded snow tires are allowed on their roads. Those that do allow studded tires often have strict start and end dates for when these tires are permitted, typically coinciding with the worst parts of winter.
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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.