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Using Snow Tires: Are Two Snow Tires Enough For Winter Driving?

Snow tires on a car. While it makes sense to just put two snow tires on the axle that gets power, here's why that's a bad idea.

In northern climes, winter typically brings freezing temperatures, which can turn benign precipitation into deadly slippery road conditions. Summer tires and some all-season tires aren’t flexible enough for cold-weather traction. Using snow tires, made of softer compounds, can restore vital traction so you can drive even when the roads are cold and slippery.

When it comes to driving on snow tires, for whatever reasons, many drivers believe it’s enough to put two snow tires on the drive wheels only. The thinking is basically this: If the drive wheels have the best traction, then you won’t get stuck. In certain cases, this is true. What if you’re trying to power your way through the snow bank the plow truck so graciously left across your driveway entrance? If you are installing snow tires on your drive wheels, then what use would snow tires be on the other axle in this situation? Your snow tires are going to power you through and those other tires are just along for the ride, and that is exactly where the benefits of using only two snow tires end.

Using Snow Tires on One Axle Is a Bad Idea

Using snow tires is about more than just not getting stuck!Once you’re unstuck and cruising down the road, if the road is dry, you should have no problems. Slippery roads turn the two-snow-tires idea in a tailspin, quite literally, in fact. Those undriven wheels, the front wheels on RWD vehicles or the rear wheels on an FWD vehicle, are not just along for the ride! The traction they provide plays a critical role in the stability and safety of your vehicle.

It’s essentially a problem of not thinking in three dimensions or even two dimensions. Vehicles don’t just move backward and forward, but also left, right, up and down. Dynamically, your tires keep all of that under control. Whether you’re accelerating, braking or turning, they help you stay in contact with the road and minimize slippage.

Why Four Snow Tires Is the Way to Go

Using only two snow tires ruins your car’s balance, so if you’re doing anything other than moving in a straight line on a slippery road, it’s highly likely those summer or all-season tires will lose traction and put you into a spin. When turning or braking, even a momentary loss of traction could put you in harm’s way, such as in opposing traffic or into a ditch.

For maximum snow traction, balanced control and safety, four snow tires is the way to go. In a pinch, a set of tire chains can get you out of trouble. They’re noisy and bumpy but are significantly safer than not using snow tires at all or just two snow tires. Again, for maximum traction, tire chains should be used on all four tires.

Check out all the driveline & wheel parts available on NAPA Online or trust one of our 17,000 NAPA AutoCare locations for routine maintenance and repairs. For more information on using snow tires, chat with a knowledgeable expert at your local NAPA AUTO PARTS store.

Photo courtesy of Scott Air Force Base.

Benjamin Jerew View All

Ben has been taking things apart since he was 5, and putting them back together again since he was 8. After dabbling in DIY repairs at home and on the farm, he found his calling in the CGCC Automobile Repair program. After he held his ASE CMAT for 10 years, Ben decided he needed a change. Now, he writes on automotive topics across the web and around the world, including new automotive technology, transportation legislation, emissions, fuel economy and auto repair.

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