When the colder weather rolls in, winter tire benefits start to pile up as fast as the snow. Although it might seem like a hassle to spend money on a second set of tires and then shell out some more to get them mounted and balanced, there’s no denying that tires designed for winter weather offer you a host of safety and performance improvements that just might save your life.
Many people think that the all-season tires they have on their car prepare them for whatever Mother Nature might throw their way, but the truth is the rubber compounds in the vast majority of all-season tires lose their grip once the thermometer approaches the freezing point. In fact, by the time the mercury hits 44 degrees the rubber compound in an all-season tire has hardened to the point where stopping distances increase by as much as 30 percent. The situation only gets worse as it gets colder, leaving you with a tire that you simply can’t count on when braking or cornering even on dry pavement.
The Secrets of Snow Grip
Another one of the major winter tire benefits is the ability to maintain traction in the snow. Winter tire tread is made up special patterns called “sipes” that actually pick up snow when they roll through the white stuff and hold it against the tire. This is because nothing sticks to snow better than snow, and the sipes create a snow blanket that in turn dramatically improves grip when traveling on an uncleared road. All-season tires don’t have these special treads, and even if they did, their rubber compounds would get too stiff in the cold weather to expand and pick up the necessary snow. Summer tires are even worse — their rubber compounds freeze up faster than an all-season tire, and their tread patterns are intended to channel water, not snow.
Be Prepared, Stay Safe
Winter tire benefits don’t just protect you and your passengers — they keep everyone around you safe once the weather starts to turn nasty. Even if you live in a part of the world where snow is rarely seen on the ground, it’s important to think of winter tires more as cold temperature tires that can ensure your car will brake quickly and safely, and handle each corner without a risk of losing grip. It’s a small investment to make for something that provides such a significant peace of mind.
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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.