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Winter Wheeling: Can You Use Mud Tires in Snow?

Close-up of mud on a car's tire

If you have mud terrain tires on your vehicle, you might think you’re prepared to drive in the snow. After all, both mud and snow make it harder for your tires to grip the road or ground underneath. Although it might seem like a good idea, here’s why you should never use mud tires in snow.

Mud Tires Are Not Designed for Snow

There’s a basic difference in the consistency of mud versus that of snow and ice. Your mud tires’ deep channels allow for a continuous grip on the ground while plowing through a muddy field. And what falls out of those channels is more liquid than snow and ice. Snow will pack into those deep channels on your mud terrain tires and reduce traction. When the channels are fully packed, your tire’s surface is almost like a racing slick. If you hit ice, you’ll go from less traction to zero traction. Type “mud tires in snow” into the search box of your favorite off-road forum to read some real horror stories.

Try Mud and Snow or Winter Tires

A set of mud and snow tires is an ideal option for the winter months. Look for the “M+S” symbol on the tire’s sidewall. The rubber used for mud and snow tires is specially formulated to stay flexible in cold temperatures, and the deep channels in the tread are designed to pick up the snow and ice, sending it off the sides to keep the channels clear for what’s coming next.Mud and snow tire

Even better for snowy driving are what is known as “winter tires.” Instead of an “M+S” on the sidewall, look for a mountain with a snowflake in the middle. These tires are specifically built for severe winter weather conditions.

Add Chains to Your Mud Tires

The last option is to keep mud terrain tires on your vehicle year-round and use tire chains when you’re driving in the snow. Chains provide maximum traction — that’s why, when chain controls appear on mountain highway signs, the alerts read, “Chains required — mud and snow tires allowed.” Depending on where you live or travel, winter weather can take you by surprise much of the time. When chains are not on your vehicle, they’re in your vehicle, ready for the moment you need them. With a bit of practice, you can become comfortable getting the chains on and off your vehicle as quickly as the pros do.

If you’re using mud tires on your vehicle, you’re clearly the outdoorsy type. Chains are the most versatile option for getting you where you want to go, so you can enjoy all that winter weather brings.

Check out all the tire chains available on NAPA Online or trust one of our 17,000 NAPA AutoCare locations for routine maintenance and repairs. For more information on winter driving, chat with a knowledgeable expert at your local NAPA AUTO PARTS store.

Photos courtesy of Mike Hagerty and Pixabay.


Mike Hagerty View All

Mike Hagerty is an automotive journalist whose work has been featured on radio, TV, in print and online since 1997. He's the Publisher and Editor of, and contributes car reviews to the Los Altos Town Crier and Previous outlets have included KFBK and in Sacramento, California, the ABC television affiliates and Hearst-Argyle and Emmis radio stations in Phoenix, Arizona; AAA magazines for Arizona, Oklahoma, Northwest Ohio, South Dakota and the Mountain West and

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