At some point during the year, a majority of Americans will find themselves facing treacherous driving conditions on snowy or icy roadways. Winter tires are specifically designed for this type of climate, but does it make sense to invest in a set as part of your car maintenance? Depends! In areas that experience moderate to heavy snow/ice or temperatures below 15? F on a regular basis, a dedicated set of winter tires can offer significant safety benefits. Research from the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety found that about 46 percent of crashes involving bad weather take place in the winter, so any additional protection offered by winter tires are likely worth the investment.
Tires, of any kind, are what keep a car connected to the road and therefore are critically important to how a vehicle handles and drives. Any change in road condition due to rain, ice, sleet or snow can affect this “connection” and possibly lead to losing control of the vehicle, leading to a crash requiring collision repair or worse, serious injury. Also, safety technology such as adaptive cruise control, automatic emergency braking and lane keeping assist are becoming more commonplace on today’s vehicles and tires play a critical role in the performance of these systems.
Fluctuation in temperature is also an important consideration when deciding the need for winter tires as part of your car care routine. In areas where the temperature is above freezing during the day and then quickly dips below freezing at night, extremely slippery ice can be formed which is particularly dangerous.
Certain all-season tires, marked with “M+S” on the sidewall, are designed to provide additional traction in winter weather. However, these tires are only evaluated for use when driving on packed snow and mud and do not account for performance on ice, slush or in very cold climates.
Dedicated winter tires undergo more stringent testing and are marked with a “three peak” mountain and snowflake symbol. Some consumers may hesitate to purchase a separate set of winter tires because of the additional cost. However, having a dedicated set of winter tires in climates that call for it will make winter driving considerably safer. This is primarily due to the fact that dedicated winter tires can perform better in their respective environment than all-season tires.
When shopping for winter tires, AAA recommends researching test results coupled with consumer reviews to compare different brands and models available for purchase. Price alone is not a good indicator of quality or performance. It is also important to have the specs for the original tires on hand in order to select winter tires that are identical in terms of diameter, width, speed rating and load index. All of this information can be found on the sidewall of the tire. One thing to note – all four tires must be replaced and should be of the same brand and model. Installing only two winter tires on a vehicle can compromise stopping, steering or could even cause the vehicle to spin out and lose control.
Finally, once purchased, proper tire maintenance is just as critical for winter tires as it is for all-season ones since it enhances safety, improves vehicle performance and extends tire life. In climates where they make sense, winter tires are a sound investment as part of your auto care regimen. Besides reducing your chances of collisions and the need for auto body repair, they improve the quality of driving during those colder months.