Winter Tires: You Need Them, and They Can Cost You Nothing

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winter tires

Winter tires can do much more for you in winter driving conditions that all-wheel-drive, traction control, stability control, and almost any other technology. Only snow tires can help you turn and stop more safely.  All-wheel drive certainly has its place, but for the majority of drivers in North America above the Mason Dixon line, good winter tires are not only very effective, they are free.

Snow tires use a combination of a softer winter rubber compound, tiny slits called sipes to add more contact area and to grab onto snow and ice, as well as a deeper tread to do the job. The do wear a bit faster than normal compounds.  Typically drivers use them for three seasons of three to five months.

How Are Snow Tires Free?

Snow tires cost you nothing to own because while you use them your all-season, or summer-only tires get a break.  Almost nobody owns a car for such a short time that they use just one set of tires.  Most owners keep their cars more than four years.  Plus, even if you drive few miles, the car is more valuable with snow tires if you sell it privately, and the lower-mileage all-season tires also increase your trade-in value.  That winter tires area almost always less expensive for most cars than year-round tires, is just icing on the cake.

Aren’t Snow Tires a Pain In The Neck?

Not at all. Since most people bring their cars in for service twice per year, having them put on and taken off is easy if you simply let your dealer or independent shop do it.  There are two ways to manage the situation.  If your car uses modern Tire Pressure Monitoring (TPMS), the sensors will be pricey and it is better to just own the actual tire (the rubber).  You can then have them mounted onto your rims and balanced in the early winter.  You then have your other tires put back on in the spring.  I’ve spoken to multiple tire care professionals and they report no trouble with this method.  Owners I know say it is simple and inexpensive.  Shops usually charge $35 to $50 to do this, and usually less if you buy the tires from them.

Max and tire

The second method is to have a dedicated set of rims on which the winter tires stay. Companies like Tire Rack and other retailers often offer packages that make the rims very affordable.  I own Bridgestone Blizzaks, one of the most popular brands and models of snow tires, and I have rims for them.  My sons help me mount my winter wheel package in the fall and spring.  Changing a tire is one of the most valuable lessons anyone can teach a young driver.

Prove They Work

Edmunds and many other outlets did just that. Using a car with all-season tires and then winter tires, Edmunds determined that the winter tires stopped the car 28 feet shorter than all-season in snowy conditions.  The car also handled slalom and acceleration test in snow dramatically better than all-season tires.  I can also attest to the huge impact on performance.  I have used snow tires on a Toyota Highlander, Honda Civic, and also a Honda Accord and the differences are dramatic.

snowy drive

Do Snow Tires Make the Car Handle Worse In Dry Weather?

I have not found that snow tires negatively affect handling in normal dry-day driving. In fact, they seem softer and make the ride a bit smoother.  On my Highlander, the snow tires make the car handle better than three other all-season tire models I have tried.  On the Accord, the Michelin winter tires were my favorite tires overall to drive on in dry or wet conditions, and made the car a snowmobile in ice and snow.  The positive difference in winter conditions was almost shocking.


I Live Where It Doesn’t Snow. Why Would I Need Snow Tires?

See: Winter 2013. It’s not like you need to rush out and buy a set of studded Nokian Hakkapelittas. A good set of winter tires that offer a compromise between performance and ice traction are a reasonable investment anywhere from the northern reaches of the United States all the way to the edge of the sunbelt.

If you own a car you feel handles badly in snow and ice, you should change to snow tires for winter. If you would like to hear from drivers who own your car who made the switch, and many other retailers have excellent “reviews” sections.  You can find reviews by owners that have your exact model of car that switched to snow tires and read what they say.  You will find the consensus is that winter tires deliver a profound improvement.