How to Choose the Best Winter Tires

Did you know that there are more than 156,000 crashes each year that occur due to icy road conditions? Tire manufacturers design winter tires to help your vehicle grip snow-covered roads. But if you’re new to the north or haven’t purchased winter tires before, there are a few things to keep in mind.

This tire buying guide will walk you through everything you need to know to choose the best winter tires.

Understand the Types of Tires

First off, what makes winter tires different than summer or all-season tires? What type of tire is on your car right now? Before you choose the best winter tires for your car, get to know the types of tires available to you.

1. Summer Tires

Every set of tires will perform differently on variables from dry braking and wet braking, to snow traction and ride noise. Manufacturers create summer tires to score highly in handling dry and wet braking. They’re also meant to handle well and produce lower road noise.

Also known as performance tires, summer tires have shallower, asymmetrical tread patterns. This makes them great at zipping over dry ground. They’re also built to avoid hydroplaning in wet conditions.

2. All-Season Tires

For drivers in places with light snow during the winter, all-season tires are the best option. All-season tires score highest in dry braking, ride comfort, and low ride noise. But they’re also capable of handling wet braking and minimal snow.

Their tread patterns are smoother, deeper, and more symmetrical than those of summer tires. This makes them better at gripping the road when it’s cold or icy.

All-season tires are not recommended for areas with heavy snowfalls. They are not the best option for places that get black ice or wet freezes, either.

3. Winter Tires

Winter tires are going to be your go-to if you live in a place with long winters and lots of snow. The best winter tires are built with deep tread grooves that can cut through ice and slush. They excel in ride comfort and snow traction.

You can tell a winter tire by the large number of sipes, or slits, built into its tread. The design will also be more elaborate than on all-season or summer tires. They’re also made out of a rubber compound that can withstand sub-freezing temperatures. 

Be sure to buy winter tires in sets of four instead of opting to change only two of your tires. You should have them installed in the fall and keep them on until spring. 

Types of Winter Tires

Understanding the different types of tires is only the first step. But there’s also a variety of winter tires available. Depending on your location, you may need studded, non-studded, or studdable winter tires. 

1. Non-Studded Tires

Non-studded tires are the classic winter tires. They’ll have deep, intricate tread patterns and are ideal for use in cities without too many hills.

Made with standard winter compounds, non-studded tires won’t lose flexibility when temperatures drop. This helps keep them from getting damaged. 

Additionally, they pose no damage to your roads or driveways. You can put them on earlier and keep them on later in the season as well.  

2. Studded Tires

Studded tires are named for the tiny metal studs on the tread. These studs are light and sturdy, adding extra grip on slick surfaces. They’re also used to improve steering control and reduce sliding. 

Studs are an alternative option to tire chains, which are also used to increase traction. However, chains can come loose or shift positions, damaging your tires. Studs, on the other hand, stay in place.

It’s recommended to use studded tires in areas with hills and where snow tends to remain on the ground. You don’t want to put them on too early, though. The studs create a lot of noise and can damage roads that aren’t covered in snow or ice. 

When in doubt, check with your area’s regulations to see if they have rules about when to put on studded tires.

3. Studdable Tires

Finally, some of the top winter tires offer the best of both worlds. Studdable tires are tires that come with pre-made holes but no studs. When you need the studs, you can have them installed. 

These tires are a great workaround for those in more mild climates who still need the grip of a studded tire. The best part is you don’t have to worry about damaging your roads by having the studs on too early.    

How to Choose

Now that you know the types of tires to pick between, how do you decide which is right for you? First, consider your location. Flat roads and light snow mean that un-studded winter tires are going to work just fine. Inclined roads that are often covered in snow will require studs or chains. 

If you’re somewhere in-between, you can try tire chains or studdable tires. But remember that chains are less secure than studs. They may come loose in extreme conditions.

When you’re choosing winter tires, visit sites like to see what’s available. Make sure you compare sizes, too. Stick with your current tire size or opt for tires that are a bit narrower.

Getting Winter Tires Installed

When you’re buying winter tires, get them installed professionally. After ordering your tires, you’ll bring your car to the service center. They’ll replace your summer or all-season tires with the winter ones. 

Make sure you bring a moving blanket or tarp with you. That way, you can protect the interior of your car from any dirt on your regular tires.

You’ll need to bring your old tires home and store them in a dry place like your garage. When you’re done with your winter tires, swap them out. They should last between three and four seasons.

Choosing the Best Winter Tires

The best winter tires mark the difference between getting through winter unharmed or risking an accident whenever you’re on the road. Know what conditions are most likely where you live and which tire will suit them best. For extreme conditions, studded tires will offer you the best protection and control. 

For more on choosing the best tires for your vehicle, visit our auto section.

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