Do I really need snow tires?
All Season tires are standard equipment on most new vehicles. All season tires are also a more popular purchase than winter or summer tires in general. For the most part this is a good solution for drivers for the reason that many parts of the country do not see difficult winter weather conditions and even those areas of the country that do experience substantial snow and ice still have the majority of the year without those conditions. Winter tires in late spring, summer and early fall are not necessary or advised even in colder areas. The connotation of an "All Season" tire is that it is engineered for all seasons. This is undoubtedly true for most people who live in the lower half of the U.S. This may be misleading to those living in mountainous or northern areas that get substantial snow and ice.
Why is a winter tire important?
Winter tires grab in snow and ice by design. Unlike an all season or summer tire, a snow tire like the Blizzak by Bridgestone or the Ultra Grip series by Goodyear Tires, is formed with a softer, more flexible rubber formula more suitable to cold weather. The snow tire is able to grip snow and ice by using this more flexible compound. It can then grip the road providing maximum traction and control. All season and summer tires are apt to become stiff and inflexible when they get cold. Therefore they lose traction and slip and slide much quicker.Your tires' ability to bite into snow and ice is essential to you stopping, cornering and steering effectively. It will also help you avoid getting stuck. A tire not engineered for the cold can not be effective in winter cornering and stopping.Many new cars have anit-lock brakes, electronic stabliization and all wheel drive to help control the vehicle. These systems however depend on the tires. They are only as good as your tires. Think of an emergency room equipped with all the most recent and best equipment ready to take care of any emergency thrust upon it. However, this ER is staffed by only first year med students. All the finest tools in the world will not save lives without the crucial expertise of the doctor. Similarly, great safety and control systems are useless on a car with bad tires.
All-season tires are engineered to function in varied but general weather conditions: Dry roads and rain and in warmer temperatures. They are not constructed for specific weather conditions. If tires were vehicles, an all season would be a family sedan while a winter tire would be a Hummer. You could try driving through a snow storm in your subcompact but a Hummer H3 would be a safer choice. It's the same way with tires.An all season tire may get you through the snow but you will be much safer and have much better control with a good winter tire.
Can I mix tires using two snow tires and two all season tires?
In an effort to reduce cost, some people try using snow tires only on the drive wheels of their vehicle. This is an ineffective and possibly risky solution. This may give you the confidence in selected situations of having control however this is an illusion and the false confidence may lead to reckless results. Putting snow tires in the front on a front wheel drive may allow better starts and stopping but it places you in danger of fishtailing around turns. The rear wheels will not have sufficient traction to negotiate the turns your front wheels initiate. Similarly and perhaps more dangerous, putting snow tires on the rear wheels of a rear wheel drive car will allow better starts but will do nothing for steering or braking. It is always advised to install snow tires in a complete set of four.
Can Winter Tires Stay on All Year Long?
This is not really a good plan. Winter tires are made from softer rubber, as I mentioned earlier, than all season or summer tires. That means they will wear down much earlier than a tire designed for warmer driving conditions. They are designed for cold, wet and slippery conditions. Hot roads and dry pavement is counter to the design of these tires. This is notable for a couple reasons. First you will end up replacing your tires more frequently simply from wear. The biggest reason to keeping winter tires on your vehicle all year is to save by not buying more tires. Unfortunately, faster wear on the snow tires means that you will need to replace tires more frequently. Secondly, a deep tread is imperative for a snow tire to be most useful. The winter tire "bites" into ice and snow because of carefully engineered treads. Meanwhile water and slush is pushed from under the tire via deep channels in the tread design.
As the hot roads wear down the tire, its worth in the winter is substantially decreased.
Another reason to change tires as soon as the snow clears for good is for a more comfortable ride. All season tires and summer tires among other things are constructed for a comfortable ride. Snow tires are not.All season and summer tires are designed for a quite ride. Winter tires are often quite loud. Since you are using a good snow tire, you can put a summer tire on your car for better performance. By changing tires according to seasons, you will be driving on appropriate tires for the conditions. This way you can accomplish better traction and a smoother and quieter ride in all seasons.
Remounting tires twice a year is costly and inconvenient. What options do I have?
This can be a problem. I have never met anybody who enjoys sitting in the waiting room of a tire reseller drinking bad coffee and reading old magazines. It becomes quite expensive over the years to mount and balance tires multiple times. There is a better choice. Simply get another set of wheels to mount your snow tires on. You can then simply unbolt your tires when the weather breaks and put your summer tires on. You can do this in under 30 minutes in your garage. No need for remounting, waiting for hours or drinking bad coffee. You can determine how much you want to spend using this method. Some propose that you buy some old wheels from a salvage yard for your snow tires. This may be a good idea but by the time you pay for mounting it may not save you much money.
At least one online tire reseller will sell you a package of wheels and snow tires with mounting and balancing done free. Given this you could easily get new wheels that specifically fit your vehicle and all the mounting hardware at a cost as good or better than getting a set of salvage wheels. The salvage wheels may or may not specifically fit your vehicle.Regardless of your choice be sure the rim is a good fit for your vehicle and that it is mounted properly. If you wish, you can also get more expensive wheels especially if you are likely to keep cars for a long time or you tend to buy the same cars. Regardless, you should be able to sell these wheels with the car at a premium or sell them on Ebay or through a classified ad when you are finished with them. In any case you will not need to remount tires a couple times a year and the wheels will pay for themselves in a few seasons by saving the remounting charges.
So What is the Bottom Line?
If your area gets significant snow, you would do well to invest in some good winter tires. A single fender bender, a missed sales call or a missed day at work could cost you as much as a set of tires and the tires can be used for several years. Your safety is also critical. Being stuck in the snow, failing to stop in an emergency and sliding through a turn can be more than a financial consideration. Your safety is worth the investment. You can find a great winter tire and wheel package that will pay for itself in a few winters. Make the investment and drive safely and with confidence in the snow.
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