Car Buying

Winter Tires: Don't Fear to Tread

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author photo by Colin Ryan March 2015
  • A simple way for drivers to combat snow and ice
  • Tires on used cars need particular attention
  • Not only rear-drive cars benefit

Much of the United States is covered in white and the majority of the population is blue with cold, but there's no need to see red by skidding around on the wrong rubber. It's never too late to buy winter tires.

All-Season and Used-Car Tire Issues

For anyone who thinks tires are just black, round and rubber, think again. A lot of interesting technology hits the road every time we get behind the wheel. Depending on the tire, that technology may be devoted to gripping dry tarmac, increasing comfort, softening noise levels and battling demanding road conditions.

The vast majority of new cars have all-season tires, but maybe they should be renamed 3-season tires. They're fine in the spring, summer and fall for displacing water, but snow is a different matter. Rubber compounds don't usually function well in colder temperatures.

Used cars have their own challenges. The previous owner may have purchased the cheapest tires possible, or they may be mismatched. If the tires on a just-purchased used car are worn, that uneven wear could become problematic.

When checking the amount of tread, including where that tread is thinner, don't neglect the tire's shoulders. If they're worn down and misshapen (especially the fronts), chances are that the previous owner took corners too fast. If there are cracks in the shoulders and sidewalls, the car might have been sitting parked for months, causing the rubber to start to perish. When in doubt, replace those tires.

Replacing Your Car's Tires

What should you replace them with? That depends on the nature of your vehicle, where you live and what kind of driving you do. Vehicles with all-wheel drive function comparatively well in wintry conditions. Cars with front-wheel drive are usually safer than rear-drive cars in the snow, with everything else equal. In all three cases, adding winter tires raises the car's level of ability.

Anyone who has had the opportunity to compare driving on a snow-covered road on all-season tires and then on winter tires quickly realizes that the latter set significantly improves traction and shortens braking distances. For those who live in warmer climates, all-season tires are fine. You might only need winter tires if you travel into the mountains to ski.

For everyone else, a set of snow tires could cost around $300. Balance that against what your insurance deductible, higher premiums and repair costs would be in the event of an accident.

Driving on winter tires can also boost your confidence. Knowing your family is driving in dangerous conditions but with the right equipment brings some degree of reassurance. There are even performance winter tires available for those who drive a BMW M3, Corvette or other sporty vehicle.

At the time of writing this piece, 2 to 4 inches of snow is in the forecast as far south as Dallas, Texas. The Midwest and Northeast are engulfed in the stuff. Inexperienced drivers, or those who aren't used to encountering such extreme conditions, are perhaps at the greatest risk for an accident. It's important to be prepared. Winter driving is tough enough without having the right boots.

For more information, check out Tire Rack. In addition to being an online retailer, Tire Rack is the country's largest independent tire tester.

What it means to you: We wear the right clothing for the season, so let's get the right driving equipment, too.

This image is a stock photo and is not an exact representation of any vehicle offered for sale. Advertised vehicles of this model may have styling, trim levels, colors and optional equipment that differ from the stock photo.
Winter Tires: Don't Fear to Tread - Autotrader