Winter Tire Safety Tips

Rachel Blumenfeld
winter driving

When it comes to safe winter driving, your first concern should be the part of your car that touches the road - your tires. There are several options for winter tires, so it's hard to know what's best for your situation and your car. Learn about the different options below.

Performance Snow Tires

If you use performance tires in warmer seasons, performance winter tires may be for you. Consumer Reports states that these tires are rated H or higher for size and speed, meaning that they allow your car to corner and handle better than regular tires might, even up to speeds over 130 mph (although driving that speed certainly isn't recommended). They also grip to snow and ice better than regular tires, but not as well as regular winter tires, and their handling won't be quite as good as that of all-season performance tires on dry surfaces. If you choose performance snow tires, remember these tips:

  • Whether your car is front-wheel drive, all-wheel drive, or rear-wheel drive, install snow tires on all four wheels to keep your car's performance balanced.
  • Keep your tire pressure at the recommended amount.
  • Brake slowly and steadily before turns. Don't slam on your brakes.
  • Wait until your steering wheel is straight and you're out of your turn before you accelerate.

Studless Snow Tires

Studless snow tires are good during the winter because they have deeper tread and more biting edges, so they grip better on snow and ice. They also are usually made of softer rubber and remain flexible, even in the coldest temperatures, so the tire can still conform to the shape of road. Consumer Reports warns, however, that winter tires won't grip as well on dry surfaces as all-weather tires do, and they wear out more quickly. When driving on snow tires, always:

  • Check your tire pressure. Cold weather can make tire pressure change.
  • Install snow tires on all wheels, not just two.
  • Slowly brake before turning.
  • Wait until you're done turning before accelerating.

Studded Snow Tires

According to TireRack.com, in the 1960's, people started inserting metal studs into their tires to increase the tires' traction on ice. The studs chipped at the ice, so even the most slippery surfaces were able to be driven on, but the studs destroyed the pavement anywhere there wasn't ice. Because of this, studded tires are illegal in many areas, and it's best to check with local law enforcement before using them. If you do use them, follow these tips:

  • Your car gains traction more easily with studs, so drive slowly.
  • If you lose traction despite the studs, take your foot off the gas pedal, turn the wheel slowly in direction you want to go, and put your foot on the brakes.

Tire Chains

When driving in severe snow, tire chains may be your best bet to enhance your traction. In fact, some areas require tire chains in certain weather conditions (and some prohibit chains, as they can be damaging to roadways). When using tire chains, follow these safety tips from TireRack.com:

  • Install tire chains on all four tires, which means you will have to buy two pairs of chains.
  • Buy chains that are the correct size for your tires.
  • Do not deflate your tires to install the chains. The chains should fit over properly inflated tires.
  • Use chains that are SAE Class "S" so they safely clear your car's fenders, suspension, struts, brake lines, and braces.
  • Pre-fit the chains before you actually have to use them.
  • Keep your chains in the trunk at all times.
  • Re-tighten the chains after you drive the car about 15 feet.
  • Speed up and slow down gradually, and don't spin the wheels.
  • Drive within the chain manufacturer's recommended speed (usually under 30 mph).
  • Do not drive with broken chains.
  • Take chains off as soon as you reach clear roads.

Deciding Whether to Get Snow Tires

Snow tires aren't just for when there's snow outside. No one expects drivers to change their tires back every time the snow melts. Snow tires are great for snow, slush, ice, and water. According to Bridgestone, it's smart to invest in a set if you live somewhere that gets a lot of precipitation in the winter. Remember, however, to go back to all-season tires once spring comes so you're driving as safely as possible.

Winter Tire Safety Tips