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Hagerty Employee

5 reasons why winter tires matter, and not just for enthusiasts

As winter approaches, the prudent Canadians among us begin to think of our tire choices for the snow and ice that are to come. Some of us still believe that all-seasons are a four-season tire, but that couldn't be further from the truth.

I agree with most of the comments. My experience in snow is from Wisconsin, back in the late 1950s, when snow removal wasn't near as good as today and I'm now in New Hampshire. I always think of the first significant snowfall as driver training day. It's on-the-job training for the novice drivers and I stay home, out of their way. They either make it or break it. Experience is still the best teacher. I used to mount snow tires on every winter. Considered them absolutely essential. As I got older, AWD became available, figured that my wife and I, at our senior age, would be safer with AWD. Then I realized that AWD and tires with good tread were so good that I didn't need snow tires. I have driven through some deep snow berms at the end of my driveway like it was a dry summer day. Yes, there is no improvememt in braking with AWD, however, being from the old school of driving I start braking much sooner and slower than the rest of the world. I also keep a much larger distance from cars in front of me. I cringe when I'm out on the highway and see drivers all bunched up at 70 mph in a freezing rain. Of course there is going to be a massive pile up. I don't see that better acceleration on a snow covered road can be an issue with AWD. Slower and prudent diving are an equal to snow tires.
Intermediate Driver

Last year my '08 Miata was pretty sketchy on the snow, so this year I installed a set of 205/45r 17 Bridgestone Blizzak run flats. Read a lot of good stuff about them! They're a little nosier than the old ones but seem to be more aggressive for the winter. We will see!
Advanced Driver

I won't use studded tires, and believe they should be banned because too many fools drive them for too long into the Spring and they tear up the pavement. Here in Oregon, that has resulted in deep grooves in asphalt paving that hold water, freeze up and become more dangerous as a result. I have two 4wd vehicles. Each has two sets of tires mounted on wheels, and I change them with the seasons at no charge from the dealer. They are Michelin X-Ice tires and they provide traction as god as or better than studded tires on every surface other than standing water on ice. Without tearing up the roads. I drive them in the mountains on frequent ski outings. They don't require chains. Simply a really good tire. There are others equally good -- the Nokian Hakkapellita works well too, and other brands have similar tires with similar performance. I'd as lief have good roads for most of the year than deal with studded tires at all. But if they are not to be banned, then they should be taxed at the original point of sale for the road damage they cause, and that tax be dedicated to road repair of the damage. That actually can be and has been calculated over the expected life span of the tire.

Funny story. I was in the process of moving to Texas from Chicago. I had to stay in Chicago one last winter. I purchased some Blizzaks for my Legacy GT Wagon which had been in Texas but I had driven down back to Illinois. Got them from the Tire rack mounted on wheels and put them on. The difference for winter tires is remarkable. I had some good all-season continentals on a WRX wagon I had owned and they were very good in Chicago snow storms. However the Blizzaks were so much better. They just gripped the road better and the most telling part was when you hit the brakes you never felt the ABS kick in at that last foot or so like you might on the all-seasons. That told me how much better they were, no slipping or sliding unless it was on purpose practicing to be the next Tommi Makinen or Colin McRae. Also I drove in the unplowed lanes passing the poor people in the plowed lane doing 20 under the speed limit. I would see some people try to do it and almost get their car stuck and have to abandon. I'm sure people saw the Texas plates and assumed some nut from Texas was going to get stuck in a ditch somewhere not realizing i was from Chicago and lived their most of my life. So yes snow is worth every penny. Come spring/summer time on went the summer tires. I do miss that Subaru.

Intermediate Driver

Here in Vermont, I have had several Chevy SUVs over the years with a 2008 TrailBlazer being the latest. My Winter trucks with 4WD always have had BFG All-Terrain Tires on them. No problem running them either on deep snow or ice, but you still have to know about car control depending on the conditions. The BFGs have an aggressive tread pattern, but no studs and a straight, stiff sidewall. Food for thought...
Advanced Driver

Lately, I see a lot of articles telling me how winter tires are much better than all season tires in the snow. I'm sure that is correct. What I do not see from the automotive enthusiast press, are articles telling people how totally dangerous summer tires are in the snow. I have seen several accidents caused by summer tires in even moderate temperatures, 30-40F. Additionally, those summer tires may crack and separate in cold temperatures. Ideally, having summer tires when above 40F, and winter tires when below 40F would be ideal. That can be almost impossible to achieve. I am pretty fond of my all season tires.
Intermediate Driver

This is just common sense.
New Driver

I'll take studded snows (all the way around) on steel wheels, (minus-1's on my 4wd pickup, and minus-2's on my wife's sedan) For The Win. I consider snows (studded, always) like an insurance policy. Safety, it never takes a day off.
Pit Crew

I may be giving my age away but back in the day snow tires were only installed on the rear drives of cars and trucks with 2 wheel drive . As we progressed the better alternative was snow tires on all 4 regardless of 2 or 4 wheel drive . Given that , the better the traction the faster we drive , makes sense , but not always the best results ........ I have found that if one gets into a situation of an uncontrolled or loosing control in snow or ice , switching the trans into neutral seems to help get control of the vehicle . Not always an option in todays vehicles , but if you drive something with a gear shift , I find there is an added advantage . Always open to view points . Seems when you are free wheeling there is more control .......................
Advanced Driver

Yes definitely!
Pit Crew

The most important factor is the width of the tires. I always prefer to go back to the narrowist that matches the original circumference. This takes quite a bit of investigation. My experience is that wider tires are worse in snow having witness opulent SUV's with their wide ass tires struggling in the snow. Reference the original Willys CJ 2A that sported a snow plow with skinny tires.
Intermediate Driver

I put Michelin X Ice on our AWD Subaru Outback come November in Montana. They are amazing.
The only downside is that they can make you feel a bit overconfident since they handle and grip so well and you can complacent when you're driving on ice. I've resisted the urge to put winter tires on my 4x4 Ford Ranger, which I use to go skiing weekly. It has the original Hancook all-season tires on it, and it's only slipped on me once. And as I was being a bit careless at the moment I had that coming.

I've got summer performance tires on the Miata, but it's in hibernation between October and May so that's not an issue.
Pit Crew

Solid piece Brian. I have taught literally thousand how to handle winter driving conditions and always advocate winter tires with the caveat that they won't help the driver who is heavy-footed under slippery conditions. Regardless of tires, FWD or 4WD, looking where you want to go is the most important winter driving tip. And, oh yeah, please say hi to Tony Jr...
Intermediate Driver

Thanks, Gary! I'll send your best next time I speak with Tony!

I have been driving in the Midwest for over 25 years with FWD and all-season tries with good tread, and have never had a significant problem on snow up to 6+ inches. If it is icy, I do my best to stay home for sure. When I had to drive RWD cars in the snow, I always used snow treads. Part of the attraction of FWD (or AWD) and all-season radials is NOT having to change the tires for winter! Of course, in some areas, snow tires are likely absolute necessities.

When winter turns it's ugly head and the thermometer goes south I'll often ask myself; "Where's that Globle Warming Al Gore's been preaching about?

Pardon me Al, I misspelled Global.
Pit Crew

Sadly, I've been unsuccessful in convincing our govt to make winter tires mandatory, like in Quebec.
Advanced Driver

Before you run out to get those studded snow tires you so badly want, check your local laws! They can get quite complicated as I just had the requirements read to me over the phone. Dates of the year and City and County locations where they can be used all different. I knew there was a reason I hadn't seen them in 30 years. I do remember throwing sparks with them when I was young and finding out later that half the studs were gone. Ah yes, those were the days.

To sum this up there is no musts here when it comes to snow. 

Snow driving most All Season and wu tee tires are pretty close. It is ice that there is a bit better traction with winter tires. But these hard ice conditions are rare in most areas accept where it is so cold where salt is not effective. 

Where you live also matters as my work has offices here in Ohio and in places in GA and TX. The get an inch or so of snow down south and they close down. Here in Ohio in 30 years we shut down once. That was for freezing rain not snow. 

We just expect to go and deal with it. 

What is odd too is where my home is It can be sunshine and grass but yet work can be 8” of now in only 25 miles between due to the lake snow effect. 

So a lot of how we deal with it is due to wherever are from. 

The type of vehicle can matter to some extent but some folks like to say you must have FWD or AWD but we got around for 100 years with RWD and life did not stop. 

The truth is some people in some places and with some vehicles must winter tires but most don’t. 

As for studs it once was a need but anymore if you are in need of studs you really should look at winter tires as the soft compounds and tread designs are about as affective and legal. Plus you will not damage your paved driveway. 

I have owned some cars that were a challenge to drive in the winter. The El Camino with a big block, a HHR with 300 HP and a Fiero, they did claim Pontiac builds excitement. A little weight in the Camino, just controlling my left foot on the HHR and buying a truck for the Fiero. 

The Fiero went straight fine but it sat so low the front end will raise up on piles of snow and with no weight up front it hated to turn. 

The one recommendation though I do recommend is limited slip or locking rear ends. Not mandatory but much less frustrating mostly in deep snow if you have not cleared the drive. Most people in Ohio get stuck in the uncleared drives. 


Brian, right on the money. i live in northern Ontario and all seasons are all crap in a snowstorm. you also hit the nail on the head regards slush. when maintenance crews dump salt instead of plowing during a storm, that slush buildup between the lanes and tire tracks is a major hazard. get into that crap at speed and you are no longer a driver, just a passenger anticipating the impact with other vehicles or the ditch. that slush pulls you where it wants you to go. dec 8th little blue car travelling alongside me on a city 5 laner, got into the slush, thumped side of my truck spun sideways across the lane in front of me, crossed the turning lane whacked a little white car and finally stopped ahead of that car. she could not do anything but pray!!
Intermediate Driver

Yikes...and, yes, driving skills in the province are woefully inadequate.
Pit Crew

A commercial for Continental tires disguised as an article. How many tires has the author tested?
Intermediate Driver

I test a different set of winter tires every week through the winter.
Intermediate Driver

...and I shouldn't have to say this, but a tire designed for the slush problem in this part of the world is a ground breaker.

Best snow tires ever were Gislaved. OK, that's over. They're not from Sweden any more.
For a time, there were retractable studs available, with the tungsten set in plastic sleeves that were compressed by "hysteresis" when the tire was grabbing. When the tire was turning in normal mode, the studs were driven back into the sleeves, and so were legal to leave on all year if necessary. Nokian has a research project on a newer version of this. I'm looking forward to seeing those.

I know this is an older article (just got back from a trip, still catching up) but hyperv6 nailed it with the comment about roads being cleared quickly. Here in Massachusetts, at the beginning of the snow season when budgets are flush, the roads are white with salt on the prediction of any snow 12 hours out. Plows are out routinely pushing rainwater around. We generally don't get a chance to actually drive on snow (except for the driveway) until the budgets are spent and if it's a light season that's never.

Actually it is a combination of car, options and design and compound. 

The greatest factor is driver skill. The harsh reality is some folks just can’t drive in the snow. I recently had two storms here with around 25” of snow. We got by even in the car with 2WD. Roads were cleared soon after and life goes on. 

Some vehicles are better than others but that does not mean they are impossible or dangerous to drive. We got by for 100 years with bad tires and little AWD. 

As for brands you just need to look at a company like Michelin or Goodyear and see just how many types and lines of tires they offer. They all have old models that are not as good as the new models with more tech and advanced design. Why are old designs sold? Because they are offered by discount houses. 

There are some folks who live where it is so cold salt will not work for weeks. Winter tires help there but in most areas we see roads cleared in hours and most all season tires work just fine. 

But like a race car 25% tires, 25% car 50% driver. How many times did we see Dale Earnhardt SR take a bad car and out run others. He did it often. One race at Bristol he ran with no power steering for 400 laps and won. 

Now to drive in snow you don’t need to be SR but it helps to understand traction, how a car responds and how to control that car in slippery conditions. 

Car control is king in the snow. 

To be honest there are a number of drivers who should not be out there in the snow. Actually there are too many that should not be out there in a sunny day.