With today’s vehicles being far better equipped to keep their drivers and passengers safe, some folks have a tendency to pay less attention to the basics and rely on advanced technology such as traction control, anti-lock braking, collision avoidance systems, etc. to keep them safe, even in the most challenging weather conditions. But the cold, hard reality (pun intended) is that the most advanced systems on today’s vehicles don’t create or generate traction, they simply work to maximize the traction that is available. And it is the vehicle’s tires that determine how much traction is available for those systems to take advantage of.
So when it comes to winter weather, those of who can’t simply stay home and wait for better driving conditions should give serious consideration to installing winter tires on their vehicle or vehicles. Now, these are not your father’s “snow tires” which, while providing the grip needed to claw their way through the accumulated snow, were absolutely horrible in most other conditions, to include roads that were simply wet. Today’s highly advanced winter tires are designed and intended to provide improved traction in the full range of roadway conditions that accompany inclement weather and low temperatures – typically 200 F and below. In fact, in those conditions, they will, generally speaking, outperform every other type of tire, including all season models.
They manage to do this because the rubber compound used in winter tires is formulated to remain soft in freezing temperatures. In fact, it’s what gives winter tires their performance advantage over all season tires, which will become less flexible in colder temperatures. The softer composition of winter tires allows the tires tread blocks to conform to even the smallest protrusions and imperfections on the road surface, even those that appear to be a smooth sheet of ice. This capability to grip the road on ice, snow or just cold and wet pavement can translate to stopping distances that are 30 – 40% shorter than they might be if the vehicle in question had all season tires.
Over the last decade or so, tire manufacturers have made significant advances in the design of winter tires, particularly in their capability and capacity to move water from between the tire and road surface more efficiently. This is a critical improvement when you consider what happens as a tire rolls over a snow-covered road. As the tire presses on ice or snow on the road, it melts the top film, creating a thin layer of water which, if not moved from under the tire can lead to hydroplaning even at very low speeds. Therefore, the tread surface of winter tires is molded with a tremendous number of thin grooves called “sipes” that run across the tire and move water toward the edges of the tire, which help to ensure the tread surface stays in direct contact with road surface.
Of course, there is a downside to winter tires, which is they tend to wear much faster when run on dry pavement. This is due to that softer tire compound, which stays soft even in colder temperatures. As is the case with most passenger car tires, winter tires are manufactured with an 11/32” tread depth. However, unlike other types of tires, once a winter tire has worn just over half of its tread- 6/32” or so – – it will have lost most of its potential for increased traction, as there will be less flexibility in the shorter tread blocks and the siping will be too shallow to move as much water as is necessary from between the tread surface and the road surface. Because tread depth is such a significant factor in winter tire performance, those who opt to install them would be wise to invest in a tread depth gauge, which can be found on Amazon for less than $10.
So, if you’re likely to find yourself driving in temperatures below 200 F, on roads that are snow covered, icy, or simply wet, you should give serious consideration to installing winter tires. In addition to maximizing the performance of your vehicle’s advanced control systems, it can also provide you and your passenger’s peace of mind in even the most challenging weather conditions.