Tire Buying Guide

How to choose winter tires: a buyer’s guide

How to choose winter tires: a buyer’s guide

If you’re considering winter tires, also known as snow tires, there are several things you should take into consideration. Here’s everything you need to know about winter tires and how to find a set that’s right for you.

If you’re considering winter tires there, are several things you should take into consideration. Lets take a look.

Low angle shot of a tire on a vehicle in the snow.
Michelin winter tire

What are winter tires?

Winter tires are exactly what their name suggests; tires made specifically to maintain a safe and dependable grip on the road surface when temperatures reach freezing (and below) or when snow, sleet or ice are present.

What makes winter tires unique?

When the temperature drops below freezing, the tread rubber of non-winter tires becomes stiffer and, less pliable and consequently has trouble gripping the road surface to provide sufficient traction and stopping power. Winter tires are constructed using a different rubber compound that’s designed to remain flexible in frigid temperatures and adverse conditions, which means better traction in the cold.

Winter Snikeflake
Winter Mobile masthead

Do I need winter tires?

Deciding whether or not to install winter tires depends mostly on where you live, the climate of that area, and the type of weather you encounter. A good rule of thumb is that if you live somewhere that consistently sees temperatures in the low 40s or below for extended periods, winter tires are a good investment to mitigate the risk of driving in wintery weather (cold temperatures, sleet, snow, ice, slush). Also, if you frequently head to the mountains for winter sports, these tires can make those trips much safer and more enjoyable.

Do I need winter tires if I have an AWD or 4WD vehicle?

The short answer: yes. AWD and 4WD traction systems require a certain level of traction to actually work. If your tires aren’t providing that level of traction, those systems quickly become somewhat useless - instead of two wheels spinning or sliding as they try unsuccessfully to grip the surface, you’ll have four. Winter tires provide crucial performance advantages, no matter the vehicle type or drivetrain configuration. AWD and 4WD benefits on snow-covered roads are mostly just felt during the vehicle’s initial acceleration. Winter drivers know that braking performance, cornering grip and straight line traction are what really contribute to safer travel in treacherous conditions. To accomplish that, AWD and 4WD are of little to no help. It’s the season-specific tires that deliver driver confidence and heightened vehicle performance in harsh, wintery conditions.

Getty Snow Image
WInter Tire tread

How much do winter tires cost?

Winter tires come in a wide range of choices and options. -Studless winter tires that fit passenger cars range from $100--$150 each, while winter tires for light trucks and SUVs range from $200–$400 each. Winter tires for high- performance vehicles range from $100 to $600 each. In many cases, it is worth considering a set of winter wheels in addition to winter tires to protect the integrity of the winter tire from excessive wear from mounting and dismounting, even if you are not increasing or decreasing the tire diameter size.

How long do winter tires last?

The answer to this question can vary depending on the make and model of your specific tire. Generally, manufacturers say that you can get as many as four seasons of wear from a set of winter tires. The speed and severity of your tread wear will depend on many factors: your monthly mileage, the amount of snow and ice you drive on, and if you drive on a mix of snow and dry, frozen roads. Treads tend to last longer when driven primarily on snow versus being driven more on cold, hard road surfaces.

Winter tire tread in snow
Customer looking at tires

Should I change 2 or 4 winter tires?

For years, there have been those who’ve claimed that installing winter tires on their vehicles' drive axle is all that’s needed, leaving all-season tires installed on the other axle. This might not be the best course of action. For front-wheel drive vehicles, this would mean having rear tires that do not grip as well as the front. This could make the car more likely to fishtail or spin out during braking or cornering. Likewise, if the driver of a rear-wheel drive car were to leaves all-season tires on the front, the wheels in charge of steering would have less grip. This is the perfect recipe for a loss of steering control and a lack of overall handling that could make any trip in wintery conditions more treacherous. For the ultimate in safety and performance, we recommend swapping out all four tires once you’ve decided that winter tires are necessary.

When should I replace my winter tires?

Unlike all-season tires, winter tires play a more important role in helping maintain traction and safety in extreme weather conditions. Because of this, you should pay closer attention to their tread depths when deciding if you need new ones. Technically, tires aren’t legally worn out until they reach 2/32” of remaining tread. However, snow traction and the effective evacuation of water and slush can begin to decline before reaching that measurement milestone. It makes sense to check your tread at the beginning of the winter season. If you see that the tread depth of your tires has reached around 6/32”, it’s probably time to replace them. Traversing treacherous ice, snow, and slush is no time to discover that your tread is too worn to provide the traction you need.

Tire shopping
A Belle Tire employee is wearing blue gloves and unwrapping a tire that is inside a blue cover.

Tire storage

When it’s time to switch to seasonal tires, what’s your plan? If storage space in your shed or garage is limited, not to worry. We’ve got plenty of room. Tireman Valet Service can solve all of your removal and storage-related issues. Your tires will be ready and waiting whenever you need them.

Don’t keep your new tires waiting.

Don’t keep your new tires waiting.

We’ll help you find the perfect tires in a few steps.

We’ll help you find the perfect tires in a few steps.

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