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  • Writer's pictureHeather L. Lee

To Winter Tire, or Not to Winter Tire? That is the Question.

Updated: Mar 1

Winter will arrive whether you want it to or not. And once the temperatures drop, only

one thing should be on your mind. Should I put winter tires on my car? Okay, maybe not

the only thing on your mind, but arguably one of the most important. Winter tires come

in a lot of sizes and price points. It's time to demystify the tire options and find the best

one for you.

Let’s Start with Summer Tires

Regular summer tires contain rubber made for warmer temperatures that performs well

in temperatures from 50-100℉. Any colder than that, and the rubber becomes rigid and

brittle and does not grip the road well. If you live somewhere frostier than 50℉ (hello,

Rochester, NY!), you might need to know what else is out there.

So, What Are the Options?

  1. All-weather tires. These tires have a more aggressive tread pattern for better traction in snowy and muddy conditions. All-weather tires contain rubber that  tolerates colder temperatures than summer tires. There is no standard for all-season tires, so some may be closer to a summer tire than a winter tire in terms of temperature tolerance.

  2. Winter tires. These tires have a much more aggressive tread pattern angled to improve road grip. This pattern does increase tire noise. The rubber is rated for temps down to 0℉ and will stay softer on ice and dry road conditions to allow for better traction. Winter tires have to pass a federal standard for minimum snow traction.

  3. Studded tires. Metal pieces inserted into tire tread help give better traction on icy roads. However, when there is no snow or ice, those metal bits continue chipping away at the road, so many states have outlawed them. They are permitted in New York State from October 16th to April 30th. The road damage caused by these tires has cost quite a lot in taxpayer dollars, so be cautious using them.

If you live in an area that doesn't often get snow or temps below 50℉, all-weather tires may suit you just fine. But since we live in Western New York, where snow is a fact of life for a long stretch of the year, let's talk more about winter tires.

Winter Tire Tread

The tread pattern on winter tires varies by manufacturer, but they all serve the same

purpose: to improve traction during icy and snowy conditions. The tread is made up of

various grooves cut into the part of the tire that touches the road. There are channels,

which are larger grooves made to stop water from building up between the tire and the

road and prevent hydroplaning. Sipes are more minor grooves meant to grab onto the

snow and help it grip onto itself, improving traction during snowy conditions.


Lucky for us, winter tires aren’t more expensive than regular summer tires. In fact,

changing the tires out every season decreases wear and tear, helping tires last longer.

Still, having your tires changed does cost money.


Pro-tip: One way to help with cost over the long run is to put your winter tires on their

own rims. Winter tires already on rims allow the auto shop to do a tire rotation service

instead of a mount and balance of four tires. If you keep your car for a while, you'll see a

return on rim investment after about five seasons. Also, this is a much quicker service.

Heads-up: If your vehicle is equipped with a tire pressure monitoring system (TPMS),

the TREAD Act passed in 2000 requires that all tires have sensors connected to the

TPMS. The TREAD Act also requires the wheels for your winter tires to have sensors.

Additional sensors would be an additional cost to consider.

Other factors that impact your wallet are tire size and brand. Smaller wheels and

narrower tires can be cheaper and cut through snow better. Discuss this with your

service advisor to get the best tire for you.

I've Got an Idea!

Hey, what if I just put two winter tires on instead of all four? Sounds like a great way to

save money, right? Well, sure, at first. But this is also a literal accident waiting to

happen. The tires that are not winter tires will have less grip. If you put them on the front

only, you lose steering ability. If you put them on the rear only, the car's back end can

swing around and send you spinning as you take a turn.

What To Look For

Check your vehicle's owner's manual to see if there is a specific recommendation.

Otherwise, do some research.

A tire that meets the DOT requirements will have

three mountain peaks with a

snowflake in the middle (see photo)

stamped into the sidewall.

Talk to your service advisor about what your options are. They know your car and

should be able to walk you through finding the tires that can keep you and your family

safe this winter.

Are you Team Snow Tires or Team All Season? Let us know in the comments!

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