As the winter weather rolls in, many drivers have a choice to make. Do they roll the dice and leave their all-season tires on during the snow and sleet? Or do they spend some cash on a nice, safe set of snow tires?
If you live in an area that gets hit hard with winter weather, this isn't a new decision for you. You've probably decided before whether you should invest in snow tires or take on a little risk (auto accidents are one of our 9 Holiday Insurance Risks to Keep In Mind).
But if you're new to snow tires, you'll find below everything you need to know about who should buy winter tires, when to buy them, and more (if you rode a motorcycle in the warmer months, learn about the Best Insurance Options for Storing Your Motorcycle for the Winter). Making the right choice when it comes to your tires this winter could save you a lot of hassle and keep you safe.
Winter Tires Vs. All-season Tires
Tires are tires—except when they're not. Winter tires offer significant advantages in inclement weather when compared with all-season tires. There are a few big differences between winter tires and all-season wheels, including:
- The Rubber
- Tread Depth
- Biting Edges
The rubber used to make all-season tires can harden in cold temperatures. Without proper traction between the pliable rubber and the road, the tires cannot tread on the road as well as it should, especially when it's slick. Winter tires are created with rubber that functions properly even in the coldest of temperatures, which allows exceptional traction and handling in the winter.
Winter tires are created with a deep tread; all-season tires are not. The deeper tread helps with snow build-up on the tire and offers excellent traction. The tread patterns of winter tires also matter. They are created to channel slush and snow quickly, allowing you to drive without slipping around.
One unique feature found on snow tires is their biting edges. These are tiny slits in the tire tread that offer exceptional traction while driving on ice. Biting edges are a must if you encounter a lot of icy road conditions in your area. All-season tires never include this feature.
Who Needs Snow Tires in the Winter?
Not everyone needs to buy snow tires for their car. If you live in a locale that doesn't get too much snow, then you'd be wasting cash. Keep your all-season tires on, and you're ready to go.
If you live in a place like Northern Minnesota or Upstate New York, then you probably switch to snow tires every year. You know how important these tires can be during the winter months.
What part of the city you live in makes a difference, too. If you live in the city core, winter tires aren't commonplace, even if winter conditions can get harsh on occasion. You have access to plowed roads and, when driving seems too risky, you can avail yourself to public transportation.
If, however, you live on the outskirts of the city, in the suburbs, or in a rural area, you are more likely to need a set of winter tires. Harsh winters for you mean unplowed roads and no public transportation options to fall back on.
Some of us live in a place where snow tires can be optional. For some, the winter tires will be useful. For others, switching tires out would be a waste of money. So, how do you know if you need snow tires?
Why You Need Snow Tires This Winter
We could break it down to the smallest details and over-analyze things, but the fact remains: if you live in a locale that sees snowfall and average winter temperatures that dip below 35 degrees Fahrenheit, then snow tires are usually a good investment. Spending a little money to ensure your safety and the safety of your passengers—not to mention others sharing the road with you—is always recommended.
While there are a number of variables to consider, this is our go-to guideline. Buying four snow tires is ideal for anyone who typically sees heavy winter weather every year. For people who don't, like individuals living in the South of the United States, snow tires are unnecessary. For everyone else, we highly recommend snow tires as a safety precaution in the winter months.
Can You Use Winter Tires All Year?
Think about it this way: you could wear boat shoes all year round, including in the winter months and at the beach. Or you could wear flip-flops at the beach and snow boots when the winter weather comes around.
While you can use winter tires all year, we don't recommend it. The soft rubber that's used to make snow tires doesn't hold up well in warmer weather. You'll end up spending more on tires if you drive snow tires all year than if you switch between snow and regular tires.