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Snow Tires: Get A Grip

By NorCalCars guest writer Chris Somerville

As summer comes to a close and days grow shorter and colder, now is the time to winterize your vehicle to make it ready to deal with upcoming rain, sleet, and snow. For those who live in or travel to higher elevations, serious safety considerations must be made to deal with the extra slick conditions winter can bring.

If you encounter ice, snow, or slush on a regular basis, it’s a good idea to consider adding Snow Tires (also called winter tires) to your list of winterizing tasks. Snow Tires provide extra traction on slippery surfaces and have special designs that prevent snow from building up in the tread. They also help your vehicle’s built in safety systems (like Anti-Lock Brake Systems (ABS), traction control, and vehicle dynamics control systems) perform better by providing better contact with the road.

Bridgstone studless snow tire
Bridgstone studless snow tire

More Than All Seasons

So how do you know if stepping up to Snow Tires is right for you? And aren’t regular tires marked “All Season” for a reason?

For drivers living in areas like sunny Southern California, fiery Phoenix, or hot Hawaii, Snow Tires probably don’t need to be added to your To-Do List anytime soon (unless you plan on making frequent trips to the colder mountain regions). But for those living in higher elevations, swapping their regular tires out for Snow Tires is something that goes along with turning the clock back for daylight savings.

Goodyear snow tire studless
Goodyear studless snow tire

A common misconception is that All Season tires work equally well under all driving conditions, even in severe mud, ice, and snow. In fact, All Season tires are formulated to work adequately in all conditions, meaning they must perform equally well in 100 degree heat as well as in freezing temperatures.

Snow Tires have specially designed tread to prevent snow from building up, and high profile “bumps” to improve traction in slick conditions. They are also made to be more flexible in the cold, something that helps keep maximum rubber to the road during cornering, braking, and maneuvering.

If you live in an area where you get continued snowfall, Snow Tires are almost a necessity. However, if you experience mostly wet weather with a few days of snow per season, you probably can get by with your All Season tires.

Michelin snow tire studless
Michelin studless snow tire

Snow Tire - Buying and Installation Tips

If you live in an area where snow is plentiful and you’ve decided that Snow Tires are a prudent safety investment, what’s the next step?

The first thing to do is check with your local transportation department to see when it is legal to have Snow Tires on your vehicle. Since they sport high-profile traction bumps, Snow Tires can cause major damage over time when driven on dry pavement. Because of this, many cities have strict rules governing when Snow Tires can be installed and used on public roadways. And driving on dry pavement with Snow Tires can severely reduce their lifespan as well, taking money out of your pocket.

Firestone snow tire studless
Firestone studless snow tire

Since winter storms can hit without much warning, it is a good idea to look at investing in a second set of rims to host your Snow Tires. While this will increase the cost of your initial investment, it will pay for itself over time as you will not have to have your tires swapped twice a year when the seasons changes. Depending where you go and the size of your tires, the cost to swap and balance a tire can range anywhere from $25 to $50 per tire, making the investment in an extra set of “Snow Rims” pay off rather quickly.

Another advantage of keeping your Snow Tires mounted and ready to go, is the fact that you can easily pop them on yourself if an unexpected storm arrives at your doorstep. It’s best to store them in a cool, dry place -- like the garage -- and put them in plastic storage bags (available at your local tire store) to help slow rubber deterioration. You should also check tire pressure once a month to ensure they don’t have a slow leak which renders them useless when you go to put them on your vehicle.

Pirelli snow tire studless
Pirelli studless snow tire

While Snow Tires are not right for everyone, they can be a real lifesaver for those who live in areas with unpredictable weather and frequent slippery, snowy conditions. And whether you drive a 4-wheel drive, front wheel drive, or rear-wheel drive vehicle, safety is something that you can never really put a price on.

Chris Somerville is a freelance automotive writer based in the Pacific Northwest. Visit his Web site, Somerville Custom Publishing, for more information.