You may already know that winter / snow tires offer increased traction and safety on snowy and slushy roads. However, did you know that the right winter tire can also make a dramatic difference on ice-covered roads? Many drivers assume there's no way for any tire to have real traction on ice. The truth is you can improve braking, acceleration and cornering traction on ice with a set of dedicated winter / snow tires.
To test the performance of snow tires on ice, we went to a local ice skating rink and drove our test vehicles on the freshly polished ice. It may sound extreme, but testing in this way highlights the differences in tires and allows repeatability in the test. See the photos below from a test we performed comparing three tires from different performance categories. One vehicle was equipped with Bridgestone Blizzaks, one with all-season tires and the last with a set of summer performance tires.
The information below is a recap of our test. Take a look to see how a set of winter / snow tires will improve your acceleration, braking and cornering on an icy surface.
We began by comparing how long it took the test cars to cover the final 60-foot distance to the center of the ice rink as they accelerated for a dead stop. The summer tires relied heavily on the car's traction control to begin their trip and took about 7.4 seconds to cover the 60 feet. The all-season tires relied less on the traction control to initiate their trip down the ice, but still took about 6.5 seconds to complete it. The studless winter / snow tires relied less on traction control and more on their ability to grip the ice. They took only about 4.5 seconds to complete their run.
We evaluated stopping traction by measuring how many feet it took to come to a complete stop from 10 mph. The limited ice traction of the summer tires caused the car's Anti-Lock Braking System (ABS) to work overtime and they took about 47' to stop. While the all-season tires relied less on the car's ABS to control lockup, it took them about 39' 10" to stop the vehicle. The studless winter / snow tires provided the most grip on the ice, taking only about 21' 2" to stop.
Our final test was cornering. We compared the cars' ability to turn a 90-degree corner marked by traffic cones at a little over 10 miles per hour. The car equipped with summer tires lost traction shortly after initiating the corner and ran wide at the exit, hitting several of the cones that represented the curb. Even the car's Dynamic Stability Control couldn't restrain the vehicle when its tires lost grip. The car equipped with all-season tires did a better job of initiating the corner but still lost traction and ran wide at the exit, again hitting several of the cones. And finally, the car equipped with studless winter / snow tires offered enough grip to complete the corner without hitting any of the cones.
As you can see, the improvement is very noticeable when a vehicle is equipped with winter tires. I experienced this a few years ago when I purchased my new vehicle. See how winter tires helped me enjoy my new Infiniti by reading "My Story on Winter Tires."
For complete results of our test, check out "Testing on Ice: Winter / Snow vs. All-Season vs. Summer Tires."