There is an always a debate on the use of winter tires versus the use of all season tires. For many people it comes down to convenience, for others a matter of cost and for others a matter of safety. I am going to go over the differences to at least try and help people make a truly educated decision, and know what they are sacrificing or what they can expect out of the purchase of their snow tires.
Let’s start by talking about geographic location. There are a large number of places throughout the country that see very little snowfall, maybe even only a few inches a year. The majority of the conditions are cold and wet, with a few days of snow. When there is snow, a lot of these places shut down, they don't have the equipment to remove the snow fast enough, and it's melted the next day. If this is you, consider yourself a great candidate for an all season tire. An all season tire is a compromise. It has to be good in the wet, dry, summer, winter, hot, and cold! Let's be honest...no one can do everything.
If you live in a location where you have significant snowfall, and no, this does not only mean that you have to live in Buffalo or Syracuse, New York. A snow tire can make all the difference in the braking, acceleration, and overall capabilities of the vehicle. The age old question...how many snow tires should I install. We all grew up driving rear wheel drive cars, and we put two snow tires in the rear and some sand in the trunk and we headed down the road. Hopefully no one had any significant troubles. Looking back, I can't believe that we did it. You wouldn't take your car to the race track and put two all season tires on the front axle and two R compound Hoosier R6s on the rear would you? Of course not, because the vehicle would push through every turn and you would feel like you were driving an out of control roller coaster. So why do we think that it is different in the snow?
There is more to driving in the snow then getting going...for example braking or even turning! I know that it seems like a crazy concept, but it is nothing more than high school physics. If you have more grip on the drive axle, the other axle is bound to be all over the place. If you have a rear wheel drive vehicle, you will manage to create a completely unguided winter missile. You can launch from the stop, but let’s all hope that you don't have to change course, or that something gets in the way, because there is probably going to be impact. If you are in a front wheel drive vehicle, you get to drive around like a drift car driver every time you try to turn a corner because the rear end of the vehicle does not deem it necessary to actually grip the road.
This is made even more dramatic due to the technological improvements made in modern snow tires. Advanced tread compounds and designs mean modern snow tires offer traction levels that make older design snow tires seem like summer tires.
With any vehicle the initial design and engineering revolves around balance. You wouldn't buy a brand new Ferrari and ask them to put Michelins in the rear and throw some Continentals in the front. Why? Balance! There are a number of things that we all do because we always have, but if we think outside the box for just a second on this one, we can improve the safety of our daily commute for not only ourselves, but everyone else we share the road with!