Do I Really Need Winter / Snow Tires?

Thursday, November 8, 2012 by Hunter Leffel

Many drivers still call and ask "Do I really need a set of winter / snow tires?" With many vehicles being equipped with electronic systems to help control the vehicle, it's not unusual to think you don't need a dedicated winter tire. While traction control, anti-lock brakes, stability control and all-wheel drive systems help make it easier to utilize your tire's potential, none of them increase the amount of available traction. These systems are only capable of manipulating or limiting your vehicle's acceleration, braking and cornering capabilities to the traction provided by your tires.

By adding a dedicated winter tire to the mix, you'll be increasing available traction on ice and in snow compared to all-season options. To help demonstrate, Tire Rack tested both options to see the difference between wintertime gripping and white knuckle slipping. Starting at 30 mph on packed snow and then engaging the ABS until the cars reached a complete stop provided some interesting results. The vehicle equipped with winter tires stopped a full 30 ft. shorter than the identical vehicle driving on all-seasons.

During the acceleration portion of the test, we measured the tires' ability to provide traction when accelerating as quickly as possible in a straight line with the vehicle's traction control operating. Both vehicles began at the start line and we were timing how long it took the cars to accelerate 200 feet. The difference was three seconds, as it took the car with winter tires eight seconds and the vehicle equipped with all-season tires 11 seconds. We don't recommend trying to accelerate as quickly as possible in snow when driving on the street. This test demonstrates how much more traction winter / snow tires can provide when accelerating from a stop.

For a complete recap of our testing, take a look at "All Season vs. Winter (Passenger Vehicle): The Difference Between Wintertime Gripping and White Knuckle Snow Slipping."

Even with the new traction management aids on newer vehicles, dedicated winter tires play an important role for driving on ice and in snow. While all-season tires may provide enough wintertime traction for drivers in areas of the country that receive occasional light snow, we feel there isn't a viable alternative to snow tires for drivers who encounter deep or frequent slush, snow or ice. Remember, tires are often the difference between wintertime gripping and white knuckle slipping!

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