What Makes a Winter / Snow Tire Work?

Friday, January 11, 2013 by Hunter Leffel

When it comes to driving this winter, a set of winter / snow tires is the way to go! They will help you stop quicker and navigate through some of the toughest conditions thrown your way. Winter tires achieve superior levels of ice and snow traction for three reasons:

Tread Design

Sipes are your friend for traction in winter conditions. They are small zig-zag cuts in the tread design that create biting edges. Biting edges are what cut into the ice and snow to provide ultimate traction. To keep the contact patch stable, sipes begin to disappear around the 5/32" tread depth mark. If sipes are cut deeper, a looser and squirmier feel may result.

Tread Compound

The rubber compound used in a tire can be designed for different temperature ranges. Compounds used in winter tires are designed for optimal performance at temperatures below freezing. This allows the tire to conform to the road surface for better traction. In contrast, the compound found on a summer tire is designed for temperatures above 45 degrees. Below that, the compound, in effect starts to freeze. It loses the ability to effectively grip the road surface. You may experience losses exceeding 40% in wet and dry capabilities. An all-season tire is a jack-of-all-trades, but compromises in certain areas. Therefore, you don't have the effectiveness you need in snowy and icy conditions. 

Tread Depth

It has been established that snow-on-snow traction is critical to winter capability. The deeper the tread depth, the more effective the tire is at packing snow and releasing it during rotation. Most winter / snow tires start with a tread depth between 11/32" - 12/32", while most all-seasons start at 10/32" or lower. Legally, a tire in the United States is considered worn out at 2/32" of remaining tread depth. However, winter traction requires a bit more tread depth than that. We have found that around 6/32" of remaining tread depth is about as low as you can go and still achieve effective snow traction. To gain a better understanding of why winter / snow tires should be replaced when they reach this level, read "Tread Depth - Why Too Little is Never Enough."

When you're ready to begin your winter / snow tire search, take a look at our wide selection of options by brand.
 

 

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