Why are Narrower Tires Better for Winter Driving?

Friday, October 19, 2012 by Hunter Leffel

As you're shopping for winter wheels and tires, you'll likely come across the recommendation of going to a narrower tire. This is the exact opposite approach that you would take for summer traction, where wider is better. If you're likely to drive through deep snow this year, you'll want winter / snow tires and wheels in sizes that help put the laws of physics on your side.

The reason for this is that traction is achieved in winter by cutting through the ice and snow. With wider tread, you're more likely to start snow plowing or floating on top of the surface instead of pushing down and through. This floating will result in loss of traction sooner than with a thinner or narrower option. A good way to picture this is imagine a pizza cutter slicing through a pizza.

Another way to think about this is from the perspective of the contact patch. A tire's contact patch or "footprint" greatly influences its performance and is dependent on its profile. The narrower the width, the smaller the contact patch will be. This is the area that makes contact with the ground as rotation occurs.  With the vehicle still weighing the same, a smaller contact patch results in more pounds per square inch. This will produce more force on the tire to help it cut into ice and snow and deliver optimum traction for the worst winter will throw at you. 

You can try to achieve a narrower solution for your vehicle in different ways:

  • Shop by vehicle in the winter section of our site and we'll list alternate sizes if applicable. You can also refer to the owner's manual found in your vehicle. Sometimes you will find recommendations there on different tire sizes. For example, it may list the alternate size for the base model of your vehicle.
     
  • Most vehicles will allow for minus sizing, too. Minus sizing is where you purchase both a wheel and tire by dropping the wheel diameter by an inch. This will typically lead you to a narrower tire in the process. Build a Winter / Snow Tire & Wheel Package for optional minus sizes after entering your vehicle's year, make, model and trim level on our website.

For more information on selecting a narrower tire, read "Size Selection of Winter / Snow Tires."

Comments on Why are Narrower Tires Better for Winter Driving?

Friday, September 27, 2013 by Hal Homer:
I thought it was importnant to maintain the OEM tire size? My local vendors won't mount non OEM size as referenced on the door tag. What gives? Is it a liability issue? I talked with ford and they recommended only the OEM size.
Tuesday, October 1, 2013 by Hunter:
Hi,
The industry allows a 3% variance in overall diameter. We usually get much closer than that.

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