I noticed it when I went to work this morning, and I'm sure you'll notice it too if you haven't already. The temperature is steadily dropping. That means it's almost time for...SNOW! And snow means it may be time for some new winter / snow tires from Tire Rack!
There are three different levels of winter tires for cars these days, Studless Ice and Snow, Performance Winter / Snow, and Studdable Winter / Snow. Let's take a look at what each category does for you as a driver.
Studless Ice and Snow
This category of tires is what I like to call the "best tire for the worst conditions." They are meant to plow through fresh powder, packed snow, and skate on ice. Studless Ice and Snow tires, like the new Bridgestone Blizzak WS70, have enhanced tread compounds to keep the rubber flexible and pliable during even the coldest temperatures. They also contain siping to create more biting edges to grip snow. If there is a downside to these tires, it's that on dry roads, they don't have a very sporty feel. If that's what you're going for, then you should look at our next category.
Performance Winter / Snow
Let's say you don't want to lose the "sport" part of your sports car in the winter. Performance winter / snow tires like the Michelin Pilot Alpin PA3 provide good snow traction without losing as much dry traction. These tires still have plenty of siping to bite into snow, but the tread design typically makes it look more like a summer tire. And that's the compromise. Less traction in deep snow and ice, but a drastic difference in handling and steering response on dry roads.
Studdable Winter / Snow
This last category is kind of the dinosaur of the group. Studdable tires were extremely popular years ago, but recent changes to laws in certain states have banned studs from being used. (Please check your state laws before purchasing studded tires.) Studdable tires like the General AltiMAX Arctic provide extra grip when driving on hard packed snow and ice because the studs can dig in a little deeper. They can be run without studs and still provide excellent grip in the snow, which is what a lot of people do. Tires with studs in them tend to lose wet traction.
Whichever winter / snow tire you choose, you'll be getting better snow traction than any all-season tire; so it's hard to go wrong. And with any tire decision, it's all based on what you want the tire to do for you! Click here for some video on these different tires.